Per FTC obligations: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this post. The opinions I share are my own. The Series: Based on the film written by best-selling author Michael Crichton (ER, Jurassic Park films), Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and evolution of sin. Set at the intersection of the near future and a reimagined past, the series explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter now noble or depraved, can be indulged. Over the course of ten episodes, series creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy craft one of the most impressive explorations of what it means to be human that wasn’t spawned by the mind of Philip K. Dick. Crichton’s original film never approached this level of existential introspection, preferring instead to focus on warning against corporate greed (despite initial reviews that fixated on the dangers of technology – a theme Crichton never intended to be central), which is something Nolan and Joy also incorporate seamlessly along the way. Westworld works like this: park founder, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) crafts meticulous storylines that his robotic hosts act out with guests, essentially as a real-life immersive video game. Think Grand Theft Auto in the old west, where you can kill or fuck any of the NPCs. To safeguard the guests, the hosts are programmed to be incapable of harming a human being. So it’s a safe place to essentially do whatever you want to whomever you want, so long as they’re a robot. Inside the theme park there are three main storylines we follow: The mysterious Man in Black (played with disturbingly natural menace by Ed Harris) is searching for the center of The Maze and doing anything and everything he can to get there. He’s hoping that once The Maze is solved it will open up a new game where the stakes are real and his life will have some sort of meaning. We also follow two new arrivals to the park, Logan (Ben Barnes) and his soon-to-be brother-in-law William (Jimmi Simpson). Logan is a repeat customer who indulges his worst impulses with no fear of consequences while William is tentative about the whole thing until he meets the host Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and begins to get drawn into her narrative. As her story unfolds, Dolores also finds herself drawn to searching for The Maze and potentially becoming sentient along the way. Lastly, another host, Maeve (Thandie Newton) finds herself remembering things that didn’t happen in her current life as the Madame of the bordello. These memories lead her to the awareness that she is a player in the park, dying repeatedly, being repaired, having her memory wiped, and being put back into play. Initially believing that she’s going mad and traveling between the “real” world of the park and the “hell” of the park’s labs, Maeve hatches a scheme to take control of her life. In the world of the park’s controllers, Dr. Ford and his second-in-command Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) are dealing with the dual issues of a series of host malfunctions that threaten to derail a number of ongoing in-world storylines and a potential hostile takeover of the park and ouster of Ford by the Board of Directors, who want simpler, more streamlined narratives with fewer possibilities for glitches. All of this is occurring while Dr. Ford plans his grandest story yet; one that requires the takeover of an unprecedented number of hosts from other storylines and the demolition and rebuilding of large sections of the park. There’s a lot going on and a lot to process from the opening moments of the premiere to the closing seconds of the finale, but Westworld finds a way to make one of the most thematically complex shows on television accessible and entertaining. Critiquing the show from any particular critical school, be it Feminist, Marxist, Post-Structuralist, or what have you, is essentially like the fable of the blind men describing an elephant. Any specific critical interpretation is going to miss major elements that inform and illuminate other approaches as every single major character operates through multiple layers of motivation, memory, and identity. The role of capitalism and commercial forces on social roles and identity is intermingled with the criticism and undermining of gender roles, which is mixed with a healthy dose of cognitive theories about the source of consciousness and the Self. There is also an overt exploration of the role of memory and storytelling in the creation of identity and as a means of social interaction, while also tackling that classic PKD chestnut of what role empathy plays in the definition of humanity – and whether humans who lack it are less human than their mechanical counterparts who can fake it till they make it. Anthony Hopkins gives the role of Dr. Ford every bit of Anthony-Hopkins-ness that he can muster, imbuing nearly every interaction with subtle threatening undertones, but even Sir Anthony has to work in the double shadows of Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores and Thandie Newton as Maeve. Playing two extremes of the wild west stereotypes of the maiden and the whore, both actresses bring a heartbreaking intimacy and power to their characters as each undergoes her own quest to self-actualization and freedom. Of course, Ed Harris is pure perfection as The Man in Black; so much so that for a while there’s even some doubt as to whether or not he’s human. He’s a man who has done every dark thing that he could imagine and still feels nothing because there’s just no real threat in the park. He longs for a version of the game where he can experience some consequences and therein find meaning. I would be remiss to not mention the heartbreaking performance of Jeffrey Wright as Bernard Lowe, but to say more than that would spoil the journey that his character finds himself on as the world around him begins to unravel into chaos. On a lighter note, there’s a Thor: Ragnarok gathering as Luke Hemsworth plays Stubbs, the head of security (he plays the actor playing Thor in “The Death of Loki” play in Ragnarok and is Chris Hemsworth’s brother), Hopkins is Odin, of course, and Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie) plays the corporate threat to Ford’s autonomy! So, if you have to take a break from bingeing Westworld, go see Thor: Ragnarok to keep your mojo working in your down time. Westworld had some of the best reviews of any HBO series in years and one of their largest budgets. It’s a beautifully shot series that captures the grandeur of the western United States and classic filmmaking. At the same time, the show explores some of the most complex philosophical themes about the social constructions of identity that I’ve seen in any science fiction series. Hell, any television series regardless of genre. Not only is Westworld a must-see, it’s a must-own collection that will reward multiple viewings in ways that few other shows would even attempt. The Discs: Westworld is a 3-disc set with a nice slipcover case and a very interesting booklet that serves as a promotional flier for those interested in visiting Westworld theme park. The Blu-ray is a 1.78:1 1080p transfer with pristine colors, deep blacks, and cool blues. The series was shot on film rather than video and looks about as good as humanly possible. The audio is a solid English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, with very few, if any, issues with loss. Everything from dialogue to gunshots to breezes through the grass are clear and help to create a truly encompassing experience. Special Features: About the Series (2:11) – Executive producers Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J.J. Abrams along with actors Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood, and James Marsden ask, “What if Westworld really existed?” in what amounts to a brief trailer for the show. An Invitation to the Set (2:14) – Nolan, Joy, Abrams, Wood, and Jeffrey Wright discuss living without limits. Again, brief and provide no real insight except as a promo piece. Welcome to Westworld (7:41) – Nolan, Joy, Abrams, Newton, Marsden, and Wood consider immersive fantasy in terms of reality, humanity, and technology. This is a little more in-depth and interesting than the first two features, but still lacks depth. Realizing the Dream: First week on the Set of Westworld (11:20) – This is more like it, as Nolan and Joy provide insight into the inspirations and goals of the show, focusing on the initial introduction to the world of Westworld. Imagining the Main Title (14:06) – Showrunners dissect the iconic opening sequence from concept to final execution. This is an immersive look at the creation of the title sequence. Maybe a little too immersive? Nah. There’s a lot of great stuff in here about the creative process and really gets to the heart of the amount of detail work that went into every aspect of the show. Reality of A.I.: Westworld (4:29) – Nolan, Joy, Abrams, Newton and Wood investigate A.I.’s existential threats. Sort of. These shorter pieces don’t really bring a lot to the table, especially since they’re mostly just soundbites that would work great to fill a few minutes between shows or movies on HBO, but here, they’re just superfluous. Gag reel (1:36) – Funny, but short. There’s a lot more of the dramatic moments here than the flubs. The Key to the Chords (8:03) – Explore the player piano as metaphor and tool for composer Ramin Djawadi to echo the outside world. This is a very nice piece that touches on something I hadn’t considered while watching: the fact that the player piano is essentially the great-grandfather of the hosts. It’s a nice metaphor and works really well in the context of the series. Also, it’s interesting to get a peek behind the curtain at the way songs were chosen and reinterpreted through the player piano format. Crafting the Narrative (29:15) – Nolan and Joy review the final episode in terms of memory, mythology, and inner monologue. Since we don’t get any episode commentary tracks, this is my favorite special feature, as we get a pretty thorough look at the finale from the director’s perspective. Touches on most of the points raised in passing in the short pieces with much more consideration. The Big Moment: These are very short looks at key moments in the series that essentially just tell us what we already know from watching the scenes. Not sure what the point of these really are. Teddy Versus the Man in Black A Host Self-Sabotages Maeve Gets an Answer Bernard Faces an Unlikely Saboteur Dr. Ford’s Blood Sacrifice The Truth About Bernard Dr. Ford’s New Narrative See larger image Westworld: The Complete First Season (BD) [Blu-ray] Westworld: The Complete First Season (BD+Digital Copy) New From: $35.89 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.