HBO’s newest high concept series Westworld finally made its much anticipated debut. A lot of buzz surrounded this reimagining of Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi film of the same name. On Sunday October 2nd Westworld debuted on every HBO platform. The debut was as strong as True Detective’s electric first season and is being touted as HBO’s next Game of Thrones. While the Game of Thrones claim may still be a bold one, Westworld deserves all the buzz that has been bandied about.
Created by Jonathan and Lisa Joy Nolan, and boasting a massive star studded cast any film project would kill for. Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Rodrigo Santoro, Shannon Woodward, and Clifton Collins Jr. all show up in this fantastic show. Less than half the cast, core and extended, play human beings. The rest of the actors play incredibly life link synths with adaptive personalities and the ability to make “small improvisations.”
Watching the human actors play advanced synthetic humans is a treat in itself. The performances are supposed to be human, and 90% of the time they are. It’s the extra 10% where the actors really earn their pay. The synthetics mimic human traits, they don’t possess them. When the show begins pulling at the threads of these characters and they begin to unravel the performances go from great to absolutely breathtaking. The movements, speech patterns, and emotional void are all so perfect it’s hard to tell if the actors were digitally manipulated.
One particular scene, possibly the most impressive conversation recorded this year, features Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Robert Ford having a conversation with one of the first synthetics to run the ‘games’ of Westworld. Jeff Daniel Phillips’s Tenderloin doesn’t move smoothly. His lips pull back in jerky motions of the advanced animatronics in our current world. The movements are so subtle, the performance so strong, it’s impossible to tell if this is the work of animatronics, computer animation, computers enhancing the actor’s performance, or just a showcase for the most underrated actor of 2016.
While Westworld the show, and the amusement park within the show, center on the synthetic humans the human players shouldn’t be ignored. Ford (Hopkins) is the father of the created world. He seems to be more of a figurehead that many of his employees think has stayed way past his welcome. He has a deep love and concern for the technology of the place. He spends his days deep in the bowels of Westworld making very fine adjustments to the beings he created. Ford walks around like the weight of the world rests entirely on his shoulders. He speaks softly and moves slowly. Its unclear if he wears Westworld like a set of chains or if he has poured so much of himself into the artificial lives he has created there isn’t any left for himself.
The way Westworld is shot is stunning as well. It takes every advantage of high definition technology and doesn’t shy away from sweeping landscape shots traditional westerns are known for. Not only are these shots beautiful but they really add to the scope of the entire series. In town every detail is perfectly captured. The camera never sits still, the cinematographer was never content to leave the camera. The motions are smooth. Refined. Not the shaky handycam ill informed cinematographers often try to lean on to ‘engage the audience.’
The soundtrack is also something spectacular. (I feel like this write up is getting very adjective heavy, sorry but the show is really THAT good). Modern music done in the style of the time Westworld itself captures. Each character/moment even has its own theme that comes in and out of the overall soundtrack to represent the repetition of the synthetic’s lives as well as the repetition of the amusement park. Using the modern music reminds the audience, perhaps even the patrons of the park, that what they see isn’t quite real. There is even a poignant conversation between two of the main characters that having too authentic an experience will ruin it for the visitors.
The first episode alone is a beautifully written drama that tells a complete story while building a bigger one. Characters have hopes, dreams, pasts, futures, secrets, and traits all in ninety perfectly executed minutes. The honesty in the writing on how the general public would act when put into a familiar world when literally anything goes. Westworld would make the best social experiment ever conducted.
With only a single episode in Westworld is already the best new show of 2016. Get caught up, this will be the next big thing in the entire world of entertainment.