Westworld Screen 9 articles

Westworld

2016

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  • As self-deprecating, self-aware analogies go, the player piano is a good one... but is it the basis of good drama? Why not just tell a complex and ambitious science-fiction story unfolding along two timelines that we already know are two timelines, and let the emotions and psychology of the characters draw us in, rather than the implicit promise of being outsmarted? Why not place emphasis on why things happened, instead of whether they _might_ happen?

  • Even when Westworld’s hosts rebel, they continue to obey. It’s in this sense that the series ends up undermining both the sci-fi half of its story and the Western one. The robot rebellion is, inevitably, an imperfect metaphor for the quest for human equality; robots are, after all, the creations of humans, and destined to remain that way. But if racial subjugation is also an invention—the most powerful and pernicious American tool for turning human beings into things—the fantasy is race itself.

  • The disruptors are what save Westworld from being too ponderous and slow, forcing the narrative to shake itself loose from its otherwise archetypal roots... Strong aesthetic choices are evident throughout the show, like the frequent cutaways from the vibrant orange mesas and beautiful, spacious vistas of the park to the tightly claustrophobic and sterile grays of the laboratories buried beneath it.

  • Good actors like Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins (de-aged by CGI to appear in flashbacks), Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton. An AMAZING scene with a guy called Louis Herthum as Wood’s malfunctioning dad. Uncanny in all the right ways. The Abrams connection suggests it may not ultimately prove to be satisfying, while the Nolan connection suggests it may not be as clever as it thinks it is (see above). But it looks great and keeps throwing out good scenes.

  • The critical deconstruction of HBO is a luxury not a necessity for us, and it may send us off to tweet our rage at this failure or that betrayal, but it won’t necessarily send all of us away. It’s a sinister wager in that it bets that our objection to HBO’s house style is an affected one, that it drives our pronouncements but not our practices. Our main need is a puzzle box with high production values on Sunday nights, and, while we might wish Westworld were better, it’ll do till Winter comes.

  • At its best, the meta-textual layer of unreality in Westworld can shift how you think about the scenes that play out in the park, and perhaps how you think about entertainment that relies on sex and violence to gratify its audience. Here, the passionate romances, bloody shoot-outs, and tearful deaths are actively framed not just as fantasy but as artifice; they deliberately draw our attention to their seams, to the hands moving behind the scenes to script and sculpt each moment.

  • The best road map for seeing where this could go is the superb Joss Whedon series “Dollhouse,” which also started as a show about programmable humans serving rich clientele, but developed into a conspiracy-minded thriller with more far-reaching implications. There’s plenty of room for speculation, but for now, “Westworld” is settling into a fantasy land where the brightness of the morning is darkened by the routine horrors of the day.

  • The patrons, or “guests,” of the Westworld within Westworld have opted, quite literally, to buy into traditional American male fantasies and act them out. They may be protected from serious injury or death — bullets are automatically deflected before they can penetrate human flesh — but there’s still a palpable sense of danger in this compelling yet disturbing role-playing game atmosphere, especially where women are concerned.

  • If we humans are irrational and in need of scrutiny, then are we right to perpetuate that imperfection? And if we are, why do we become surprised or outraged when the product of imperfect hands is flawed? It’s why Westworld slides so slickly into our contemporary conversations, forty-plus years after the original inspired scores of paranoiacs.

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