Holidays from hell in this imaginative update of the 1973 movie
★★★★ HBO and Sky Atlantic, starts October
OK, it’s science fiction and this is a crime site – but Westworld is also a thriller. We don’t often stray from the beat of cops and criminals, but occasionally there’s an intrigue with speculative elements such as Utopia or The Frankenstein Chronicles that we need to investigate.
And having seen a couple of episodes of Westworld, it’s been a delight to get away from the more mundane fare (Lewis, DCI Banks, anyone?) for something this absorbing.
Westworld is based, in case you didn’t know, on the fondly remembered 1973 Michael Crichton movie, which starred Yul Brynner. Like Crichton’s blockbuster Jurassic Park, this was a yarn about a futuristic theme park gone lethally haywire.
Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood and Ed Harris
Westworld is the western-themed virtual-reality holiday camp where the rich go to indulge their dark desires, such as shooting villains or bedding prostitutes. This new TV version from HBO is much more sophisticated and beautifully realised than the original (watch a trailer for the movie here).
On top of that it has attracted the kind of brilliant cast even the movie could not (Brynner was on the wane in 1973 and Richard Benjamin was not quite A-list). Now we have Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright and Borgen‘s Sidse Babett Knudsen.
Where the movie was told from the vantage point of the two average joes on holiday in Westworld, the series focuses on the scientists and the artificial beings who populate the theme park. We first encounter Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who wakes everyday and goes through the same narrative for the guests, or town ‘newcomers’ as she believes they are.
Who – or what – is the Man in Black?
Dolores’s life is on a Groundhog Day loop, only when she wakes every day and greets her homesteader father, she has no recollection of the day before. When she sleeps, her dreams are probed by the boffins – ‘Ever feel inconsistencies in your world?’
In 30 years there have been no critical failures at Westworld. Until now.
One cowboy, Walter, seems to have got tired of ‘buying it’ – or getting shot by the guests. And when Dolores’s father finds a discarded photo of a guest in modern-day New York, the image does not compute and sends him into meltdown.
Dolores herself even seems to finally be picking up on ‘inconsistencies’ in her reality. As for Ed Harris’s menacing Man in Black, he’s totally off script.
It’s a bold idea to take us into the minds of artificial beings who seem on the dawn of breaking free of their bonds, and adds a fascinating dimension to the original story. The story also breathes modern norms of computer technology, talking the language of program updates, new builds and system bugs.
Artificial Intelligence, sex tourism and sin
Which could be behind the malfunction. Anthony Hopkins plays the equivalent of Jurassic Park‘s Richard Attenborough character, Hammond, the brains behind the games. He’s been perfecting the software, which seems to be allowing the artificial beings to retain some memories.
Is he playing a dangerous private game? Or is he and his team just not as ahead of the curve as they have always thought?
The movie was certainly ahead of its time and today the ideas behind it are even more resonant. It looks into the worlds of artificial intelligence, sex tourism (with fembots), consciousness and even the idea of sin. It’s going to be intriguing to watch this unfold over 10 episodes.
There are even reports that HBO is already planning five series of Westworld, according to The Verge. With Game of Thrones reaching a conclusion, Westworld is apparently being lined up as heir apparent.
In a shootout between the two, I think Westworld looks the more provocative and engrossing.