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Is ‘Westworld’ The Next Big Thing?

Picture the ultimate in virtual reality vacations. A fully-realized world where you can experience what it was like in the old West. Decadence and lawlessness, or peaceful, simple living. Either is there for you to immerse yourself in. If this sounds like your ideal excursion, come visit Westworld! Boy, have we got a vacation for you…

Westworld is set to air on HBO October 2nd. The series is a remake of the seminal sci-fi movie and has some serious talent working on it both behind and in front of the camera. It’s been heavily anticipated for a while and all eyes are going to be on it for its premiere.

“Nothing can go wrong.”

The town that comprises Westworld, down to the last detail
Westworld in all its glory

A remake of a beloved and highly influential movie is a tricky thing. It’s even trickier when you’re converting it to a new medium. The movie was self-enclosed and had a beginning, middle, and end. A tv series typically has that arc as well, but sometimes in a much longer and roundabout way. This allows for a lot more breathing room, but also means there are more subplots, characters, and potentially filler in the total run-time.

The new series seems to follow many of the same story beats as the movie: a replicated world populated by artificial beings for us to enjoy without care or worry until something starts to go wrong. Numerous movies, books, and tv shows were influenced by the original’s story, and the general story has been replicated almost to the point of dilution.

The creators of the new series seem to understand that and have taken great pains to keep the spirit of the movie but update it to the modern era. That doesn’t just mean with a prestige budget and visual effects, but with modern themes and insights. Such themes include artificial intelligence, the nature of a soul, and how our actions define us. The fact that it’s a series now means that there is more time to delve into characters, motivations, and story.

Sympathy For The Devil

"Bringing on new staff" takes on a different meaning in Westworld
Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright observing the creation process.

From the early trailers, we as viewers will see both the behind-the-scenes of the park as well as what happens on the grounds themselves. We’ll be getting a much deeper look at the creators and scientists, and how they slowly grasp what is happening among their creations.

In the original, the robots experienced some unnamed technical difficulties before going berserk. The iconic Gunslinger, played by Yul Brynner, became a classic movie monster as he calmly and methodically stalked the last survivor of the park. Here in the series, it looks like that what causes the robots to revolt will be much more gradual. All indications point to a gradual self-awareness, both of themselves as artificial beings and of their artificial surroundings. We also see Ed Harris take over the role of the Gunslinger, and the brief footage of him shows that his character is also aware of more than he lets on.

With more of a focus behind the scenes, we also see the split nature of the park’s creators. Anthony Hopkins plays the role of creator of Westworld, and there’s already a sinister air with the way he seems to regard the burgeoning intelligence developing in the artificial beings. Jeffrey Wright plays the head of the programming division, and the first one to notice that the aberrant behavior isn’t a simple glitch.

Everything For Everyone

Pleasure comes in many forms in Westworld
Thandie Newton and Angela Sarafyan provide a different form of entertainment in Westworld

There’s no doubt that HBO is throwing their weight behind the show. While they have no shortage of quality programming, the network needs another massive hit. Genre series are the go-to winners right now, with HBO’s Game of Thrones and AMC’s The Walking Dead leading the charge with HUGE ratings both day of and the days that follow airing.

These types of shows are huge gambles. The costs can be massive, both in production as well as marketing. Very rarely will they be complete bombs, but also bad is if they’re just mediocre. As of writing, critical reception of the first few episodes of Westworld is positive but not overwhelmingly so. Odds are good ratings will be very high out of the gate, but the real questions are will it hold onto a decent amount of those viewers and how quickly will it start accumulating more?

The other big question is whether or not the show will be able to sustain itself. Thankfully this isn’t as huge an issue as it used to be with network shows (The X-Files being one a more egregious example that I remember). More showrunners are creating their ideas with specific timelines and plans in mind. This allows them to pace the story accordingly but still allow for flexibility if anything outside their control happens.

“Just don’t forget, they’re not real.”

The iconic role lives again in Westworld
Ed Harris as The Gunslinger

At this point, the media blitz is starting up. As I mentioned, early reviews have started being published to (hopefully) generate interest. The advertising push is happening on shows and online. I’m cautiously excited for the show, but I’m also optimistic about where it can go. Many long-running shows hit their creative peak a few seasons in. Here’s hoping Westworld sets a high bar right away and is able to ride that into the sunset.


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