A Brave New "Westworld"

by IMDb-Contributing-Writers IMDb got a sneak peek into HBO's new sci-fi series, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel W...

by IMDb-Contributing-Writers
IMDb got a sneak peek into HBO's new sci-fi series, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, and Jeffrey Wright. The TV show was inspired by Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name. — Carita Rizzo

In the future exists a western-themed amusement park where visitors can explore every desire with impunity and without consequence. It’s a world where lifelike robots and humans interact without obvious differentiation, begging the question: When there is no obvious distinction between man and machine and when there are no limitations to acting out your fantasies, what is humanity?

That is what the new HBO show "Westworld" sets out to explore. "'Westworld' is an examination of human nature," explains executive producer Lisa Joy. “[It’s] the best parts of human nature: paternal love, romantic love, the finding of one’s self. But also the basest part of human nature. And that includes violence."

It’s not science fiction. It's science fact.

If artificial intelligence was hypothetical in the '70s, it is no longer the case in 2016. With Silicon Valley currently hard at work at developing artificial intelligence, the creators of "Westworld" use the series to explore AI as a reflection of its creator. "There is the possibility of human error. As with any child, you do your best to rear them, but they can sometimes take on their own course. Their code can develop in ways that we did not anticipate," says Joy. “So, our examination of intelligence in "Westworld" accounts for a plurality in different ways in which AI could develop."

How does a 40-year-old movie get resurrected?

Spouses Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were approached by J.J. Abrams to produce "Westworld" together. "J.J. actually sat down with Michael Crichton two decades ago. Crichton wanted to talk to him about remaking the original film, and J.J. couldn’t crack it at that point. And in fact, neither could the rest of the town," says Jonathan Nolan. "Fast forward two decades later. It occurs to J.J. that it’s not a movie: It’s a series. And a key aspect of that is this idea that you take the narrative and you invert it, and you make it about the hosts. It felt like an opportunity to play with all the questions that we were most excited about. This is a show that has so many fascinating things that we love to dive into. So, we couldn’t possibly turn it down."

The futuristic world where nothing appears human is the ultimate exploration of humanity.

“The show is questioning: Where does life begin? Is a human dictated by biological impulses and neuron synapsing and the double helixes of DNA entwined within our bodies? Or an artificial being that’s coded with zeros and ones, but that is coded in such a way that this AI believes in its reality, feels the things it feels and feels them and as truly as we feel our own feelings?” remarks Lisa Joy. “It’s the constant examination about that line. Where does consciousness begin and end? And what are the differences between an AI and organic human?”

Expect your entry point to Westworld to vary.

“In the original Westworld, you approach it from a more traditional point of view, from a guest coming inwards,” says Joy. “This is an examination of human nature from within and also from without. We wanted to first ground it in the point of view of the hosts. We wanted to develop an emotional connection with them so that they could be fully personified and fully realized. So, we start this series through the point of view of Dolores, played by Evan Rachel Wood, so that we could fully be with her in believing the reality of the West and the love that she feels, the familial connections that she had. And after establishing that empathy, we start to broaden the world, not only examining the lives and perspectives of the guests who come into the park but also the technicians who work within the park below the ground.”

Playing a rebooting robot is the "acting Olympics."

"You’re having to shift between a panic attack into a complete freeze, into character accent mode, into computer analysis mode in a span of about 30 seconds sometimes. So, figuring out how to do that and with that intense focus that it took was real fun," says Wood. "But we would ask questions: Will the sun blind us? Do we squint in the sun? Do we sweat? Do we breathe?" "The preparation was meticulous, as you can imagine," adds Thandie Newton, who plays a madam working in the saloon. "I actually found that every time I played the character, it was like a meditation. I felt more perfectly, beautifully, exquisitely human than I’ve ever felt, just by nature, the simplicity and how definite these characters had to be, and that was very interesting. Making sure that we establish the engineering and the physicality of our characters was hugely important, and we had to start with simplicity because it’s going to go on a journey."

Jonathan Nolan has been waiting an awfully long time to put together this soundtrack.

In the background of "Westworld" you can hear 20th century rock classics like Soundgarden’s "Black Hole Sun" and the Rolling Stones’ "Paint It Black." Nolan promises more recognizable pop music as the show progresses. "One great advantage of being able to make a western that is actually a synthetic western set in the future, is that you get to play with contemporary music, which we love to do," says Nolan. “My brother never wanted to put any of it in his films. So, I have the pent up appetite of about 10 years of being about to do it."

Is this earth? Only time will tell.

"That’s a fun question," muses Nolan. "We’re able to explore different points of view with the show. We wanted to start with and ground most of the information that the audience has in the hosts’ perspective. So, when it comes to these questions, we tease a little bit along the way. But we really wanted to strand the viewers in that limited understanding of where this place is. We very much want the viewers to be asking those questions."


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