Wed. Jan 22nd, 2020

‘Westworld’ HBO’s Magnificent New Obsession Pays Off In Its Debut, Plus More! (Premiere PHOTOS)

It’s a hit! Don’t listen to the naysayers, it’s Westworld to the rescue for HBO. Its ambitious reimagining of Michael Crichton’s 1973 film is a bit edgy, a great deal of sexual violence, (it is premium cable and the 21ST Century after all).  I wouldn’t suggest this series for children, as I would never suggest Game of Thrones, which happens to be TV’s best show ever.  But, if you are ready to head to an alternate universe of fantasy each week for an hour, this show is for you.   Much was made when Jonathan Nolan and beautiful and talented Lisa Joy shut down production last winter, but as we reported then and again now, it was the right move. The show is excruciatingly well-produced.
Producers of Westworld manage to make a compelling case that the vast world it’s building and the moral and ethical dilemmas it explores were worth the extra attention. The early dramatic storytelling centers on what humans will do once they’ve paid a measly, okay, not so measly  $40,000 a day to play in a futuristic dream park that reinvents the Wild West as a jumping-off point for illicit behavior up to and including murder, rape and other atrocities.
Some patrons  just want to experience the thrill of hunting down criminals whose faces appear on “Wanted” posters, or getting in gunfights to defend a lady’s honor, but others are more intent on getting their money’s worth.
As if the guests/patrons  didn’t make Westworld a volatile enough place, the incredibly life-like androids, called “hosts,” who populate the park have starting glitching out. Much like an Android phone that just starts malfunctioning.  With some, it’s like their batteries die or their code gets corrupted and they simply stop working. Others seem to be malfunctioning in more ominous ways. It could be that they are — not a shocker — developing their own intelligence, gaining consciousness. Countless movies and books have explored this theme, but give Westworld credit for throwing in enough as-yet-unexplained hints and red herrings that might suggest either better options or more dire, nefarious doings.westworld12
It’s important that Westworld have all of those options — even at the risk of confusion. It’s also important to know that confusion isn’t always messy — it’s a necessity when telling a complicated tale. And if you’re at all interested in watching Westworld for the long haul, depth and complexity are key factors. Westworld has those in ways that build confidence in its potential.
The show with brilliant writing, directing and acting makes the decision to take the person into the world of the Westworld park creator Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), but soon they don’t focus on the star, but on the being and people around him.  Powerful acting by Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), who plays a behavioral specialist who runs the Programming Division. At the same time, we get a lot of Shannon Woodward as Elsie Hughes, who also works in the Programming Division and is discovering some peculiar and dangerous anomalies.
But Sir Anthony Hopkins is superb in the Ford character who doesn’t quite show you whether he’s really a benefactor, a genius or a devil.  Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is the no-nonsense operation director of the company that owns Westworld, and she’s been sent by the board to protect the interest of the shareholders. But given that Dr. Ford is the man who dreamt up how to play God, you have to imagine he’s aware of subterfuge on every level.
Genius showrunners Nolan and Joy and the Westworld writing team have done an impeccable job keeping the exact roles and loyalties of Dr. Ford and Bernard a guessing game for viewers. As the “hosts” begin to show signs of deviating from their programming, viewers will begin to wonder if Ford or Bernard or both have anything to do with it.
Westworld has a scene-stealer, it’s Evan Rachel Wood, and a solid character actor, Louis Herthum, who plays a mysterious one, indeed.  In the role of his career, James Marsden is sublime as Teddy, who comes to the park to play gunslinger but clearly loves Dolores. Meanwhile, Thandie Newton as Maeve, the madame who runs the brothel in the bar; and a host of other, emerging characters that pop up in episodes three and four in particular, and she has a mysterious side as well.
The camerawork is engaging, but not overpowering early on, but it goes bonkers (in a good way) going forward.  Every cast member is perfectly chosen, from Luke Hemsworth to Jimmi Simpson.
Highlight Hollywood gives HBO’s new grand series an A+, Five Stars and everything else that can possibly be added.

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Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Louis Herthum, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Shannon Woodward, Luke Hemsworth
Creators: Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy
Based on the movie by: Michael Crichton
Directed by: Jonathan Nolan

Airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO
Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy:  HBO; File
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