In the absence of intense dramas like “Game of Thrones” or “The Leftovers,” HBO returns to stake its claim in the genre with “Westworld.”
Based on the 1973 science fiction film by Michael Crichton, “Westworld” focuses on a Wild West-themed park that is inhabited by lifelike androids programmed to believe they actually live in the Wild West, and wealthy guests who can live out their fantasies without fear of consequence. The park’s creators are forced to deal with unexpected behavioral changes in their androids as their software is updated to be more realistic and immersive. With these changes, the androids begin to see the artificiality of the world that they were once completely devoted to.
Although “Westworld” features acclaimed and notable actors like Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and James Marsden, the series is altogether an ensemble piece, with very few actors receiving a majority of the screen time. While this limited screen time usually leaves viewers asking for more of a character or performance, especially from Hopkins or Harris, the show’s wide focus ultimately works in its favor. By examining different aspects of the park, from the programmers dealing with the chaotic androids to the patrons immersing themselves in the Wild West, the show becomes a complicated and intriguing ecosystem that can very easily be changed.
Limited screen time also allows lesser-known actors to shine. Actors like Evan Rachel Wood and Louis Herthum, who portray their android characters with an eerie blend of the lifelike and the mechanical, are integral to the show’s atmosphere and plot. Their performances add an undeniably tragic undertone to a show that is already filled to the brim with action and suspense. With the multitude of characters and themes, balancing these qualities will likely be a challenge moving forward.
Another facet of “Westworld” that stands out is its cinematography and design. The show’s portrayal of the picturesque yet gritty Wild West park contrasts with the park maintenance facility where the programmers and builders work, which is as pristine and futuristic as it is cold and inhospitable. The futuristic designs in particular are striking and provide “Westworld” with an underlying sense of uneasiness and tension. Considering the estimated budget of $100 million, it appears the money was put to good use.
With its unique blend of science-fiction and the western genre, “Westworld” has the potential to be HBO’s next hit. The ten-episode first season airs Sundays at 9 p.m., and with a positive response to the premiere, more seasons are likely to come.