Western-sci-fi hybrid-epic Westworld has come riding into town as the hottest show
on TV since, well, the last one, and has impeccable credentials both in and behind the scenes. Based on the 1973 film starring Yul Brynner, Westworld is set in a theme park where humans play out their darkest fantasies on unwitting robots, until a technical malfunction upsets the power balance dramatically.
This update, starring Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Anthony Hopkins, has been percolating for the two decades since JJ Abrams sat down with Michael Crichton, writer of the original book and director of the film, to discuss a remake. Now a crack husband-and-wife team, Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan — writer of, among others, Interstellar and The Dark Knight — have turned it into a TV series with Abrams executive producing. It is rumoured five series are already mapped out.
The excellent first episode is both knottily intriguing and light on its feet in terms of exposition. But there are also times when we, like the robots in Westworld, might wonder: haven't we been here before?
Of course, the premise will be familiar to those who watched the original movie and have had nightmares about Brynner's homicidal rogue robot ever since. The slow pacing of TV allows for differences, though, and Nolan and Joy have taken the clever step of reversing the film's point of view; initially at least, we experience Westworld through the eyes of the robots, or "hosts", who have no idea they're robots at all.
The ambition and scope of Westworld has drawn comparisons to Game of Thrones, due to lavish landscapes and a proliferating menu of characters played by an international cast. It also has an increasingly twisty plot, and tons of violence and nudity. But with its dependency on mystery and suspense, perhaps Westworld actually has more in common with Lost. And, wait, as a cult film that has taken on an extra dimension on the small screen, isn't it a bit like Fargo? And don't those grisly opening credits remind you of Six Feet Under? And the symbols and scary desert churches, aren't they a bit True Detective? And those flash-forwards at the start of episodes, that's totally Breaking Bad.
Yes, Westworld has resonances of other successful TV shows, even if it's sometimes just a faint glint in the circuitry. But should that affect your enjoyment? Not one iota. And anyway, as it no doubt says in the Host Repair Manual, if it ain't broke...