Pilot: “Westworld (2016 TV series)”

Television adaptations of feature length films are nothing new (sadly) and while they’re becoming more and more tiresome with each passing month, in each passing year, it’s clear the trend isn’t dying off anytime soon. However, so few of these adaptations work out. No matter what kinds of expectations the network heads have, the audience they’re peddling these shows to are a bit smarter than they expect. They can spot laziness quite easily. But, then that blue moon comes out and everyone’s surprised.

The new Warner Bros. Television Distribution series “Westworld”, is a captivating and beautiful series that offers so much more than a complex and mysterious entertaining narrative.

This sci-fi drama stars Evan Rachel Wood (Into the Forest”, “Doll & Em”), Thandie Newton (“Rogue”, “The Slap (2015 miniseries)”), Jeffrey Wright (“BoJack Horseman”, “Confirmation”), James Marsden (“Wander Over Yonder”, “Unfinished Business”), Ingrid Bolso Berdal (“Women in Oversized Men’s Shirts”, “Side on side”), Luke Hemsworth (“Infini”, “Saaturday Nighth Live”), Sidse Babett Knudsen (upcoming “Inferno”, “A Hologram for the King”), Simon Quarterman (“Estranged”, “Stitchers”), Rodrigo Santoro (“Ben-Hur (2016)”, “Pele: Birth of a Legend”), Angela Sarafyan (upcoming “The Promise”, “Mercury Plains”), Shannon Woodward (“The Veil”, “The Breakup Girl”), Ed Harris (upcoming “Rules Don’t Apply”, “The Adderall Diaries”), and Anthony Hopkins (“Misconduct”, “Solace”).

The series was created by Jonathan Nolan (“Person of Interest”, “Interstellar”) and Lisa Joy (“Burn Notice”, “Pushing Daisies”). It is based on the film of the same name written by Michael Crichton.

The series originally debuted on Oct. 2, 2016 on HBO.

It finally debuted! A series I was at first completely skeptical of. Now, the funny thing is, I wasn’t skeptical simply because this is a television remake, but because I originally couldn’t envision how this was supposed to be a full fledged series. The original film, which I saw and wrote about 10 months ago, is pretty straightforward. It’s simple too, in so many ways. So, how can you make it a weekly thing, without just recycling every aspect of the original film? Well, I now know and I fully approve. Hearing about what Nolan and Joy were planning got me a bit more intrigued. Then dropped the first bits of footage, along with teasers months later and viral marketing, and I was on board! My excitement level was pretty damn high! I think it’s been some time, if ever, that I’ve been this excited about an HBO series, and I must say, this excitement was well rewarded! Just the “in the weeks ahead” promo I knew I had chosen the best and craziest series yet!

I don’t know where to begin or how. So I guess I’ll just start broadly.

“Westworld” is simply beautiful! As a whole series, on every level, it’s got it all. Mystery, amazing sets and costumes, a mesmerizing score that fits all moments perfectly, and stellar performances. I’m sure there are other things too, but let’s work with what we’ve got now. At least until I think of those other things, if at all.

Because of how much work was taken to bring this compelling series to life, the actual world of Westworld is able to feel so real. Seriously, I want to visit! From the moment we get our first glimpse at this western civilization (ha! I did it!), I bought it. The authenticity is of a scope you usually only see this well done on the big screen. And so you’re sucked in and able to just go on the journey’s put before you, and there are plenty.

But it’s not just Westorld that fascinates me, of which I’ll explore a bit more of why that is. It’s what it takes to bring this whole amusement park to life! In so many ways, which is what drew me to the series in the first place, how this world exists is a mystery. It’s a mystery worth exploring and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. When you only see images, many strange and creepy, you can’t help but be drawn in. So I was. And when the episode finally got around to showing the various stages of creating these robots, I was floored. The way each step occurred just amazed me and I couldn’t look away. Plus, the way it was shot and the detail, all of that, just sold it even more. The complexities of this high tech park are abundantly clear. For a show with so much already going on, it didn’t feel like it was bogged down by too much. Well, until you got to the various characters.

There are a lot of characters. Certainly not as many as you see in any given episode of fellow HBO show, “Game of Thrones”, but enough. While there are so many characters, each going about their own business, sometimes intersecting and interacting with others, you get so much. The exploration of these character’s is something I’m excited for. For those who work at Westworld, you’re not simply seeing business men and women, but those who are compassionate and bring some deep feeling to their work, along with genuine concern for the guests who’ll show up each day. Wright and Hopkins certainly showcase this in the first episode, and I can’t wait to see if any of the others will too. It’s really going to be one of the only ways you get any insight into these characters, so hopefully it’s also handled delicately.

Then, and this is exciting me even more, there are the robots/AIs/machines (I haven’t figured out what to call them), who all have lives that they constantly repeat, with only slight variations in their narratives. That’s what those at Westworld call them. Also, these characters are called “hosts”. While it’s all a story for the guests who pay a high price, they’re not simply characters to these rich people, but hosting them and keeping them safe. Wow, that’s a lot of work. Regardless, because of Nolan and Joy, we’re going to be able to explore what these robot characters see and feel. It’s how they bring authenticity to Westworld and for the guests. What makes this approach, which is drastically different from the original film, so wonderful, is it’s going to allow you to feel a lot more for them. Things have already begun to get weird, and as we saw, Woods’ “dad” ended up being replaced. He is just a machine and it’s all code anyway, what does it matter? But this is where a deep human exploration is going to come into play. If ever you needed some sort of way into yourself, this could be it. I can’t wait to see how the writer’s handle things as the shit really starts to hit the fan.

OH! And in case you were wondering, solid performances are what makes all of this possible.

A few last things that I loved, not only tell me of the commitment of all involved, including the network, but of what this show is going to be. There’s the overall mystery of some characters and stories that’ll play out in the next nine weeks. There’s also the mythology of the show. I guess you can call it mythology, but whatever it’s called, it’s certainly been thought out methodically.

There are so many rules. Not just for Westworld, but for the various people who create the inhabitants and those who run the park itself. So many precautions obviously must be taken and we’re introduced to them pretty organically. The amount that I learned was perfect and I somehow felt at home. Nothing was dumbed down and I was most definitely hanging on to every word. I guess this makes sense too, as part of the series has to focus on those in charge, but make sure the viewers aren’t bored.

I love mystery! And as J.J. Abrams (upcoming “God Particle”, “10 Cloverfield Lane”) is helping to executive produce this series, you can be certain that there will always be some mysterious element somewhere. Not only is Harris’ character a guest, but he’s been coming for 30 years. But why? That’s the mystery. He clearly has an agenda, but what? I also wonder, if the fact that he resembles the original film’s star Yul Brynner, is any coincidence? I’m not certain. Even the promo for the series didn’t seem to tell me much, even about Harris’ look.

Elsewhere, there’s a different type of mystery brewing. How will everyone (robots and real people) handle all of the glitches that are coming? We’ve seen some, and were left with one surprise at the end, but in what ways will they manifest? Clearly chaos, but when will people really take these glitches seriously? What I love, which goes back to the story and this TV adaptation’s worth as a whole, is that these glitches are coming from a practical place. Something we as tech consumers can see and understand, in so many ways. It’s an upgrade glitch. Upgrade issues are nothing new, and here it just works. The slightest change could lead to anything.

There really is so much to look forward too!

Adaptations are tricky, be they film adaptations or television reboots, which are just as bad. Any one thing, no matter how small it is could ruin any chance of success. So many people, and with good reason, want original ideas, or as close to that as possible. Adaptations also need to be compelling, like any show. What will draw people in? Is it just the compelling stories or a combination of strorytelling and character driven plots and arcs? A balancing act is called for, and is just as tough as getting a good adaptation, but when it works, it works. With this adaptation, it really are the little things that sets it apart.

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5 thoughts on “Pilot: “Westworld (2016 TV series)”

  1. Wasn’t really sold after the first episode, but after watching the second one last night I am officially HOOKED! This show looks great and is already establishing some great characters. Love Jimmi Simpson! Are you interested at all in sharing your film/TV articles with our readers on moviepilot.com, by chance?

    Like

    • The whole world building has just continued to be phenomenal! And you’re definitely right about characters. Little things will set each one apart week to week, even though it all seems familiar. It’s certainly a unique way to explore humanity. And you’re right about Simpson. I hadn’t even realized he was in it, and got super excited when I saw his name during the second episode’s credits. He was brilliant in “Hap & Leonard”.

      And sharing by any chance? Of course. That’d be all kinds of exciting.

      Like

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