Tuesday 17 October 2017

Could creepy Westworld be the next Game of Thrones?

Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood star in Westwood
Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood star in Westwood
James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood are among the star-studded cast of Westworld

Pat Stacey

Game of Thrones is not going to last for ever. It just feels that way sometimes, especially to those of us who’ve never been entirely won over by the evangelism of its huge and very vocal fan base.

When the fantasy epic finally reaches the end of its long road — which, unless its creators change their minds, will be after two more seasons — HBO is going to be left with a yawning gap on the shelf where the most talked-about television series in the world used to sit. And it’s going to be tough to fill.

In many ways Game of Thrones, which nobody could have predicted would become the phenomenon it has (how many people outside fantasy fandom even knew George RR Martin’s books existed before the series began?), has been HBO’s saviour.

American television’s original innovator is no longer the only game in town when it comes to high-quality, adult-oriented drama.

In recent years its rival cable networks Showtime and AMC have really blossomed. They not only play HBO at its very own game of thrones, they frequently beat it.

Could Westworld be the ace up HBO’s sleeve in a post-GoT world? The people behind it — Person of Interest creator Jonathan Nolan and current king of the franchise reboot JJ Abrams – will be hoping so, given the amount of time, money and star power that’s been poured into the first 10-part season, beginning on Sky Atlantic in October.

Westworld, based on the late doctor-turned novelist and film director Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie, stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden and Jeffrey Wright.

 

The original is a beloved science fiction cult classic. Mild-mannered city slicker Richard Benjamin and his macho pal James Brolin take a holiday at a futuristic theme park resort where guests interact with lifelike robots and live out their fantasies in different “worlds”: the Old West, mediaeval Europe and pre-Christian Pompeii.

The robots are programmed never to harm a guest, but when one of them — a terrifying gunslinger played by Yul Brynner, cleverly dressed in the same iconic black outfit he’d worn 13 years before in The Magnificent Seven — goes rogue and shoots Brolin dead, Benjamin finds himself fighting for his survival while all around him other guests are being slaughtered as

James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood are among the star-studded cast of Westworld
James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood are among the star-studded cast of Westworld

the other androids also veer off-script.

The film, which prefigured Crichton’s own Jurassic Park (another theme-park-gone-bad thriller), is a taut, 90-minute gem from a lost era when Hollywood still made taut, 90-minute gems. It spawned an inferior sequel, Futureworld, and a very short-lived 1980 TV series, Beyond Westworld, (five episodes made, only three broadcast).

Obviously, a straightforward tale of unstoppable killer robots on the rampage wouldn’t be enough to sustain 10 episodes, never mind the several seasons planned.

HBO has promised “a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin”. Phew . . . okay. The trailer, released to the internet yesterday, is certainly dark.

A robot called Dolores (Wood) sits naked on a chair in a gloomy room as an eerie voice asks: “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?”

There’s a few snippets of life in the make-believe western town (shootings, saloon hookers, marauding Indians, the usual), a brief shot of what look like naked robots being dumped in a pile, and then we see a woman, presumably Dolores (like I said, it’s dark), being dragged by the hair into a barn and raped.

Then Anthony Hopkins pops up as Dr Robert Ford, the resort’s creator, asking robot Ed Harris: “What are your drives?”

“To meet my maker,” says Ed, who seems to be styling his moves on replicant Roy Batty from Blade Runner. And that, for now, is it.

Westworld made headlines a few months ago following the leaked news that extras had to sign a contract agreeing to appear fully naked, engage in graphic simulated sex and, weirdest of all, consent to “genital-to-genital touching”.

HBO immediately heaped the blame for all this on the external casting agency. Interestingly, though, the slightly different version of the trailer shown exclusively on HBO featured an orgy.

At least that news should keep Game of Thrones fans happy.

Herald

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