by Coop Cooper
The original 1973 “Westworld” film written/directed by Michael Crichton starred Richard Benjamin and James Brolin as two yuppies who spend a small fortune to visit the adult theme park of the future where humans can experience the old ‘Wild West’ of the late 1800’s. Since the characters in the theme park are played by emotionless robots, the guests can visit brothels and shoot any robot they want without consequence. However, when a glitch in programming causes a robot uprising, they must fight for their lives as they are relentlessly pursued by a villainous gunslinger robot (Yul Brynner) who won’t stop until they are dead.
That simple setup inspired an entire genre of ‘evil robot’ sci-fi movies, made most famous by “The Terminator” film franchise. The new HBO series “Westworld” takes a completely different and more complex approach to the idea by telling the story mostly from the perspective of the robots and the behind-the-scenes employees.
Evan Rachel Wood plays Dolores Abernathy, a robot disguised as a demure farm girl within the Westworld resort. Although she looks young, we learn she is the single most venerable robot or ‘host’ in the collection, as many of her fellow robots have long been retired due to poor design or ‘glitches’. Every night or so, Dolores and the other robots are reset, waking up the next day with no memories of what the guests, or other robots, have done to them. Sometimes the resetting does not work completely and past traumatic memories seep back into to their consciousness, making them aware of their existence. One human designer (Jeffery Wright) has been studying these glitches out of curiosity, but Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), the creator of the park, seems to have an agenda in allowing these glitches to spread to the other robot models. When Dolores begins to develop a glitch, she catches the attention of the indestructible ‘Man in Black’ robot gunslinger (Ed Harris) who has become self-aware and plots to escape the park, killing anyone who gets in his way.
There are a few action scenes but the majority of the show focuses on the hell in which these sentient robots are put through on a daily basis. Most are killed over and over again. The women are savaged on a daily basis. Even other robots are allowed to interact or commit atrocities against their own kind. According to the creators, this is considered ‘practice’ in order for the robots to continue to function and develop more realistic emotions when left to their own devices. The side effect to these interactions is the robots begin to realize who and what they really are.
This version of “Westworld” thematically has more in common with “Blade Runner” than it does with its actual source material. The show intentionally keeps key details in the dark and the resetting of the robots feels like the narrative is constantly jumping backwards in time. Once you figure out what is going on, it makes sense but it takes a bit of getting used to.
What’s shocking is how disturbing the story comes across. What these robots go through equates to some sort of metaphysical hell that cannot be escaped. The fear, confusion, violations and death they experience over and over again is bad enough, but when they start becoming aware of their situation, the horror becomes palpable. Their only escape from it is the oblivion of being decommissioned. Even humans don’t have it that bad.
I have some theories as to where the story is going. Obviously there will be a robot uprising, but it will take a long time to get there because as soon as they kill their first human, the jig is up. What I suspect will happen is a slow burn towards robot suffering and self-awareness which will result in a far more emotional and bloody uprising that will spread far beyond the borders of Westworld itself. I believe the endgame will be something similar to what we saw in the 2004 -2009 “Battlestar Galactica” series reboot. I don’t think everyone we think is human on “Westworld” actually is – maybe NONE of them are. Whatever the case, the first two episodes are compelling television and I am interested in seeing where the series takes us.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars