Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Watching 'Westworld' Is a Struggle, but Also Rewarding

I’m a big Michael Crichton fan.  He’s at his best when writing novels, but he has also done projects for TV (the hit 90’s show E.R.) and film.  And the most notable movie he made (meaning, he not only wrote the screenplay but also served as its director) was Westworld.  I enjoyed it, of course.  It’s thrilling and smart.  But this new HBO TV series of the same name, which is loosely based on the movie, has achieved a higher level of quality storytelling.

The ten-episode first season of Westworld is set in its titular theme park, a Western-themed amusement park where “guests”, i.e. paying human visitors/customers, can interact with highly-advanced, realistic androids called “hosts”, and participate in various role-playing narratives, while being free to do whatever they want, including acting out whatever sexual or violent fantasies they have on the “hosts” without repercussions.
As a production, this could probably be HBO’s grandest and most ambitious since Game of Thrones.  It’s a magnificently good-looking show.  Its production value looks well-budgeted, ensuring fantastic sets and costumes.  The cinematography is gorgeous.  The cast boasts legitimate star power, which includes the likes of Ed Harris and Anthony friggin’ Hopkins, and intensely riveting performances.  The writing is stylishly compelling, and the direction is consistently level.

In addition, this show is kept intriguing by an intelligent, complex narrative that is layered with many mysteries and twists.  It’s confusing to watch, at times.  But it’s just because it demands attentive investment from its audience, and then rewards them for the effort.  Also, it seems the charm of its sophisticated plot draws the commitment of the most intellectual and dedicated of viewers, as several plot twists were called by the fans before their revelations.
I personally find Westworld very fascinating.  Each episode gripped me.  It’s clearly the best new show of the year.  However, at this point, I still can’t fully determine if I actually “love” it.  Again, it’s a complex show – with a very intricate story, weighty philosophical themes, and profound worldbuilding.  It’s the kind of show that I would first want to watch in its entirety, then maybe re-watch it, and let it marinate for a while before judging it – whether its genuinely epic or just pretentious.  That said, its first season gives promising indication that the former is much more likely than the latter.  Heck, I even feel its trajectory is towards a point where it’ll even be better than Game of Thrones.

Miscellaneous musings – with spoilers:
  • So season 2 is set for 2018.  Which I’m fine with.  They need the time to sustain the quality.  And it would also give me the time to re-watch the first season, to see if it truly holds up.
  • I understand that records and pictures of Arnold had been erased, but I still find it strange that nobody in Delos or in the Westworld staff ever stumbled upon the realization that Bernard looks like Arnold.
  • Right from the start, I predicted that Anthony Hopkins is going to die in this season.  An actor of his caliber doesn’t have the time to fully commit on a TV series.  But I was hoping I would be wrong.  He really did an amazingly masterful job in portraying his character, Robert Ford.
  • In the Westworld movie, Westworld was just one of three Delos theme parks.  The others were Roman World and Medieval World.  I was hoping that one of the twists of this season was a revelation of the existence of other theme parks.  I guess the budget isn’t enough for that.
  • I’m still hoping, though, that other varieties of Westworld-like theme parks are going to be shown in the next season.  That would be a mindblowing surprise.  There were some samurai “hosts” shown in the last episode, though.  Is that a hint that there’s also a feudal Japan themed amusement park out there or in development?
  • I hope Ed Harris’ character, William a.k.a. The Man in Black, is still alive in the next season.  I would sure love to see him play the high-stakes version of Westworld that he has always been longing for.

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