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Five things you need to know about HBO’s ‘Westworld’

Tom Huddleston

The new big-budget sci-fi show from the ‘Game of Thrones’ network HBO launches tonight on Sky Atlantic. Here’s what you need to know about your new TV obsession.

1. It’s a remake of the classic 1973 sci-fi movie

‘Westworld’ the movie was written and directed in 1973 by novelist-turned-director Michael Crichton (the man behind ‘Jurassic Park’) and set in an amusement park inspired by the Old West where tourists could ride the range, gamble in the saloon and freely gun down the locals – who were all pre-programmed robots. Of course, it wasn’t long before the put-upon androids ran amok. If you’ve seen the ‘Itchy and Scratchy Land’ episode of ‘The Simpsons’, you’ve basically seen ‘Westworld’. 

2. The TV show is all about the robots
Unlike the movie, HBO’s ‘Westworld’ – which is produced and partially directed by Jonathan Nolan, brother of ‘Dark Knight’ director Christopher – is focused firmly on the park’s android inhabitants. Front and centre is Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), a farmer’s daughter robot whose programmed role is to fall in love (over and over again) with gunslinger Teddy (James Marsden), before being inevitably gunned down and going back to the start. We also meet the back-room boys: technician Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and morally dubious park owner Ford (Anthony Hopkins), whose agenda remains unclear.

3. It’s as violent as you’d expect from the network behind ‘Game of Thrones’

HBO was criticised for the levels of sexual violence in ‘Game of Thrones’, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped them. We’re not long into the first episode of ‘Westworld’ before Wood is being hauled off to the woodshed by mysterious gamer The Man in Black (Ed Harris). The violence is arguably justified – one of the show’s main themes is human morality, and how people react when all restraints are removed – but it’s still an uncomfortable watch.

4. It’s one of the priciest TV shows ever made

Reportedly costing $100 million for the ten-episode first season, ‘Westworld’ smashes even ‘Game of Thrones’ in the budget department. Then again, quite a lot of that money was reportedly spent reshooting large chunks of the pilot episode after early versions didn’t meet the expectations of HBO executives (resulting in lengthy delays). That said, the money’s right up there on the screen. ‘Westworld’ is stunning to look at: the beautiful photography strikes a sharp contrast between the grand, Monument Valley-alike vistas inside the park and the sleek, space-age laboratories where the techies work.

5. It’s too early to tell if it’ll be the hit HBO needs

With several recent HBO shows – including ‘Vinyl’ – flopping pretty disastrously, the network badly needs a ‘Game of Thrones’-sized sensation. It’s difficult to say if ‘Westworld’ will be that show. There’s an inherent problem with all heroes being re-programmable robots whose personalities change at the flip of a switch, making them hard to become emotionally involved with. The pacing is a little ponderous too – we watched four episodes, and so far not a massive amount has happened. That said, it’s visually stunning, superbly acted and packed with ideas, and we’re seriously intrigued to see where it goes next. 

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