Season premiere of Westworld breathes new life in TV Western genre (review)

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It seems that 2016 may be the year for the Western revival. As we draw closer to Oscar season, many studios have done their due diligence, and have made strong efforts in creating well-made Western films. From Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the 1960’s classic, The Magnificent Seven, to Ti West’s masterful work, In a Valley of Violence, movie fans have had a good helping of gunslinging in the theaters. Television westerns have always been that of a different beast, leaning more on the family aspect in the ole’ frontier, and not giving fans the grittiness and gruff that they’ve come to expect from their film counterparts. Well, I can safely say that those days are over, because Westworld has just walked into town, and it’s cleaning house!

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The one-hour drama series Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin. Set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past, it explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged. The series, based on the 1973 film of the same title, written by Michael Crichton, tells a tale of an adult theme park filled with humanistic androids programmed to be “hosts” for visitors. The first episodes chronicles a conversation between one of the androids and its programmer, discussing what’s “behind the veil,” in regards to the world in which she is in.

Being a huge fan of the original film, I have to be honest, I came in with a very skeptical mindset in regards to the show. Not many works tend to live up to their original source material, especially if that source material is a film that has become a cult classic. But once I got 10 minutes into it, I was hooked! The show, although pays homage to its predecessor, is truly a work on its own. Using the formula left behind by the original, the show takes the same concept, and with modern technology, makes the story a hundred times more better! From its opening credits to the end credits, the show had me on the edge of my seat for the entire duration.

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One of the best things about the show is that I feel it isn’t so much as a reboot, but, in actuality, a continuation of the original film. It feels so much in the same vein of the original film, as far as atmosphere, but the powers that be continued to carried the torch after the events from the first park, and progressed with that same technology in the film’s universe, thus creating the TV series. Man, Michael Crichton has a thing for dysfunctional parks (ahem, Jurassic Park). The series, however, takes a much darker tone, as the questions of humanity among robots, and learned machines displaying unique thoughts would make Philip K. Dick proud.

Another great thing about the series is its casting. I have to say, when I saw Jeffrey Wright in the show, I immediately thought “Hey, Beetee made it out of the Hunger Games and is now making games of his own!” Wright, however, is more than just a tinkerer in the show; he’s part of the genius behind the digital mindset of the androids. His role as Bernard Lowe is well-constructed, and pairs well with Sir Anthony Hopkins’ role as Dr. Robert Ford, the man behind every brain in Westworld. Hopkins never misses a beat when it comes to his performances; from his outstanding delivery of his lines, to the minor glint in his eyes while looking on an android being created, you can see why actors, like Hopkins, are still considered the best in the business.

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Other incredible actors in the show consist of Evan Rachel Wood as the innocent Delores Abernathy, who seems to understand a bit more about her world than she lets on, and the outstanding Ed Harris, as “The Man in Black,” as IMDB puts it. I love Ed Harris’s rendition of the “Gunslinger” from the original film, as he plays a human trying to find a deeper understand to the inner workings of the “game,” where the Gunslinger was a robot working outside of the parameters of the game. His depravity and ruthlessness is very reminiscent of his role in the 2005 film by Director David Cronenberg, A History of Violence, which I was a huge fan of. So to see him translate that same senseless taste for blood and determination automatically sells me, right away. What’s interesting to note is that both Director John Carpenter and actor Arnold  Schwarzenegger both looked to Yul Brynner’s performance for inspiration. John Carpenter translated his inspiration to his “indestructable” killer in the 1978 horror film, Halloween, and Schwarzenegger channeled that same demeanor for his performance in the 1984 film, Terminator. To see the same spirit of that character revived, and back in his element, makes it feel like the first time I ever saw the original film so long ago.

The episode, appropriately titled “The Original,” holds so many great nuggets of awesomeness, that it’s hard to state them all here. There’s a sense of darkness and hidden truths in the series that many viewers will come to love, drawing so much off the conundrum as to whether or not androids “dream of electric sheep.” From the CGI effects, to the incredible music (the player piano was playing freaking Savage Garden’s Black Hole Sun and The Rolling Stone’s Paint It Black), the show has gone to incredible lengths and made incredible strides to give viewers -especially fans of HBO- something they haven’t seen much of lately: a supped up Western that will satisfy any Sci-fi geek as well. Many will call it the Western Game of Thrones, others will call it a rip-off of the original. As for me, I know exactly what label I’ll have for this series that definitely isn’t going to change: Sunday night’s entertainment.

Westworld airs each Sunday at 9PM (PST) on HBO.

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Eddie Villanueva Jr.
Eddie Villanueva Jr. 309 posts

A movie connoisseur of only the finest films, and an Encyclopod of geek and nerd knowledge. And if you know what an Encyclopod is, you're cool too!