Three Great Reasons to Go Westworld

I’ll come clean: when I heard that HBO was making a series version of Westworld, I more or less shrugged. I never saw the 70s film, but had heard it was campy sci-fi fun, which generally isn’t my speed. And perhaps because my father raised me on the romantic west of Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger, I view all new westerns with a somewhat disappointed eye. As a result, I only watched Westworld because my husband seemed enthusiastic. Had he not persuaded me, I definitely would have passed it by. Don’t be like me. There are so many great reasons to watch, even if you’re not into sci-fi or westerns.

Reason One: The Acting. Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Thandie Newton. Each one a skillful actor, and Westworld showcases them all equally. The premise, if you aren’t familiar, is an immersive theme park staffed by hyper-realistic androids that caters to the whims of the uber-rich. Nothing is off limits for park guests: gambling, gunplay, sex; you want it, the androids will provide, and reset their storyline in the morning. Damages and faults are handled in a sterile lab setting where robotic engineers obsess and tweak every personality trait and gesture.

The switch from “past” to future and “host” to core OS personality challenges many of the actors to deftly slip in and out of accents, affectations, and emotions. It’s brilliantly handled, and a delight to watch. So much is conveyed in their eyes alone, it’s a masterclass in subtlety. Also, Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris doing their things. I mean, come on.

Reason Two: The Visual Effects. Holy moly, this is CG at its best. Both big and small scale effects create believable worlds. The laboratory scenes especially dazzle as you watch the androids being manufactured and repaired. The sweeping western shots are also glorious. Beautiful and idyllic in just the way you’d imagine, especially if they are the perfected wild west of a futuristic theme park.

Additionally, the cinematography is exquisite. The warm lighting, use of shadows, and long panning shots in the saloon and plains contrasted with the stark-blue steady and efficient glow of the laboratory create definite senses of place. Interestingly,  “reality” of the lab feels more two dimensional than the “fiction” of the western park, which, as a viewer, feels deeply unsettling on a subconscious level. It’s nothing less than one would expect from the network that gave us Game of Thrones, but all the more impressive when you consider how much funding it must take to create both of these shows.

Reason Three: The Score. Speaking of Game of Thrones, the composer who gave us the theme from GOT, Ramin Djawadi, brilliantly scores Westworld. Western themes intermingle with modern music (listen to the player piano), giving an anachronistic feel that perfectly suits the subject matter and adds to the unsettling sense that something is “off.” This is an intended result, as you quickly find out as the storyline unfolds.

Overall, if you have a great home theater setup, you owe it to yourself to give Westworld a shot. Beautiful visuals, great score. And hey, if you’re like me, you may even love it in spite of yourself.