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WESTWORLD (2018) – SEASON 2 – HBO TV REVIEW

WESTWORLD (2018) – SEASON 2 – HBO TV REVIEW

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Tessa Thompson, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Quarterman, Talulah Riley, Rodrigo Santoro, Ed Harris, Angela Sarafyan, Anthony Hopkins etc.

Created by: Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy

Written by: Lisa Joy, Jonathan Nolan, Carly Wray, Dan Dietz, Gina Atwater, Ron Fitzgerald, Robert Patino etc.

Original network: HBO

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** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS HA! HA! **

Where does one start when reviewing HBO’s latest season of Westworld?  I could start at the beginning by clearly establishing the world, concepts and themes of this review. I could also begin by building in empathy and sympathy via a structured linear approach which would be easy for the reader to follow and create audience enjoyment and emotion via the action and events. Or, I could take the alternative route  by starting at the end, drip feed events via fractured timelines; develop a maze like structure full of dead ends and unreliable narrators; only to retroactively switch focus and continuity to confuse you beyond belief. Guess what Westworld’s writers did?  They took the latter course and over ten spectacularly beautiful looking episodes — acted, designed and directed with wonderful precision — we ultimately got a legion of stories which did not, for me, make any narrative or emotional sense.

This television show could have been one of the most memorable creations of recent years; up there with Penny Dreadful and Game of Thrones; but alas it is not. With HBO spending a huge amount of money on it you’d have thought that they may have attempted to reign in the writers’ unnecessarily clever-clever approach to structure. Creator Jonathan Nolan has written some wonderful screenplays, Memento (2000) for example, remains one of the best low-budget films ever made; yet, that was within the discipline of a feature length film. Over ten episodes his, and writing partner Lisa Joy’s, choices to create an ever-shifting jigsaw narrative within an Escher painting style, left me with a headache and questioning the very nature of reasoning. I enjoy intelligently structured works, but NOT to the detriment of character empathy and narrative comprehension.

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Westworld is a stellar production and has some wonderful ideas and concepts relating to: coding, Artificial Intelligence, robot and human mortality, corporate espionage; android sentience and humanization; plus it challenges values of human versus computerized existence. However, exploration of such themes are very often lost amidst the jumbled and unnecessary complex timelines, which jump back and forward in days and years from scene to scene. It’s a narrative tragedy that the stories of Maeve, Teddy and Bernard, portrayed brilliantly by Thandie Newton, Geoffrey Wright and James Marsden, respectively, are lost at sea in a wave after wave of confusing plot and character turns. Anthony Hopkins was once again excellent as the A: I overlord Robert Ford, while, Evan Rachel Wood brought a deadly coolness and strength to her role of the “death-bringer” Dolores/Wyatt. Furthermore, the violence, action and blood-letting were amazing, reminding one of Sam Peckinpah in the high definition digital age. But for every intriguing story involving the host robots many other strands fell flat, notably Ed Harris’ “Man-in-Black” storyline. While it was good to see the acting brilliance of Harris, and Peter Mullan too, I did not care enough Harris’ character and his refusal to succumb to death became rather grating.

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Two years ago I wrote a highly praiseworthy review of Westworld – Season 1, which can be read HERE. Moreover, I even spent a whole week mapping out many of the plot strands and the order with which the show was structured in my article: Westworld: Post-Mapping the Network. That piece was my attempt to gain some sense of the events and order with which they occurred; and can be read HERE.  I will not be doing the same for the second season. Unfortunately, I do not believe there is any cultural reward in applying the same endeavour and analysis. There are really too many characters and storylines and the lack of clear exposition does the show no favours.

Overall, the show continues to amaze with its successful merging of Western and Science Fiction locations, costumes, props and hardware. The introduction of Shogun World was also a delicious diversion; however, that location was really filler to the other stories. It’s such a shame though as much of the visual pageantry is lost in a vacuum of confusing storylines and worst of all, by the finale’s end, I just did not care. There are some great episodes of televisual genius in Season 2 but the original concept, by Michael Crichton, of sentient hosts rising up murdering their human slave-masters, is lost in a myriad of temporal turmoil and chronological catastrophe!

(Mark for the production: 10 out of 11)

(Mark for narrative: 5 out of 11)

 

 

 

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WESTWORLD (2016) SEASON 1 – TV REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

WESTWORLD (2016) SEASON 1 – TV REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

HBO’s Westworld was presented, previewed and marketed, like the fantastical flagbearer Game of Thrones before it, as the premium, high-end, star-studded television event of the year. Indeed, in my honest opinion it lived up to the hype and certainly turned out to be one of the shows of the year!

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Everything about Westworld screamed cinematic quality! Of course it’s origins spring from Michael Crichton’s classic sci-fi film Westworld (1973) where the robot hosts started killing the rich guests on holiday at an ‘A:I’ driven amusement park. The formula would then be amped up in Jurassic Park (1993) and its sequels, where instead of sentient androids, we had dinosaur clones attacking the staff and guests. This televisual delight developed – by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy – twists and turns that simple, yet ingenious premise, into a whole new machine; utilising the influences of Crichton, Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, Rod Serling, Harlan Ellison etc. as well as incorporating a number of their own concepts too.

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HBO have pumped $100 million dollars into ten sumptuous looking episodes and the filmmakers took the brilliant decision to shoot on 35mm film. This creative choice gives us exquisite cinematographic vistas of the West while at the same time enhancing the inner sheen of the hi-spec-steam-punk engineering on show underneath the actual “amusement” park itself. Allied to this we get a whole host of A-grade movie and character actors who bring a depth and gravitas to the proceedings.

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Leading the stellar cast is Anthony Hopkins as the established overlord Dr Robert Ford. His presence is felt throughout the park and initially staff and hosts seem to answer to him. Hopkins is terrifically understated in his performance but underneath the iceberg surface is an incredibly complex character who, while a technical genius, responds to human beings coldly. He sees them as obstacles to his grand narrative which seems to be written and re-written from episode to episode. While oddly unsympathetic his enigma drives the show, with his character attempting to control the hosts, staff and his environment while writing and rewriting the past and present.

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Working for Ford are an army of techs and security personnel responsible for guests and hosts alike. The most honest, it would appear, and one we root for is Bernard portrayed with subtle distinction by Geoffrey Wright. His velvety voice alone is enough to project emotion and meaning within every syllable uttered. Representing the corporate personnel are a fine supporting cast, notably, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Luke Hemsworth.

Similarly, the simulacrum hosts are expertly cast with: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Rodrigo Santoro and Clifton Collins Jnr etc. bringing a glamour, edge and depth of performance to the paranoid androids. Obviously there are visitors to the park and these roles are dominated by the magisterial Ed Harris and younger bucks Jimmi Simpson and Ben Barnes.


Overall, I found the show an incredible science fiction experience. The opening theme is a haunting gift to the ears, while the incredible imagery of the opening credits are a feast for the eyes.  Visually and aurally the series was crammed with wondrous sounds and vistas and the soundtrack was fabulous too including dark naked tunes by the likes of: The Cure, Radiohead and Soundgarden.  Violence, action, nudity and sexuality are freely on show but this is just skin for the rich narrative and themes which power the twisting story. Indeed, the themes ask us to question everything, like: who is human and who is a host? Should we, the audience, care about a character when they’re a robot?  And most importantly: when are the robots going to start killing the guests?


Halfway through though I must admit I was close to discontinuing and shutting down as I was struggling to connect emotionally with the characters. However, I realised this was a cerebral challenge; a puzzle or maze, which – much like Jonathan Nolan and his brother Christopher’s other work including: The Prestige (2006), Memento (2000) and Inception (2010) – I’ll try and solve. I’ll be honest not all of it hung together satisfactorily on first watch, however, on further views each episode’s timelines, narratives, flashbacks, flash-forwards, memories and dreams combined brilliantly, and I soon realised all the pieces were there to successfully put the puzzle together.

With its state-of-the-art effects, incredible design, brilliant actors, brutal violence, complex plots and classic Western genre setting, this postmodern masterpiece transcends genre and the storytelling process itself. Because at its core processing Westworld is about: the nature of narrative and controlling your story: past, present and future. Oh, that and lots of killer robots. So, overall, Westworld is a place I will certainly be coming back to time and time and time again.  Some might say the whole Westworld experience was a-MAZE-ing!