TV Review: ‘Westworld’ S1 EP1 “The Original”

Starring:  Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton

Series created by:  Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy

Written by:  Jonathan Nolan / Episode directed by:  Jonathan Nolan

What’s it about?

The futuristic theme park ‘Westworld’, populated by artificial beings called ‘hosts’, allows its visitors to live out their greatest fantasies against the backdrop of the Old West.  When an update to the hosts’ programming triggers strange and unruly behaviour, the park’s creators find their efforts to improve realism may have produced dangerous results…

Episode review

Based on the cult classic 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton (mastermind author of noted SF works Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain), HBO’s television adaptation of Westworld has been developed for the smaller screen by Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest) and Lisa Joy (Burn Notice) together with co-producer J.J. Abrams.

The concept of Artificial Intelligence and how it relates to human nature is something that has been explored endlessly in science fiction and in various forms of media.  HBO’s Westworld necessarily expands on what could only be touched upon in Crichton’s 88-minute film and like Ronald D. Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica, what’s presented here is much more complex and cerebral.  On a particular level it’s unnerving as the robot (or more precisely, android) ‘attractions’ of the Westworld theme park – known as ‘hosts’ – are becoming more realistic and virtually indistinguishable from genuine human beings as their creators strive for that perfection of realism and efficiency – something that is firmly entrenched in the zeitgeist of the technologically driven age we live in.

Written and directed by Nolan, “The Original” assembles a strong cast which includes Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright and most impressively Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris.  Much of the episode’s focus centres on Wood’s Dolores and it’s via her ‘character’ and newcomer Teddy (Marsden) that we learn of the Groundhog Day like existence of Westworld’s A.I. lifeforms as they are programmed to reset and repeat the same patterns day after day, with little variation, to service the stories implemented by the park’s engineers.  It seems here that Wood is being positioned as the series’ main protagonist and the True Blood actress proves effective in being naturally emotive, switching her performance as she becomes subtly more machine like when events lead to questions of the hosts’ existence and ultimate purpose.

Yet it’s the critically lauded and awards worthy Hopkins and Harris that provide the biggest draw.  As Westworld’s founder, Dr. Robert Ford, Hopkins conveys the intellectual qualities and complexities of the character with absolute aplomb as we meet a man at the leading edge of technology, constantly pushing the boundaries of perfection to deliver a more efficient and more capable ‘product’.  Ed Harris (sharing some truly chilling scenes with Wood and Marsden) is equally compelling as the mysterious ‘Man in Black’, providing a presence that’s as foreboding as it is unsettling.

The visual scope of Westworld is astounding, the grand, sweeping outback landscapes beautifully captured and arguably rivals the cinematography of some of cinema’s most beloved Westerns.  As a director, it’s to Nolan’s credit that he is skilful in presenting the more intimate character moments, especially in the cold, sterile lab settings where the hosts are examined and ‘questioned’ about their abnormal behaviour.  It’s here that Nolan utilises, to great effect, numerous close-ups that capture every nuance of the actors’ facial expressions.

Nolan’s script is packed with quality dialogue that delivers intrigue, character drama and thought provoking, existential SF ideas which combined with those sumptuous visuals and a stellar cast demonstrates strong potential for the series ahead.  HBO have been looking for their next big hit to follow Game of Thrones and Westworld could certainly be it.

You can read the GBUK review of Michael Crichton’s Westworld here.

The bottom line:  Westworld opens promisingly as a superb cast helps introduce a world filled with thought provoking ideas and great dramatic potential.

Westworld airs in the UK Tuesday at 9pm on Sky Atlantic.  U.S. viewers can catch it 9pm Sunday on HBO.

HBO's 'Westworld' looks set to add new layers to the well-worn subject of artificial intelligence.

HBO’s ‘Westworld’ looks set to add new layers to the well-worn subject of artificial intelligence.

12 thoughts on “TV Review: ‘Westworld’ S1 EP1 “The Original”

  1. In recent years, I’ve noticed really big actors coming to the television screen. And a lot of the time, I think that makes things better if you can get someone of a high calibre. Nice review Chris.

    • Cheers Vin, I agree, it’s great to see some of film’s biggest names crossover to TV – especially when it’s a quality production such as Westworld (and that’s probably what attracts them in the first place).

  2. Must admit, I was sceptical about Westworld as a TV series, but I really enjoyed this first episode. Great cast, intriguing story, powerful themes, and it looked stunning as well. Very impressed by this start to the series lets hope they can maintain it. Great review 🙂

    • I was too Paul, I’m a fan of the 1973 film but was unsure as to how it could be developed into an ongoing series. There certainly seems to be plenty of material to make it work.

      • I love the uncanny mix of technology and the blurring of the lines of reality. It sort of reminds me of the Matrix crossed with Lost. Westworld has lots of potential, lets hope it can build on the success of this terrific first episode 🙂

  3. Really enjoyed what I’ve seen so far in Westworld. Beautiful production, acting, and exploration of themes. The slow burn approach is well handled and lets us enjoy the subtleties of this intriguing park. Right now, I want to see more of how this park works and the world outside of it.

  4. Man everyone’s been raving about this, my coworkers won’t shut up about it either, ahah. I’m hoping to binge on this once all the eps are available. That cast is insane too!

  5. Chris, this is a great review! We see the world through the same eyes. There were so many little things that I loved about this, all dotted around on the landscape of a fascinating idea. To me, this immediately outweighs the likes of Jurassic Park and the original Westworld, in as much as the most telling moments were the small things. Like you say in review, the close ups on the actors, every nuance and facial expression telling. The music too, inspired use of Soundgarden and The Rolling Stones. During the shootout sequence, I swear the show actually left the runway and took off into orbit. I loved, loved, loved it so much, that I’m struggling not to have a complete geek meltdown.

    • Cheers Gareth, yep it’s an impressive production – potentially HBO’s best. I love the way TV shows have come along in the past few years (particularly with the likes of Netflix) and great to see so much talent from the world of film being attracted to the small screen. Exciting times for lovers of good, compelling TV shows.

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