WEST­WORLD

Empire (UK) - - ON SCREEN - IAN FREER

SHOWRUNNERS Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy CAST An­thony Hop­kins, Ed Har­ris, Thandie New­ton, Evan Rachel Wood, Jef­frey Wright

PLOT The cre­ation of Dr Robert Ford (An­thony Hop­kins), West­world of­fers a unique im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence for wealthy tourists to en­gage their ev­ery whim (sex, vi­o­lence, wear­ing bad head­wear) in an au­then­tic Wild West en­vi­ron­ment. There’s only one cloud on the hori­zon — the ar­ti­fi­cial at­trac­tions are on the blink.

“THESE VI­O­LENT DE­LIGHTS have vi­o­lent ends,” warns Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores Aber­nathy at var­i­ous points dur­ing West­world. This Shake­spearean quote (Romeo And Juliet, Act 2, Scene 6, Bard-fans!) lies at the heart of the JJ Abrams-pro­duced reboot of Michael Crich­ton’s 1973 theme-park-goes-ape-shit clas­sic. On one level, West­world 2016 of­fers a cau­tion­ary tale about the dangers of in­dulging hu­man whim and the ways tech­nol­ogy up­scales sin. And on an­other, it’s about pis­tol-pack­ing an­droids. For the unini­ti­ated, West­world is Juras­sic Park in chaps. The John Ham­mond here is Dr Robert Ford (An­thony Hop­kins), the cre­ator of an en­tire Wild West­verse pop­u­lated with ar­ti­fi­cial be­ings (or ‘hosts’, in the show’s par­lance) who in­ter­act in in­ter­con­nected sto­ry­lines with the guests (or ‘trav­ellers’), who are plea­sured in ev­ery con­ceiv­able way. The story cy­cles between the two worlds of the park. Hosts Dolores and sa­loon madam Maeve Mil­lay (Thandie New­ton) be­gin to ques­tion their ex­is­tence while direc­tor of pro­gram­ming Bernard Lowe (Jef­frey Wright) and his team start to in­ves­ti­gate these glitches, butting heads with chief of op­er­a­tions Theresa Cullen (Sidse Ba­bett Knud­sen) and the park’s dick­ish scriptwriter Lee Size­more (Si­mon Quar­ter­man, Bri­tish obvs), as with­draw­ing dan­ger­ous hosts muck up his plots. There hasn’t been a park mal­func­tion for 30 years. Un­til now.

The show is at its most en­joy­able pulling back the cur­tain on the be­hind-the-scenes op­er­a­tions. This el­e­ment de­liv­ers an en­gag­ing Tru­man Show qual­ity as we see lives ma­nip­u­lated and re­peated. The el­e­ments are fa­mil­iar — AIS gain­ing sen­tience, talk about play­ing God, cor­po­rate shadi­ness, even

Blade Run­ner-style close-ups of eye­balls — but they are par­layed by sharp writ­ing and de­liv­ered by a strong cast, es­pe­cially Hop­kins, who gets to do a Jedi mind trick on a rat­tlesnake. It doesn’t flinch on in­tense mo­ments (a drill up a nose) but is also alive to the story’s emo­tional nu­ances of ro­bots re­al­is­ing some­thing might be miss­ing.

Yet for all it’s sci-fi trap­pings, it doesn’t skimp on Western busi­ness. Ed Har­ris glides through as a skilled ‘trav­eller’ gun­slinger on the hunt for a mys­te­ri­ous maze (all very Lost). Episode one has a ter­rific street shoot-out, and later we get a last­minute gal­lows res­cue, scalp­ings, ex­plod­ing cigars and a prison break­out. In a fun touch, lis­ten for plinky-plonky ver­sions of mod­ern tunes such as Ra­dio­head’s No Sur­prises on a sa­loon pi­ano.

It’s play­ing a long game and episodes three and four feel less in­volv­ing as the rev­e­la­tions slow down. But you feel in good hands. There is a nice meta joke on the na­ture of TV sto­ry­telling, with dis­cus­sions about the point of back­story for the hosts as we are learn­ing the back­sto­ries of the show’s char­ac­ters. You would ex­pect an Abrams-nolan col­lab­o­ra­tion to be smart.

West­world doesn’t let you down.

VER­DICT West­world serves up vi­o­lent, thought­ful fun built on a still-ter­rific premise. And the cast — es­pe­cially New­ton, Wright, Knud­sen and Hop­kins — are across-the-board good.

Hop­kins and Per­spex: screen gold.

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