Ricky Church reviews Westworld Season One: The Maze…
Last year HBO had a breakout series with Westworld, a loose remake of the 1973 Michael Crichton film, about a Western immersion park where androids, otherwise known as hosts, take guests on a narrative journey through the Wild West, but there is more going on with the hosts than what’s shown on the surface.
Created by J.J. Abrams, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, Westworld is a very ambitious series with high concepts, but pays off with its writing, visuals, acting and story. The season’s story, and how its framed, is one of the best aspects of the whole show. Its unconventional narrative really pulled viewers into its world and took the time to invest viewers into the characters. It can be easy to let a cast of characters largely made up of robots fall by the wayside, making them unrelateable or their performance too robotic, but nearly all the hosts and guests are very enjoyable to watch thanks to the stellar writing and acting.
It’s hard to single out any one actor or actress since its such a big ensemble cast, especially when they all do pretty great work, but of note are the performances by Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Jimmi Simpson and, of course, Evan Rachel Wood. Wood gives an emotional performance throughout the season, displaying the conflict within the AI as she undergoes changes to her mind.
Anyone who has watched the series knows just how beautifully it is shot. The visuals pop off the screen and there’s some really vibrant colours throughout the various locations they go through. Westworld is without a doubt one of the best looking series on television in recent memory. The transfer to Blu-ray is clear and crisp, giving you a great look at the detail in the landscape, set design and costumes.
I could go on about the series itself, but suffice it to say that its simply great all round and is one of the most creative and bold shows we’ve had in a long time. The Blu-ray pack comes with a digital copy of the film as well as a ‘corporate handbook’, a cool little extra that is an in-universe guide to Delos and how Westworld is run. It provides you with a map of the command centre, how the narratives and loops are structured and what each branch does.
There are a number of special features on the discs that provide a lot of great insight into how the series was made and the themes presented throughout the show. The special features are:
About The Series: This is a brief look at the series’ conception from various members of the cast and crew. Nolan, Joy and Abrams are featured prominently in this roughly 2-minute feature discussing the philosophical questions Westworld poses.
Invitation to the Set: Despite the title, this feature has little to do with the actual sets of the show. It discusses again the philosophical themes and debates the show presents. There’s some interesting tidbits here, but it mostly feels like a rehash of the above feature. Being 2 minutes doesn’t help too much either.
The Big Moment: This is a series of features spread throughout the discs that takes a look at some of the big twists and reveals throughout the season. Most of these videos are fairly brief, but you get some good insight into the twists and how and why these decisions were made. Now since there were several big moments in Westworld‘s first season, some get priority more than others, but there’s a couple that should have gotten the focus here. For example, there isn’t a video discussing the finale’s big twist regarding Harris’ Man in Black and how they planted all the clues leading up to the reveal.
Realizing The Dream – The 1st Week on Set: This nearly 12 minute feature is one of the best ones in this set. It examines the beginning of production and has many enlightening facts about the making of Westworld. Here there is an actual look at how the Sweetwater set was designed and how old Western films influenced Nolan and Joy. We also see how the first shootout with Hector’s gang was filmed as well as Nolan’s idea to use car manufacturing as the basis for the hosts building process.
Imagining the Main Title: It’s safe to say Westworld has a pretty unique and cool opening title. This feature shows how it was created with Nolan showing off storyboards and designers from Elastic, the company that created the Game of Thrones title sequence, going through the visual aspects. It’s a pretty lengthy feature too, clocking in at 14 minutes, that goes into a fair amount of detail.
Reality of an A.I.: As I mentioned above, it can be easy for non-sentient characters to come off unrelateable and unsympathetic. Nolan and Joy discuss how they conceived ways to make them feel human and used real A.I. theory in the show. This is only 5 minutes, though, and could have been a bit longer.
Gag Reel: Unfortunately the weakest of the features, the gag reel is barely two minutes and is edited in a weird way, wasting some time by building suspense in the scene before an actor flubs their line.
The Keys to the Chords: A fairly lengthy feature that goes in-depth into the show’s music with composer Ramin Djawadi. He talks about utilizing contemporary music in a classical fashion, but one of the real draws of this feature is the self-playing piano that is seen in Sweetwater’s saloon. That is an actual contraption and Djawadi shows how it is able to play music.
Crafting the Narrative: This is the lengthiest feature on the Blu-ray and acts as something of a commentary for the season’s finale. Nolan and Joy break down several of the big moments in the finale and what inspired them to end the season the way they did. It doesn’t go through the whole episode, but lasts roughly 28 minutes.
Westworld is a great series and the Blu-ray helps cement its reputation. While some of the special features are a bit lacking, there’s a lot of interesting insight into how the show was created and designed. Any fan of the show will enjoy checking out the behind the scenes looks at the making of the show.