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TV Review: Westworld, Season 1, Ep 1: The Original

10.02.2016

PLOT: Westworld is a futuristic theme park for adults, where visitors can act-out their deepest fantasies with hyper-realistic robots in a picturesque western town setting. After the park’s creator, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) implements a controversial software upgrade to make them even more life-like, some of the robots start acting strangely and may, perhaps, be on the verge of self-awareness.

REVIEW: Being a product of its time, the original Michael Crichton WESTWORLD film, a PG-rated sci-fi thriller from 1972, never could get quite as dark as the premise suggested. In the film, which actually holds up quite well as a thriller, a gun-slinging android (Yul Brynner) goes berserk and starts killing the tourists that have come to vacation in his western town. This TV version, from Jonah Nolan and J. J Abrams, gets much darker in a distinctly HBO way (which has already proven controversial).

We learn that the park visitors, called “newcomers” by the robots, are mostly content to use the attractive robots for sex and excitement, but some, including Ed Harris’s sadistic wannabe outlaw (with him borrowing Brynner’s iconic garb) use the robots for more perverted reasons. We learn he’s been visiting the park for thirty years, routinely killing Evan Rachel Wood’s family in front of her, than sadistically raping and murdering her, being free to do it again the very next day. Even the square-jawed western hero played by James Marsden is powerless to save her from her repeated fate, with the only small mercy of the park being that she can’t remember it the next day.

Twisted eh? Sure enough, ‘Westworld’ is another dark HBO yarn for adults-only, but like their other big-stab at genre, ‘Game of Thrones’, it’s smart and sophisticated and seems primed for a healthy run. Right-off the bat it’s compelling stuff, with Hopkins’s seemingly humane park creator perfectly leading the charge, although his motivations are as of yet obscure. Jeffrey Wright plays his number-two, who seems to be the only one to have any feelings whatsoever for the androids, with everyone using them as objects. Even Wright’s assistant, played by ‘The Riches’ Shannon Woodward, leers at and kisses the park’s most popular attraction, a drop-dead gorgeous town prostitute played by Angela Sarafyan.

Technically, the show is as polished as anything HBO’s put out yet, with stories of budget overruns adding up to a visually sumptuous show that looks pretty feature-quality. One intriguing thing is the soundtrack by ‘Game of Thrones’ Ramin Djawadi, that adapts hit songs and uses them as old-timey western music. I was able to recognize ‘Black Hole Sun’ and the episode’s big climatic set-piece, a robbery by Rodrigo Santoro’s outlaw Hector, is scored by a riff on The Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint it Black.’

Despite a somewhat troubled production history, it seems like all the network headaches over the show have paid-off, with the first episode delivering exactly the kind of high-concept, smart adult entertainment genre fans are often starved-of (in this regard we fare much better on TV than features). Like ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Westworld’ feels like it has real crossover potential, and if the quality is consistent this will be new appointment viewing for the network.

Source: JoBlo.com

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