Geostorm (2017)

geo1Wow. This was truly terrible.

I remember seeing the trailer for this back in October last year when I saw BR2049. It was clearly an overblown CGI-dominated spectacle with an incredibly dumbed-down plot… basically the very opposite of BR2049. So I had no interest in watching it, figured I’d get around to it eventually, expecting very little.

This film took my lowest expectations and yet still managed to fail those expectations. By some margin. Hands down, this is the definitive film for watching credibility crash through the floor. I can’t believe this film even exists, its so nuts. Really, its like it is dropping whopper WTF moments every page of the script, its almost tragic.

First, the casting of Gareth Butler as some super-genius scientist/engineer who has built a global space-based system of satellites that controls the Earths weather systems and protects human civilization from environmental disaster. Wowza. Butler as a killing machine/super solder/spy maybe but a genius lab rat? What kind of casting is that?

But lets go back a minute. This film supposes that all the Earths nations have suddenly put aside their differences to pull together and build a space station that looks like something out of Star Wars and a network of weather-station satellites. So the film expects me to accept that a) global warming/environmental change is accepted globally, b) that world peace is an inevitable result of that and c) we suddenly can build Star Wars-level space stations in orbit and d) develop weather-controlling sciences.

This is, like, inside the first ten minutes during a wise-ass child’s monologue voice-over (child turns out to be Butler’s daughter, obviously, and yes, she’s wiser than most of the dumb adults, go figure).

So Gareth Butler gets sacked. Butler gets divorced. Despite his genius credentials instead of dropping into a hi-tech job he’s unemployed living in a trailer. His brother (!) gets put in charge. Things start to go wrong and people that spot whats happening get mysteriously killed. Butler gets hired again to try to fix the mess as he’s the guy that built the super-space station and he’s the only one who knows how it works. Suspicions point to the President of the United States (Andy Garcia in slightly sleazy politician mode). Just so happens that Gareth Butlers’ brother’s girlfriend (stay with me) is a Secret Service agent  that protects the president (!) so they go kidnap the president while all hell breaks loose in orbit as Butler tries and fails to fix his now disaster-inducing system. While weather disasters befall the cities of the world it turns out that the real culprit is the president’s Secretary of State played by Westworld‘s MIB (!) himself, Ed Harris, who has some crazy scheme of wrecking every other nation in the world and thus leaving America in charge of a new World Order with himself the new president. Or something like that, its not clear how wrecking the world economy and climate can ensure American survival never mind superiority.

Sure the effects are spectacular but its all for nothing. It doesn’t involve and it doesn’t really even impress, its just vaguely cartoon theatrics involving less-than paper-thin characters going through hysterical motions. Geostorm is everything wrong with modern Hollywood blockbusters and if it wasn’t so stupid and inept it might even be insulting: its a disaster movie in more ways than one, and actually makes Armageddon seem like a classic movie. I’ve already wasted more than enough time writing about it. Best forget this horrible silly movie even exists. The Day After Tomorrow was so much better than this.

Westworld Season Two, Episode Five

west5Oh dear, Delores. And oh dear, Westworld. In an episode that does so much right (our trip to Shogun World pretty much everything we might have hoped for, particularly those of us who ever played the Bushido RPG -anybody remember that?), Westworld suddenly displays some shockingly bad writing, with a terribly boring sex scene followed by Delores betraying/destroying/rebooting her ‘beloved’ Teddy in a WTF moment that had me scratching my head.

What is it with Delores this season? Are they hellbent on turning her into the most nonsensical, contrary and unsympathetic character? I just can’t work it out. Still consumed with vengeance and rescuing her ‘father’ (who she knows isn’t her real father, the whole point of her rebellion is that its a revolt against her programming and false memories), she finally has a moment vindicating her love for Teddy/consummating their relationship and then, bang, bye bye Teddy.  I get why she does it- Teddy displayed an ability to think for himself a few episodes back and ignored Delores orders, but really, this isn’t the behavior of Sesaon One Delores and it surely conflicts with her fight for robot rights/freewill, doesn’t it? Its getting so that it feels as if Season Two Delores isn’t the same model as Season One Delores.

That Delores stuff really left a bad taste in my mouth and rather soured what was otherwise a good episode. The visit to Shogun World was a pleasant (ignoring the excessive gore) diversion, as was the glimpse of India (Raj World?) a few weeks back, offering new characters and an interesting comparison to season one events in Saltwater (the scenario being lifted from a Westworld storyline n a clever in-joke).

It rather sums up Westworld’s second season so far- it does some things so right it frustrates when it fumbles so much else. The showrunners were given more time to get season two produced but it actually feels rushed, which can only make me wonder if its suffering from being overthought or perhaps too concerned with confounding fan theories at the expense of doing what would actually make sense. We’re halfway through now and I really can’t say I’m loving it as much as I did last season. Its still very good and some episodes really have got me fired up in places with its ideas and execution but on the whole, as I wrote awhile ago, I’m missing Ford (Anthony Hopkins). I’m sure there are some reveals coming up and threads will get tied together but I’m beginning to wonder how many viewers will care. Contrary to all expectations, I’m rooting for the MIB William, and if he bites the dust this year I’ll be quite at a loss regards season three.

Westworld Season Two, Episode Four

ep4Well, this episode was just utterly fascinating, from start to finish.

At its worst, Westworld is infuriating and apparently deliberately obtuse, throwing multiple timelines at the viewer as if inviting confusion and reduced audience figures. But at its best, the show is something else- its genuinely captivating science fiction with all kinds of subtext and philosophical pondering to leave the viewer ruminating over for days after. Episode four is Westworld at its best.

The fantastic actor Peter Mullan, who I feared had been wasted in a previous episode, returns as James Delos, founder of Delos, the company that runs Westworld and the other parks. Mullan is absolutely terrific in this episode and plays his scenes brilliantly. James wakes in a slick, slightly futuristic-looking apartment, and is told he has a visitor- young William, the one that we know from season one’s main storyline. James wants out of his apartment but William tells him he has to take some more tests. This scene is repeated several times, and decades are evidently passing for in the last version of the scene, William is MIB William played by Ed Harris. James is obviously confused at William appearing so old (as Delos has not aged a day since we initially saw him). We learn that James is a host in which they have implanted the memories/brain patterns of the dying James Delos who since died many years ago. As suggested in the second episode of this season, Delos buying the Westworld tech was partly a stab at the terminally-ill  James using the technology to cheat death and gain immortality.

Unfortunately the technology doesn’t really work, no matter how many years and great expense is taken. The last version of James is the 149th build- each one prior has broken down, the mind apparently rejecting reality and the psyche fragmenting. They have achieved greater success with each build but although the latest hosts manage to ‘live’ for weeks rather than days, they all suffer the same broken state. William has decided that the experiments were a mistake, that trying to achieve immortality for James was wrong and that it might never work. The ‘real’ James is dead, has been for decades, and he should remain dead. Abandoning the project, William instructs a technician to leave this last build operational (all others were incinerated) and sometime later, it is this version of James that Bernard and Elsie (yes, Elsie’s back, tying up a loose thread  from season one!) discover when they enter the lab. Bernard has broken memories of being in the lab earlier (in scenes we saw in the first episode of this season and events prior to that- multiple timelines again rearing their confusing/infuriating/fascinating head).

There’s some really interesting stuff going on here. Host James is only a copy- the ‘real’ James is dead so one has to wonder if the technology ensures real immortality or just a reflection that lingers forever. But if the host James feels that he is real, and thinks and remembers what the original James would, is he in fact ‘real’ after all? What is real? What is self? What is soul?

This is great stuff, and exactly the kind of Philip K Dick philosophising that I find endlessly interesting and really unusual in mainstream material. Indeed, I have to wonder just how long (and how deep) Westworld can go into all this without Joe Public deserting the show in droves. Its funny- originally when this series was announced I expected a simple, violent and gaudy series about robots in theme parks running amok but there is clearly much more than that here.

 

I might have been right about MIB William becoming a surprise hero of this show. The reprehensible bastard of season one suddenly has a world-weary agenda of destroying everything he helped to create, and in particular a secret project that may have something to do with a weapon sought after by Delores. Part of this might be the sheer charisma of Ed Harris, his age-lined face worn and beaten by the sun and the disappointments of his life. But hey ho, here comes yet another twist at the end of the episode- the woman who impressed me so much in the India prelude of episode three turns out to be his daughter.

Events seem to be coming together and hopefully some of the confusion will be sorted. I appreciate that some of the mysteries are being explained, unfolding rather than just left hanging there, and while some stuff still irritates (just how long was Elsie left in that cave, and how the hell does MIB’s daughter escape so easily from the Ghost Nation?) but the rest of the show is so great I’ll continue to cut it some slack and hope for the best. With episodes like this one, Westworld is genuinely great.

Westworld Season Two, Episode Three

ep3This episode begins brilliantly, with a glimpse of one of the four other parks- Colonial India, sidestepping the tease about Samurai Japan from season one that we all now is surely coming (in fact it comes at the end of this very episode). We see new characters enjoying this attractions dubious pleasures in its call-back to the non-PC glory days of British Empire, until the anarchy of the hosts here (slaughtering visitors just as they are doing in Westworld) reveals that the madness is not limited to Westworld alone. All hell is clearly breaking out everywhere.

Infact, I could have stayed in this setting, and with the human protagonist trying to survive, all episode. Unfortunately this section was limited to just the pre-credit sequence, leaving me feeling rather frustrated and wondering what happened next to our damsel in distress. We do find out, sort of, and it does dovetail nicely to a scene from episode one when a dead tiger was found on a riverbank, but the fact that I was so irritated by the escapades of our series regulars does spell a bit of trouble for the show. I found the new character more interesting than our regulars, and that has to be wrong, surely. Mind, it does also indicate a strength of the show that it could one day exploit.

Meanwhile, back in Westworld, Delores is still in ‘avenging robot angel’ mode (this time hosts seem as expendable as humans in her schemes), and Bernard is still acting oddly (although we do learn why, as he has clearly downloaded  Peter Abernathy’s mysteriously important files that the Delos operatives seem to be after). So while there is lots of action in this episode that action only serves to disguise the fact that the show is maintaining its endless tease.

Which is fine I guess, but we are still evidently seeing different timelines here and if part of the fun of the show is unravelling the sense out of them then that is also part of the shows frustrations. In fact, it finally occurred to me during this episode that I’m missing Anthony Hopkins. I don’t know if we’ll see him ‘proper’ in this season rather than have him alluded to or shown in glimpses in the background during flashbacks etc but his presence was an important one in season one and I think he leaves something of a void, currently.  Westworld is curiously Godless.

 

Westworld Season Two- Episode 2

west2.jpgWelcome to the second part of this rather unintended series of posts about Westworld Season Two. First of all, I’m very surprised by this episode. I didn’t expect the show to be laying its cards on the table so soon into the second season (in fact I still half expect them to pull the rug from under my feet in episode three) but wow: I think I’ve finally gotten a handle of the meta-story surrounding Westworld, as episode two suddenly seems to have revealed a few of the shows secrets.

Typically, for this show, unfolding its drama across a number of timelines, this episode quite surprised me regards how much it revealed- refreshing indeed as it could have easily become just another tease. For one thing, we actually left the park and saw the real world outside- a pleasant and fairly utopian city, not particularly futuristic (no flying cars or rockets climbing to the heavens) so the show is not set, apparently, in a far-future scenario, regardless of some of the tech in the Westworld park itself.

In a sequence chronologically one of the first we have seen (as it predates the majority of season one) we saw Logan being approached by a representative of the Argos Initiative and taken to a party. The reveal that the party guests are not at all human was a great way to introduce Logan to Westworld and a telling reminder of how amazing the technology is. A subsequent sequence, however, is where the real revelations come. In a scene which takes place following the events of season one, we witness a normal day in the park (Delores bringing some supplies back to her horse and dropping a tin can) which is frozen when a helicopter flies overhead. With the hosts frozen/paused, we see William hinting to Delos Sr (Logan’s father) about the real possibilities that Westworld offers, which is nothing at all to do with simply being an amusement park for the wealthy, famous and powerful. There are, William confides, deeper possibilities.

Westworld offers the chance to take over the world, or at the very least shape and control it.

If I’m seeing it right, a moment in the prior episode featured robots in a hidden subterranean lab taking DNA samples from dead visitors. I didn’t understand why but I think Williams suggestions in this next episode offer a few hints. Are visitors being replaced by robots in the ‘real world’ and is this the weapon that Delores is after (and that Man in Black William seems intent on destroying) and is it the means of controlling those doppelgangers in the outside world? Considering that only the wealthy and powerful can likely afford vacations in Westworld, they would seem important people to copy or control.

There is also a mention that Delos Snr is dying, so maybe William is suggesting that the Westworld tech offers the possibility of immortality for those rich enough to afford it. If human DNA can be incorporated in the Robots or memories and intelligence copied or transferred from a human to one of the robots, then is that immortality the greatest commodity of all?

It occurs to me that some kind of cunning switch may be in the offing- with Delores still in the avenging robot angel mode, killing off (apparently) innocent humans just because they’re organic and dare to be breathing, is it possible that the showrunners are maneuvering MIB William into being the good guy? He certainly seems intent on burning Westworld down and destroying his ‘big mistake’ weapon before it can do greater harm.

Will everything be confirmed in episode three or am I barking up the wrong tree?

Westworld Season Two- Episode 1

west1Just a few observations- firstly, having been enjoying Netflix just over a month now, having to digest a big show in weekly chunks just feels so old-fashioned its almost arcane. I mean, I watch one episode, and then… then I have to wait? WTF? (It occurs to me that I’ve never done a weekly review of a series episode by episode, maybe I should start with this show).

Secondly, when does being intellectually ‘clever’ get in the way of actually telling a story? Don’t get me wrong, I love Westworld and it’s one of my favourite shows of the past few years-  away from the nudity and violence, what I really like is the examinations of what it is to be human, the impact of memory, the possibilities of AI. Its really heady stuff and the idea someone can make such a popular show that is so high concept is just profoundly exciting. BUT…. sometimes a show can risk being too clever for its own good. I enjoyed the ‘twist’ in season one of the separate timelines, and this seems to be carrying on into season two. Fair enough, but I don’t really see what we gain from it at present, with how it’s going. What I’m saying is, it should be there to inform and tell the story, not the story there to support the multiple timelines for their own sake. I fear there may be a danger in that here. Don’t try to confuse me just for the hell of it, tell the story and if the story doesn’t benefit from that confusion, why is it there? Well, time will tell if these multiple timelines serves some purpose.

I’m also a little concerned that Delores is becoming the least interesting character now that she’s slipping into ‘avenging robot angel’ mode. She risks losing her sense of humanity and empathy. Whereas the focus is really shifting towards Bernard, easily now the most interesting character in the show, who on the one hand seems to be dealing with the mindf–k that must be knowing his true robot nature whilst hiding it from his colleagues who are (?) all unaware of it. I always had a soft spot for him in season one and it’s fascinating to imagine where he might take us this season.

Anyway, roll on episode two. Oh yeah, I have to wait….

…and wait….

Lost in Space (2018)

lost1I’m mid-way through the latest Netflix show, Lost in Space. I’m rather enjoying it. Sure it’s a daft, leave-your-brain-in-neutral kind of show, but there’s no harm in that considering the greater demands of shows like Altered Carbon, Twin Peaks or Westworld.  Indeed, it’s a bit refreshing to watch a show that is light and fluffy compared to other shows more concerned with angst and violence. Different shows for different folks I guess, and this is clearly a family-oriented show aimed at different demographics.

Must confess, when I recently heard about Netflix doing a reboot of Lost in Space, I thought it a strange one. Although I have a soft spot for the often-maligned movie of 1998 (does anyone else remember that great R1 DVD? Those were the days) the original tv series was a camp monstrosity of the 1960s, that clearly wouldn’t work the same now. Thankfully while the central premise remains the same (Space Family Robinson lost on space) its been reworked and modernised with some thought to the background. Now we have flashbacks to a Earth blighted by environmental collapse forcing colonial expeditions to Alpha Centauri and a family slightly this side of dysfunctional, requiring mom in charge more than Dad.

While some things work better than others (the kids are rather annoying, frankly, but Parker Posey makes a great female twist on Dr Smith) one thing that cannot be denied is the amazing production credentials of the show. As is becoming typical of Netflix, no expense has been spared here, with a great cast, brilliant convincing sets and high-quality effects work giving the whole thing a big-budget look more akin to a Hollywood blockbuster movie. Its probably a bit of a shame the stories don’t really show the same level of high-concept thinking but hey, its a light family show that’s easy to watch and functions well for what it is. I don’t know where the remaining five episodes will go over this first season’s ten-episode run (I’m not expecting too many shocks or surprises, frankly) but on the evidence of what I’ve seen this is something of a surprising success.

And I haven’t even mentioned the Robot yet…

lost2

Requiem (2018)

requiemWith Requiem, the BBC (in a co-production with Netflix) jumps into the horror genre with some gusto, a six-part series about possession, ghosts, suicides, child abduction and murder, religious cultists and more, in a leafy town in Wales, of all places. Actually that setting is probably the series strongest point- its out of the familiar city and more into the remote Twin Peaks-vibe, with a cast of characters conveniently strange and complete with a ghostly mansion where bad things have been going on for centuries. And creepy caves in the woods. And dead sheep (did someone say there’s a werewolf in this?). And perfect hair, and perfect clothes that don’t seem to get dirty despite much traipsing through woods etc (or perhaps they get spookily dry cleaned overnight).

Subtlety is not this shows finest asset. Something I’ve criticised modern television of before, and to which I attribute Game of Thrones as the chief blame. In a need to grab viewers attention modern television feels that it has to shock and throw everything but the kitchen sink into shows now. Its not that Requiem is bad, its quite enjoyable really, but why so much has to be hurled into its six episodes is hard to fathom. We’re hardly ten minutes into it before somebody throws himself off the roof of the mansion. There’s little creepy atmosphere or slow horror- this is all in the Hammer Horror vein of yelling boo! at the viewer as often as possible with the central mystery (is lead character Matilda, platinum-blonde professional cellist from London correct in suspecting she is in fact Cerys, a child who went missing from the Welsh village of Penllynith twenty years ago) almost redundant. In just the same way as the Beeb’s Hard Sun a few months ago did, the central premise almost seems incidental and the makers too intent on throwing all sorts of ideas and complications into it, the characters having all sorts of sub-plots that stretch credulity.

Had it eased up a little bit and spread its revelations and twists and horrors over ten episodes rather than its rather rushed six, then perhaps it would have been a much better show with better characters and motivations. It must be noted that Game of Thrones itself was better over ten episodes than the rather rushed shorter seasons we are getting now, and imagining shows like Westworld being truncated to six is just as telling a consideration. As it is, Requiem squeezing all its arcs into six episodes comes across as all a little hysterical, with Matilda being incredibly irritating rather than sympathetic as she pretty much wreaks the Welsh locale with her obsession for ‘the truth,’ and when that truth finally arrives it lacks real impact. I’m quite possibly alone in this view, modern attention-spans likely prefer shorter series just as they approve of shorter movies.

And yet, even after that mad race across six episodes, just like with so many movies now, Requiem really just seems intent on teasing another series with an ending that feels rather hollow, and without the grounding that ten episodes might have enabled, it found me rather unable to care. Its all very lightweight and lacking in any emotional depth or impact that perhaps a similar show from the BBC in the ‘seventies might have had.  Frustrating really.

Returning to Ghost in the Shell

g2.jpgBack in April I saw the live-action Ghost in the Shell at the cinema. While I found it a little frustrating in places, I enjoyed the film enough to buy the blu-ray, which I watched yesterday.

Visually the film is perhaps even more impressive on disc than it was at the cinema (maybe that says something about my Cineworld): the effects and art direction are very, very impressive. Indeed, some of the visual effects of the city augmented with live action (say, with Scarlett Johansson walking down a street or sitting on a rooftop with the streets below her) are pretty astonishing, how photorealistic some of this stuff is getting. As an effects showcase or visual spectacle, this is a major achievement, really bringing the original anime to life. I think I’ll be able to rewatch sequences over and over, just soaking up all that detail, in just the same way I did with the original Blade Runner decades ago- it’s that good.  I also like how we see odd-looking characters and background stuff going on that are not explained. Its there to either be ignored or pondered over (I prefer the latter), adding little to the plot but it’s all part of that layers of detail stuff.

There is one scene, based on one from the anime, in which the Major and Batou are standing on a boat just offshore with the futuristic night-time city blazing neon behind them, which is just jaw-dropping, really, how seamlessly everything is integrated- the camera moves, the lighting of the characters, the city behind them softly out of focus. Its that stuff that impresses me more than the whizz-bang effects stuff really. It’s slow and quiet but so disarmingly perfect.

g1Deficiencies in the plot are less of a hindrance second time around, and my misgivings over a lack of empathy with Johansson’s Major are no longer the issue I felt at the cinema. It seems a deliberate choice to neuter the character emotionally- a result of having no memories and being as much an object created for a purpose  as her being an individual person. She is told she has a ‘ghost’ or soul in her fabricated body but she doesn’t feel it. She isn’t convinced she is a ‘real person’ until she has unearthed the truth about the girl she used to be. It’s rather similar to Robocop, in which even though Murphy has the memories of his past life, he is no longer that same person; his Robocop personna being subtly different, whatever his name/memories may say. It’s hardly Blade Runner-level layers of subtext but it’s interesting, even if it possibly damaged the movie regards audiences empathising with her emotionally-challenged personna/performance. As I say, less of an issue for me this time around, but even I noticed it at the cinema, feeling oddly disengaged from the proceedings. Mind you, part of that may have been from familiarity with the anime. I guess I may well feel the same watching Blade Runner 2049– how the hell do I just enjoy the film experience of that film and not get caught up in the cold objectivity of the fact of it being a sequel to the original and being utterly distracted by it?

So anyway, not a bad movie anyway, and a good first entry regards setting up the background of the Major and her future cyberpunk world. Would have been nice to see it progress to a second and even third film, expanding the story as the anime did in its own sequel and tv offshoots.

A quick trip to Box Office Mojo reveals the painful statistics though- Ghost in the Shell cost around $110 million to make (not bad, considering) so likely needed around $250 million to see a profit- the film completely tanked in America, only managing just over $40 million. The foreign total was more impressive; $129 million, but not enough to limit the damage of that woeful American take. So, no more Ghost in the Shell movies then. Likely no live-action Akira either. Good or bad thing?

One observation. Between HBO’s recent Westworld examining in such adult fashion the ‘what is it to be human?’ question and the nature of artificial memory and freewill/slavery as well as it did, and this Ghost in the Shell nailing that whole future-cyberpunk visual vibe, what’s left for Blade Runner 2049? In some ways, I have to wonder if the Blade Runner sequel is too late- a new generation of films/television has picked up the baton of the 1982 movie and moved it forward with some success.  Here’s hoping that it still has something new to say.

 

Paint It Black- Westworld’s return

west32017.3: Westworld – Series One

The Theme Park attraction Westworld is thirty years old. It struggles to keep its rich visitors (you have to be wealthy to afford the experiences the park provides) entertained and returning for more each year, by developing varied narratives for the visitors to experience. The corporation frets over profits and returns on their investments. The scientists toil in their subterranean labs over their creations. Artists and writers work on storylines and narratives for the robots (‘hosts’) to play out for the theme park’s human visitors.

The basic narrative remains the same; each day the robot hosts relive the same day over and over, and visitors can either indulge in basic events such as killing hosts in gunfights or having sex with them in the brothel. Naturally most male new visitors just visit the brothel or go on a shooting spree when they realise there are no repercussions. The more adventurous (and those repeat visitors jaded with the basic narrative) can, however, indulge in narratives that branch off from the main setting, such as joining a posse on the hunt for outlaws or safely escorting a girl back to her homestead. New branching narratives and hundreds of storylines are being written all the time to encourage repeat visitors. The theme park is, after all, some thirty years old now. The robots all look young and brand new, but many of them, like Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) are as old as the park itself.

The clever ‘trick’ of Westworld is that the human visitors are merely incidental to the series. What’s really interesting to the makers of this show are the hosts- the robots that unwittingly  relive the same day over and over. Incredibly sophisticated and believing that they and their world are entirely real,  each day they are mocked, shot, beaten, tortured or raped or abused for the entertainment of the human visitors and then repaired, memories wiped and set-up for the next day. They seem more like slaves than products.

However, a glitch is becoming increasingly apparent, in which not all the memories are being entirely wiped. Memories for robots are not as hazy and distant as human memories, these memories are re-experienced as if as real as waking life, and the robots that experience them begin to doubt their reality and the nature of their suffering. What is real, and is there a reality beyond their own?

west2.jpgWestworld examines questions of artificial intelligence, the nature of memory and experience, of reality and fantasy. Of humanity and decency and cruelty and slavery. How high can a robot reach? How low can human depravity go? All wrapped up in a ten-part science fiction miniseries posing as a western. Indeed, considering how intense and sophisticated some of its questions and ideas are, it is a wonder it manages to come off as entertaining as it does. While the central mysteries of the park’s history and it creators are gradually uncovered, and the robots increasing mimicry of  humanity is developed (is it mimicry or reality is one of the questions that runs through the show), the various arcs dovetail through each other in sophisticated ways. Are we, for instance, seeing everything in chronological order, or are we seeing multiple timelines, as if experiencing memories as the robots do, as if they are really happening in the ‘now’?

Technically impressive with a huge production and rather cunning in its use of visual effects and music, the show is chiefly graced with great scripts and some stunning performances from Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton and James Marsden.

west1Jeffrey Wright, in particular, is a standout- I’ve never seen him as good as he is in this. I can’t explain why his acting is so remarkable without revealing some of the twists in the plot, and as this series is essentially a mystery that unfolds over the ten episodes inviting you to participate in its varied turns and concepts, second-guessing the plot, I won’t reveal exactly why Wright is so impressive, but he is. Which is really something when you consider how good all the performances are here- I don’t think I’ve seen Hopkins, for instance, as good as he is here in ages. He’s playing God, and he pulls it off.

My only note of caution, is that by the close of episode ten, I have to wonder where does it go from here? The ten episodes we have are so good, so worthy of repeat viewing (roll on the blu-ray boxset, HBO/Warner), and the ending so fitting that it seems almost a shame to risk spoiling it with a second series. Its almost like asking the question, does Blade Runner need a sequel? Surely the showrunners have ideas of where to go next, but I worry it cannot possibly replicate (sic) everything done so well here. The one comforting thing is that season two is two years off- they are going to take their time and it won’t air until 2018 at the earliest.Rather akin to it being a motion picture getting a sequel in two-three years. Television is changing. Quality-wise, its leaving some movies far behind.

I raise the particular spectre of Blade Runner for another reason. Westworld raises questions of AI and existence so well, that it almost makes Blade Runner 2049 utterly redundant, and worries me regards where that film can possibly go. Because in many ways, Westworld is the perfect unofficial sequel/spin-off from Blade Runner. Its a theme park run by an entity not unlike the Tyrell Corporation (Dystopian corporate nightmares and subterfuge are a major sub-plot to this series) and its robots are Replicants in all but name, questioning their memories and reality just as characters do in the 1982 film. I guess as I love that film so much, it was inevitable I would love this show too.

Its great. But I can’t really tell you why until you’ve seen it, and by then you’ll already know.

 

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