I’m a huge fan of the classic Westworld movie, as Yul Bryner is without doubt one of the greatest actors who ever lived. So it was a bit head-scratching when promo material on the 2016 remake TV series seemed to tout it as the pay service’s replacement for the insanely-successful Game of Thrones, a fantasy show to boot. Stranger things have happened on the internet, so I shrugged that off and waited for the show to land. And boy did it, and with a solid thud. On its feet, I might add.
Fear not, there are no spoilers within. The premise this time, a bit different from the Michael Crichton-penned and directed 1973 original, sees adventurous – and no doubt stinking rich – humans traveling to a theme park called, you guessed it, Westworld to live out all sorts of Wild West-themed fantasies. Initially, when I read about the show, I must confess I was skeptical. Then when the crew shaped up, I became curious. By the time the cast was announced, I full-on geeked out.
A cast which includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, James Marsden is one that practically demands attention. Now, after a gut-wrenching finale, I finally understand why Game of Thrones kept popping up in the conversations preceding this excellent TV show. It’s the characters, and the world they populate, no pun intended. So well-written are they both, that a scene wherein a human technician and a host (the name for the park’s robotic population) have a minutes-long conversation in a bare room held me spellbound.
Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy for HBO, it is based on the 1973 film of the same name, which was written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton. For the remake, Nolan serves as executive producer along with Joy, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk and Jerry Weintraub.
Right from the beginning of the Nolan-directed pilot, it is clear that production values are super-high. Also, this being an HBO show and all, the set design is almost a character in itself. Two characters, actually, as there’s Westworld itself, the Wild West-style scenario at the theme park, and then there’s the behind-the-scenes part, where all the magic is done with cutting edge tech producing the Hosts.
Westworld itself, is rough-edged and populated with all kinds of potential pleasure – and danger – and the costumes and sets ground everything so well. Then the factory where they get produced, controlled, or fixed is deliciously high-tech, but in an understated way. The result is a very believable fantasy world. Oxymoron, I know.
This is the second series based on Crichton’s original story, Beyond Westworld (1980), which aired only three episodes before getting cancelled. After many years in development hell, on August 31, 2013, it was announced that HBO had ordered a pilot for a potential television series version of the story. Reported as having cost approximately $100 million, with per-episode budgets around $8 million to $10 million, every single episode I’ve seen looks like it truly cost that.
Would a show truly be an HBO one without an arresting opening sequence? Accompanied by a gorgeous theme by Ramin Djawadi, the viewer immediately understands the kind of show that lies in wait afterwards, as mechanical tools, and hands, sculpt human-looking figures, with shiny tech stitching-in details. This has got to be my favorite, right after Game of Thrones’.
As I wait for the second season in a reported 2018 (fans gasp!), the excruciating suspense and eagerness to see it conjures up for me the same feeling when Game of Thrones is between seasons. I think the mention of both shows in the same breath has a lot to do with the scale of the story, the intricate world-building, the delayed release of payoffs to viewers, and the sheer ambitiousness of it all. Sure, Westworld might likely not be the pop culture-dominating behemoth that Game of Thrones is, but that’s OK, because it is what it is, it’s own show. And it’s a damn fine one.
By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu