Last night, I attended the premiere of the highly anticipated series HBO “Westworld”. It took place at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre with an after party at The Roosevelt Hotel. The whole event was a big splashy callback to Hollywood premieres of old with a blow-out theme soiree, befitting a TV series which meshes New Tech with the Old West.
I was there at the invitation of Lisa Joy and Jonah Nolan, co-creators and exec producers of the series, and it was great to see their vision manifest in the pilot which Jonah directed [in comments before the premiere, Jonah made a big point of acknowledging the inspiration of Michael Crichton who wrote and directed the original 1973 movie version of Westworld.]
The show is both a visually visceral and intellectually compelling feast, and introduces a complex story universe into which viewers immerse themselves at multiple levels of experience:
* It is the latest example of TV gone cinematic, broad sweeping vistas and tiny visual grace notes. It feels like a movie, but with multiple storylines which look capable of supporting a series projected to last five years.
* It has a robust cast of characters which as they spin out in the pilot point to extensive potential to explore their respective transformation journeys.
* It has technology, romance, action, humor, and a kind of absurdist embrace of violence, all combining to generate compelling entertainment.
And there’s this: It’s smart. Like all good science fiction, it creates a hypothetical story universe ‘Petri dish’, then swirls some Big Questions into the mix: What does it mean to be a human? To be artificial intelligence? To be an individual? Is there such a thing as free will or are we predestined to Fate? Does technology free us or enslave us?
There are some profound questions of self-identity in play in this series which somehow work alongside action set pieces (e.g., Rolling Stones, “Paint It Black” sequence) to rival anything on television.
In talking with people after the screening, I think Franklin Leonard summed up the general reaction of the crowd: “I want to binge-watch the entire series right NOW.”
‘Westworld’ debuts on HBO on October 8.
‘Westworld’ Is Everything to HBO (Film School Rejects)