by Alejandro Turdó
Forget about Game of Thrones, Jon Snow or who kicked the bucket in Westeros. HBO’s best series of 2016 had nothing to do with kingdoms and battlefields, but more about cowboys and artificial inteligence… and some revealing insights on the inherent human condition.
Do androids dream of electric theme parks? 2016 proved to be a year in which HBO made room in its programming schedule to a different kind of series. Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan and Lisa Joy took a 1973 film written and directed by the late Michael Crichton about a far west theme park and created a story that taps into the depths of the human condition while taking the audience into an immersive ride among the first settlers of the american territorry after the Civil War, but of course that’s the first of the many layers that constitute Westworld.
Crichton’s original film was a simple A-to-B sci-fi/action flick involving a couple of tourists trapped inside a theme park when all hell breaks loose and a robotic cowboy -played by Yul Brynner– goes homicidal on the guests. HBO’s take on the story expands to inimaginable limits the boundries of its universe and puts the accent on the mechanic hosts of the attractions when things start going south.
The multiple story arcs involving both humans and the artificial entertainers give us a clear view of the park fundamentals, as well as a grimm look into its origins. As episodes go by, all characters experience some kind of identity crisis in which quiestions about their true calling surfaces, no matter if you are daddy’s cowgirl, the head of a corporation trying to let off some steam, a firstcomer or a brothel madam becoming increasingly aware of its repetitive condition.
In a cast full of talented players, Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton stand above the rest. Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright and James Mardsen have interesting performances as well as mythical character actor Anthony Hopkins, who delivers his quintessential take as an all-knowing persona responsable for the park creation.
The Western as a genre is present in every frame of Westworld. The lone gunman, the hero in persuit of revenge, the wild bandits, the west scenery… everything has the scent of John Ford’s imagery. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is another big reference that remarks the duality between the real world and this sort of fantasy that only exists to entertain excentric millonaires, but at the same time starts raising questions among the artificial hosts and the reason of their existence.
Besides the Western winks and references, the video game culture is also an important part of the narrative. Top selling games such as Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto leave their mark on in this open world scenario that works pretty similar to any sandbox of the 6th/7th generation gaming consoles. Most of the guests on Westworld get obssesed with reaching the end of the park just like any occasional gamer would.
Crichton’s original vision of a park where its hosts start going haywire on the guests has an obvious echo on his most popular work: Jurassic Park. But ambar mosquitoes and DNA manipulation aside, themes such as violence, destiny and the human condition to control everything while becoming victims of an inherent violence start surfacing. This is perhaps the most important part of the author’s heritage to the series.
Attention payed to every detail is algo one of the biggest assets of the production, such as the musical aspect. Some of the most recognisable contemporary rock tunes are adapted to play a big part in the narrative, from Black Hole Sun to Paint It Black and The House of the Rising Sun among many others.
Being an HBO show and all, nudity and violence pay a customary visit on every episode. But the violence is represented as a fundamental element of the human condition, one that lives deep inside every one of us, just waiting to arise. In a combination of Harolds Ramis’ Groundhog Day and Plato’s Allegory, every day in the park is perceived as and endless repetition to its hosts, just until one of them gets outside this sort of automated cave.
Without the breathtaking cliffhangers ussually seen on TV hits such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, Westworld chooses a different pace to interconnect the 10 episodes of its debut season. The slow burn arc story proves to be efficent enough and provides a unique feeling to its audience. Season 2 will not happen until 2018, but until then viewers have plenty to give thought to… just like a cowboy riding to the sunset, looking for a new adventure.
Alejandro Turdó / Writer (CABA, Argentina – 1982) Ale got his degree in Image & Sound Design at Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) and is also a Technician in Audiovisual Post-Production. For year’s he’s been a critic for EscribiendoCine and A Sala Llena, a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic and a Redactor of Digital Content. He talks film at http://www.radioborder.tv.