Wednesday 14 September 2016

What happens in Westworld stays in Westworld

Game of Thrones ends with season eight and HBO's pulling no punches with its remake of a Michael Crichton classic. Westworld. Crichton's original dysfunctional theme park. An idea the author and director would return to in Jurassic Park.

This isn't the first time a Westworld spin-off series has graced television screens. Beyond Westworld was a short-lived series in 1980 chronicling an attempt to use the robots in Delos to conquer the world.

The new series, premiering this October on HBO and Sky Atlantic in the UK, is shaping up to be a worthy heir to stablemate Game of Thrones on the award-winning network.

Following a software update, the machine inhabitants of Westworld have experienced an awakening...

I won't be posting specific spoilers as that would be a disservice. But, fans of Westworld will warmly welcome the nods to the original movie and its embracing of the new. This is a Westworld from the perspective of its robot inhabitants as they grind out an AI equivalent of Groundhog Day and discordant memories begin to surface with nightmarish consequences.

The compelling premise, also explored in AMC's Humans, is a springboard for the existential question posed by author Philip K. Dick: "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Are the machines solely produced to satiate the wanton needs of base human desires without consequence or have they evolved into sentient beings deserving of equal rights? What would happen if they decided to rebel against their decadent masters?

On the strength of the four episodes I've watched courtesy of HBO; fans of tech noir are in for a treat worthy of Ex Machina, Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica and Terminator. The premiere episode is a masterclass in world building with a superlative cast including Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood.

Evan Rachel Wood talks enthusiastically about the upcoming series: “It’s more of a revolution than a TV show. I don’t think people are going to expect it. They’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m excited. And everyone working on it, we’re all in agreement that it’s our Odyssey. We’re like, ‘This is going to be the one Everyone in the top of their fields is pouring everything they have into this, which is why it was such a massive undertaking and why filming was extended. It’s not because things are going badly. It’s because they’re so massive and it’s so complicated and we want to get it right. We’re not just phoning it in. We’re taking our time with it because it’s really important.”

Much was made of Westworld's delayed production last January. However, showrunners Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight) and Lisa Joy needed more time to develop a masterplan spanning five seasons. On the strength of the pilot episode, directed by Jonathan Nolan, it was more than worth the wait.

“We didn’t want to have a story that repeated itself [each year] - we didn’t want the Fantasy Island version of this [where new guests arrive at the park every season]," Jonathan Nolan said. "We wanted a big story. We wanted the story of the origin of a new species and how that would play out in its complexity.”

Actor James Marsden (X-Men) goes on to say: “It wasn’t about getting the first 10 [episodes] done, it was about mapping out what the next 5 or 6 years are going to be. We wanted everything in line so that when the very last episode airs and we have our show finale, five or seven years down the line, we knew how it was going to end the first season – that’s the way Jonah and [executive producer J.J. Abrams] operate. They’re making sure all the ducks are in the row."

Westworld is a chilling and clever expose on human hubris and a potential televisual masterpiece in the making. This sci-fi series has been furnished with the utmost care and what I've seen suggests something truly special.

Westworld will premiere on 2nd October on HBO. Followed by Sky Atlantic and NOW TV on 4th October.

Looking forward to Westworld? Let me know in the comments below.

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