If you felt like getting stoned and watching “Game of Thrones” was too intense of an experience, you might want to skip HBO’s newest big-budget stunner “Westworld.” This sci-fi Western is dark and violent and quite keen on depicting the very worst humanity has to offer. Based on a 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton (the writer behind “Jurassic Park”), “Westworld” takes place in a fictional theme park populated by synthetic androids who resemble human beings and are referred to as “Hosts,” each assuming the role of a different Western archetype (bandit, saloon keeper, prostitute, sheriff). Rich visitors stream into the park each day, paying to experience life in the gunslinging Wild West far-removed from the uptight constraints of modern society. The guests gamble, drink, screw prostitutes, shoot bandits, and their Hosts aren’t allowed to fight back ... theoretically. But if you’re familiar with “Jurassic Park,” you’ll know theme park attractions have a nasty habit of veering off-script.
Filmed in Utah and California, the show’s scenery is luscious (though familiar to those of us living Durango). Exterior shots feature towering buttes and wide-open plains. It’s appealing to think of time traveling back to frontier life, especially in a place akin to the Pleasure Island of “Pinocchio” (where naughty boys cavorted and caroused to their hearts’ content). The sins of “Westworld” are more adult, of course. Tourists insult, murder or rape the robots, perhaps operating under the assumption that Hosts are inhuman and thus unable to feel pain.
The androids have their memories wiped at the end of every day, only to begin reliving their repetitive story loops in the morning, interacting with the same tourists as if for the first time (but content and free of trauma). We are also privy to those humans operating behind-the-scenes in a command center (like the park’s creator Dr. Robert Ford, played with chilling authority by Anthony Hopkins). These guys sit around watching a digital projection of the park and making sure everything is going according to plan.
The blondest robot, a rancher’s daughter named Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), appears innocent and sweet – but the park has been open for 30 years, and Dolores is its oldest model. What memories does she have stored? What horrors has she witnessed in that time? Something tells me we’re going to find out. At the conclusion of the pilot episode, Dolores exhibits behavior defying her programming. Maybe she’ll eventually lead a robot rebellion. Stay tuned.
— Anya Jaremko-Greenwold