Every now and again a TV show will premiere whose very first episode will exude potential greatness. When I watched the first episode of BBC’s Sherlock I felt as if something old and tattered was completely reborn into a more perfect form. I have never seen the original film Westworld, but I imagine that the feeling of someone who has and has had the chance to see HBO’s new series based off of the film by Michael Crichton would have had a similar experience when they saw the premiere of this new series. Never the one to shy away from an ambitious new project, HBO’s new sci-fi series seems to already be headed down the path of other great science fiction series’ like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone by mixing great effects with great stories and believable characters. And most importantly it doesn’t seem to stray from big ideas.
The new series is from the brilliant minds of Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, the latter the brother of acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, and his occasional collaborator on project like The Dark Knight and Interstellar. And like those films, Nolan brings a sense of the intricate and the grandiose to this new series, whose pilot he directed and co-wrote along with Joy. Ramin Djawadi’s theme music and the opening sequence itself are both worthy of comparison to Game of Thrones and seeing the name of J. J. Abrams in the opening titles is never something to shy away from. The cinematography of Paul Cameron, whose big screen credits include Gone in 60 Seconds and Swordfish, makes use of his talents here with a mix of both delightful wide views of the picturesque landscapes inside and around the title locale.
The opening episode, sitting at little over an hour, masterfully introduces each of the major characters: a farm girl automaton whose story is the most poetic of the first episode (Evan Rachel Wood), the savvy programming director who becomes aware of bugs in his system (Jeffrey Wright), the creator and inventive mind behind Westworld itself (Anthony Hopkins), and two characters with limited screen-time but who I believe will have a big role in time in “The Man in Black” played by Ed Harris and a beautiful madam played by Thandie Newton. I don’t dare go into the more interesting parts of the plot but in the opening episode the series already sets up interesting characters and story-lines and the big ideas that I mentioned earlier. One episode in and I already spent plenty of time wondering what in the wild wild Westworld was predetermined to happen and what is the byproduct of human imperfection. Most interesting of all is the fate of James Marsden as Teddy Flood, whose role seems to play directing into those questions.
No series premiere is perfect, and the same goes for Westworld. Some of the characters haven’t established their full use yet or many interesting characteristics. It may also just be me, but while the talent is impressive and there is plenty of track to cover, there’s still a lot that remains to be seen in terms of direction for the series. Those are minor complaints but nonetheless I won’t say that the premiere is perfect until I see where it goes. Lost comes to mind as a reason for caution and not just because of J. J. Abrams. That being said the final product that premiered on HBO last night was a marvelous first spin for this new HBO series, and considering this is outside of HBO’s usual Emmy-grabbing lineup from the beginning of the Summer this series has plenty of room, and hopefully time, to develop into any number of new directions.
Rating: ★★★ 1/2