The following review may contain minor spoilers.
When I was a very young I stumbled upon on a film with robot cowboys in a Western-themed amusement park. How can you go wrong with cowboys and robots, right? What seemed like a novel idea to my young mind quickly became very frightening when the robot cowboys turned on the visitors at the park. One robot cowboy in particular, The Gunslinger, absolutely terrified me. In hindsight, maybe the content was a little too graphic for a nine-year-old child. This Western-themed film that scarred me for life? It was Micheal Crichton’s directorial debut, Westworld. Westworld would go on to spawn a sequel, Futureworld, and a short-lived television show, Beyond Westworld, which was cancelled after only three episodes aired. I while I enjoyed both the television show and Futureworld, neither lived up to the original, Westworld.
Several years ago HBO announced they were bringing back Westworld as a television series produced by JJ Abrams. Given the previous Westworld show only lasted three episodes I was a little concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to revisit Westworld and all the other Delos theme parks, but worried HBO would not treat the source material with care. And then something happened to change my expectations for the television series, they announced The Gunslinger character, previously played in the film by the great Yul Brynner, would be played by famed actor Ed Harris. Now they had my attention. But they didn’t stop there, they added Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, and the great Anthony Hopkins.
Enough hype, and enough about the original film and its sequels, how does the new show fare? Does it compare to the original? Does it live up to the hype? The short answer is “yes.” The long answer is a little more complex. There was worry the new show would be oversexed and ultra-violent, in order to draw in the Game of Thrones crowd. And while there is plenty of sex and violence, it absolutely captures the original spirit of the film. Did I mention the original film had sex and violence? Because it did, and Westworld the series does as well. But there is more than just sex and violence, so much more. While it keeps the concept of a Western-themed amusement park with robot cowboys turned evil it actually adds a lot more to the overall story. Of course, if you are going to take a single film and turn in to a television series that you have no option but to make changes and add layers. Instead of a virus infecting the robots the first episode alludes to updated code that gives them more realistic behavior, based on memories from past lives. And this behavior is unscripted, which can lead to unforeseen actions. And it is those very actions that will lead us on our journey through our first season of Westworld.
The biggest change, however, is probably the evil gunslinger played by Ed Harris. In the original film he was a robot who went crazy and started murdering the park guests, but in this version he is a guest. And he is not content with the typical story arcs provided by the park creators, he is out to satisfy his own sick sadistic ways , having grown bored with Westworld. This is not so much a remake or a retelling, but a continuation of the original. So no reason to retread the gunslinger played by Yul Brynner. Instead we get an entirely new type of bad guy in Ed Harris. A bad guy I’m really interested to learn more about in coming episodes.
From the music, to the casting, to the cinematography, it is obvious Westworld is prime to be the next big thing for HBO. Of course, it is hard to judge a television series by a single episode. The first episode was very intriguing and raised many, many questions. However, it did lay the foundation for would could be a phenomenal series. Here is hoping it doesn’t get cancelled after three episodes.