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REVIEW: “Westworld” season 1

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The works of science fiction author Michael Crichton have been adapted for the big and small screen many a time — perhaps most notably in the Jurassic Park franchise. Some hardcore fans may also know of his career as a film and television writer, and of one highly-rated film from 1973 called “Westworld,” in which a series of theme parks in the future featuring lifelike androids all start malfunctioning and killing humans. Now revived as a hit show on HBO, “Westworld” will enter its highly-anticipated second season this April. Does it deserve the hype?

Departing greatly from the story of the original film, “Westworld” follows a vast amount of diverse characters and storylines, so bear with me.

In a futuristic setting, Westworld is a theme park styled after the American West in the 1800s, created for the wealthiest citizens to live out their most primal fantasies with no repercussions whatsoever. This is accomplished via hosts — realistic androids with artificial intelligence who are programmed with set story structures and repaired at the end of each day. Everything starts to go haywire when certain hosts start to malfunction and break away from their scripts, uncovering secrets thought long buried and a mystery surrounding the first of the hosts created, a mysterious Man in Black, and the elderly CEO and founder of the park.

The plot of this show moves slowly and methodically, carefully putting its pieces into place and creating the world that these characters inhabit. This creates a slight problem with its pacing early on as it only has 10 episodes, but not all of them feel as if they carry significant weight within the narrative. This improves towards the second half with episode containing an immense plot twist at the end.

Comparisons will undoubtedly be drawn to Jurassic Park who is famous for this style of narrative. However, that series actually borrowed those elements of its plot from Westworld (written and directed by Crichton), which in turn is clearly influenced by the former regarding its themes. This whole story screams “cautionary tale of technology advancing too far”. What makes it stand out is the writing and direction, which are of the highest caliber. One particular episode that shined in my opinion was the very first episode, choosing to focus entirely on world building rather than story and using imagery to foreshadow certain events.

Each character is very well developed and plays a part in the elaborate mystery that grows as the more it unravels. No one character feels more important than the other. Each receives equal amounts of screen time to advance their narratives, meaning every death matters, despite the rules of the universe.

This is easily some of the best acting I have seen in a television show. Not one actor gives a weak performance. The standouts include Anthony Hopkins as founder Robert Ford, Jeffrey Wright as the park’s head of programming, Bernard Lowe, and Evan Rachel wood as host Dolores Abernathy. Their performances, elevated by the excellent writing, are deeply nuanced and a master class in how to use energy.

The sets are beautiful and affectionate recreations of the Wild West while managing to avoid being cartoon-like. There is a lot of nudity, which can feel excessive at times, but when the characters are actually wearing clothes, they look just as rustic and realistic as the sets. There is also some very gruesome imagery as characters get shot, tortured, and/or screwed (not necessarily in that order). The music, composed by Ramin Djawadi, is beautifully crafted and capable of deep emotion.

Westworld is not just a show but an experience that should be considered by all. It exceeds expectations in almost every area and keeps you on your toes no matter whose story you’re following at the moment before bringing them together in a satisfying finale. I will be tuning in for Season 2 and I hope that you will too.

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REVIEW: “Westworld” season 1