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KU graduate Ben Barnes stars in new brillant HBO sci-fi series Westworld

By Johanna Christoph Oct 22, 2016
Westworld hosts in their natural look as artificial dummies. Source: Rexfeatures

Home Box Office’s new series Westworld is a stunning science-fiction thriller with a brilliant cast and a chilling view on the darker side of entertainment.

The show is created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy for HBO and it is based on the 1972 film with the same name written by Michael Crichton. Kingston University graduate Ben Barnes plays a guest, prompting his friend into indulging in the nearly limitless pleasures of Westworld.

Westworld is an amusement park set in a fictional 19th century Wild West, and it is disturbingly realistic. It’s similar to today’s open world video games, except the game does not take place behind a monitor. Instead people actually enter the park physically and the in-game characters called “hosts” are 3-D human dummies with artificial intelligence.

The beginning is confusing, as the scenes cut at a rapid speed from a sombre science-fiction themed laboratory full of naked people to a beautiful Wild West landscape. But soon the audience realises that what they see is not real in the conventional sense.

Guests of the Westworld theme park influence the narratives of the hosts they encounter, but at the end of the day, everything that has happened is rewound. Guests are allowed to do everything in Westworld, they can kill people, rape, gamble, there are basically no limits to what they are allowed to do, besides not killing other guests.

Hosts that have been killed or injured are repaired, their memories of the day are wiped and the next day at the theme park starts with a fresh start, with new guests entering the game. But as time progresses, scientists at the Westworld theme park, Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) and Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) discover gradual changes in the installed mannerism of the hosts. Hosts like Dolores Abernathy slowly learn about the reason for their existence.

And that is fascinating as well as scary.

The want of the scientists to make the hosts more and more realistic stands in shocking contrasts with how the guests treat them. We have a guest and his wife who shoot a bunch of robbers but instead of being horrified by their actions he laughs and celebrates.

The new HBO series is truly intriguing. But it takes some time to get used to the sudden switches between the futuristic, dark but luxurious laboratory and the Wild West scenery with dozens of people in period costumes. At times it is hard to tell if the series is following a clear timeline or if it jumps between future and past situations.

Westworld’s idea reminds one a lot of open-world video games like Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto. It is in a disturbing sense interesting to see the guests act out their most violent and perverted fantasies, because they know that the hosts are not real in the conventional sense and they can get away with anything because at the end of the day, it is just a game. But it is disturbing to see the creators act like gods and the gradual journey of the hosts to slowly questioning their reality and purpose of existence.

Westworld is a thrilling new HBO series with unsuspected turns, memorable characters and a clever cinematography, although confusing at times. The plot is capturing and full of potential.

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