Five Reasons To Get Excited About Westworld
Mr Ed Harris in Westworld. Photograph by Mr John P Johnson/2016 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved
Everything you need to know about the new HBO sci-fi Western series.
With an A-list cast including Mr Anthony Hopkins, Ms Thandie Newton and Ms Evan Rachel Wood, and a plot that poses uncomfortable existential questions, Westworld is being pegged as one of autumn’s most compulsive new shows. Set in a Western-themed amusement park, populated by android hosts, where wealthy guests can indulge their basest fantasies and desires, the HBO series is based on the 1973 film of the same name, which was itself adapted from a novel by Jurassic Park author Mr Michael Crichton. It’s been brought to the small screen by Hollywood husband-and-wife team Mr Jonathan (known as Jonah) Nolan and Ms Lisa Joy. Here are five reasons to tune in and watch their robots go rogue.
Westworld’s creators have got serious cinematic and sci-fi pedigree
If Mr Nolan’s surname seems familiar, that’s because it probably is. He is the younger brother of Mr Christopher Nolan, whom he worked with on the blockbusters Memento, Interstellar and The Dark Knight. Ms Joy, meanwhile, has been signed up to write the new Battlestar Galactica film, which looks set to be directed by Mr Francis Lawrence, whose CV includes a little franchise called The Hunger Games.
Mr James Marsden and Ms Evan Rachel Wood in the HBO series. Photograph by Mr John P Johnson/2016 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved
It’s gleefully cross-genre
Westworld fuses the sci-fi and the Western, two genres which might, at first glance, seem a little incongruous. “But they are both, in their own ways, frontier stories,” says Ms Joy. “In a Western, it is man versus the unknown, the lawless, untamed country. And with science fiction, it is man grappling with technology, with the unknown, untamed possibilities out there.” There is, adds Mr Nolan, a third genre layered into Westworld too. “There is that very distinctive 1970s post-Watergate paranoid thriller element, in which we are not only worried about technology and our creations devouring us, but our own appetites too.”
You’ll wonder what memories are really made of
“The first film I was involved with was Memento [in which Mr Guy Pearce stars as a man tracking down his wife’s killer while suffering from a unique form of memory loss],” says Mr Nolan. “Ever since, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how inextricably linked your identity is with your memories. We are constantly writing and rewriting our imperfect memories.”
In the show, the hosts’ onboard data store – essentially their memory bank – is wiped after each day spent servicing the darkest desires of visitors. “We, as humans, don’t have someone rewriting our memories in the middle of the night,” points out Ms Joy. “But we remember things with our own spin, so our personal mythos is actually as much a fabrication as the hosts.”
Ms Thandie Newton and Mr Rodrigo Santoro. Photograph by Mr John P Johnson/2016 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved
What happens in Westworld stays in Westworld… or does it?
“Most people come to Westworld to do exactly what you might imagine; it’s that notion of ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’,” says Mr Nolan. It is a place apparently without consequences, where even murder and rape (albeit of androids) officially goes unpunished. “But can you truly escape the karmic cycle?” he posits. “There remains that idea that people have been brought into the centre of their own fantasies, and those transgressions will be repaid in full.”
Mr Anthony Hopkins and Mr Jeffrey Wright in Westworld. Photograph by Mr John P Johnson/2016 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved
Thinking machines are no longer merely the stuff of fiction
If the notion of robots developing real agency sounds a little far-fetched, Mr Nolan and Ms Joy point to their own car as a glimpse of the near future. The couple own a Tesla, Mr Elon Musk’s fully electric, and now, almost fully autonomous car. “We’ve had one for a couple of years, and every few months, it would let us know it could do something new: cruise control, then automated braking, accelerating…” recalls Mr Nolan. Over the course of the filming of Westworld, the car’s independent abilities evolved rapidly; while they were filming the finale, the car announced that it could drive itself. “It feels incredibly smooth, and is incredibly safe,” says Mr Nolan. “But, still, giving up control of the wheel is terrifying for us humans.”