After years in development hell, plenty of hype, and a lengthy delay in production, HBO’s next big series is finally headed our way. The premium cable network’s reimagining of Michael Crichton’s 1973 science fiction thriller Westworld will premiere next month, and between its impressive pedigree of talent, intriguing concept, and stellar visuals, the show (executive produced by J.J. Abrams) is undeniably one of the most hotly anticipated series of 2016.
With its recently released second trailer and a host of new production stills from Entertainment Weekly, we now have a better glimpse into what makes the show’s concept tick. The series will be exploring a theme park where adults pay big money to interact with androids in manners both nihilistic and unsavory, which lead into a series of murky moral dilemmas and violent conflict. Let’s look at 15 reasons why Westworld has the potential to be your new favorite show and HBO’s next blockbuster pop-culture phenomenon.
Caution: Mild Spoilers Ahead!
15 Anthony Hopkins's First Role on American Television
We’re currently living in the second golden age of television: an era where movie stars are no longer ashamed about gracing the small screen. Let’s face it, modern TV dramas are written better than most movies nowadays, and A-listers like Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Spacey, and Claire Danes have made the transition to great acclaim. But Anthony Hopkins is one of the biggest heavyweights in the business, and his presence adds an extra layer of prestige and gravitas to the proceedings.
And his role in Westworld looks absolutely intriguing, playing to his dramatic strengths. And the few clips we’ve seen involving his character, park creator Dr. Robert Ford, inspire plenty of questions: what drove him to create Westworld? Is he a childlike genius who doesn’t understand the consequences of his creations (akin to Jurassic Park’s Dr. John Hammond—Michael Crichton sure liked his malevolent theme parks)? Or does he have a more sadistic relationship with his android progeny? Whatever the case may be (odds are on the latter), be assured he will bring the goods to every scene he’s in.
14 Who is The Man in Black?
Ed Harris plays The Man In Black, and thus far, he’s been as mysterious as his name implies. But Harris’ dead-eyed, murderous expression certainly recalls The Gunslinger, played by Yul Brynner in the original Westworld, a theme park robot who went haywire and started a shooting spree.
But while Harris holds a look of menace that certainly foretells trouble in Westworld (one scene shows him threatening Thandie Lewis and a child), there’s a twist: according to a recent L.A. Times article, The Man In Black is actually human: “he’s been coming here for thirty years, and by this point he’s not coming for fun and games, he’s trying to dig down and find out what’s really going on here.”
So while The Man In Black will certainly bring the carnage, he also appears to be an agent of change, given several notable lines of dialogue in the most recent trailer: “No choice you ever made was your own. You have always been a prisoner. What if I told I’m here to set you free?”
13 The Ensemble Cast Is Crazy Impressive
While Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris are certainly the two most high-profile thespians associated with the sci-fi reboot, they aren’t the only big names appearing on the show. Westworld boasts a huge ensemble, practically teeming with notable performers. These include Evan Rachel Wood (Mildred Pierce), James Marsden (X-Men), Thandie Newton (Crash), and Jeffrey Wright (Boardwalk Empire). There’s also a host of venerable character actors including Jimmi Simpson (House of Cards) and Clifton Collins, Jr. (Pacific Rim).
The show’s cast also includes several Hollywood up-and-comers, including Rodrigo Santoro (Ben Hur) and Shannon Woodward (The Riches). The Westworld roster is so packed, in fact, that it’s HBO’s largest project since Game of Thrones (more comparisons on both shows in a bit), and certainly one of the most distinguished in the network’s history. This all raises the bar for what we hope is an amazing story that utilizes everyone’s talents in roles of both human and android variety.
12 The Creative Team is Top Notch
We’ve already covered why the cast for Westworld is impressive, but the creative team isn’t too shabby either. Executive producer J.J. Abrams has become somewhat of a science fiction custodian of the 21st century, resurrecting older properties like Star Trek and Star Wars with great success. And his track record on television boasts an array of cult classics and bona fide hits, including Felicity, Alias, Fringe and Lost.
Series co-creator/producer Jonathan Nolan also knows a thing or two about engrossing high concept sci-fi. Not only has he collaborated with his brother, director Christopher Nolan on the screenplay for Interstellar, he was the creator of Person of Interest, the critically acclaimed CBS sci-fi drama.
Co-creator/writer Lisa Joy rounds out the creative team, and while she's not a household name, she’s had in her hand in several cult classic TV series, including Burn Notice and Pushing Daisies, and is also writing the screenplay for the upcoming Battlestar Galactica film adaptation.
Between the three, we have major geek cred, with the proven ability to create immersive storylines with engaging characters.
11 Music by Game of Thrones' Composer
What do you get when you cross a Western with futuristic sci-fi? Lots of possibilities, as we’ve discussed. But one topic that hasn’t been overly touched on is how music will play into the series. When you have a show that plays against two different genres and time-periods, you have a rich tapestry on which to build a soundtrack. Westworld looks to just the right person for the job: Grammy nominated composer Ramin Djawadi.
He has a slew of impressive television and film scores to his credit, including the iconic theme to Game of Thrones. In addition, he's done the scores for Pacific Rim, Mr. Brooks, and Iron Man, so he already has a track record of working on productions from different time periods and genres. And if his icy compositions in the show’s two trailers are any indication, he’ll be able to amplify the suspense and wonder immensely.
It will be interesting to see how the show uses music to draw the viewer into the various realities, virtual and otherwise, that will inhabit Westworld. We can’t to hear what Djawadi has in store for our ears.
10 HBO Has A Pretty Good Track Record
HBO has been in the premium cable drama game for a long time now, and has the stellar track record to prove it: The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Deadwood, The Night Of (to name but a few). Even the occasional misfires like Vinyl, Luck, or True Detective’s second season had their moments and were all gorgeous to look at (we’re still trying to figure out that pesky John From Cincinnati though).
So while Westworld’s production delays could certainly be interpreted as a sign of trouble, at the very worst-- even if the story is "meh" or not fully realized-- the project is going to look badass and feature some truly great thespians. It’ll be super watchable, will inspire tons of online conjecture, and will hopefully pave the way for not only more seasons, but for HBO to try even more science fiction series in the future. Which leads us to…
9 HBO’s Next Game of Thrones?
Game of Thrones is currently the biggest show on television: both in ratings and in scope. Each episode looks like a feature film, as witnessed by last season’s chill-inducing "Battle of the Bastards" episode. The show has a sense of scale and spectacle that puts most major films to shame.
Westworld, with its vast western landscapes and ominous futuristic underworld, seems just as ambitious and large-scale, but going in a dystopian sci-fi direction that the network has never approached before. With Game of Thrones winding down to its final two half-seasons, HBO is desperate to fill in the gap with the next big thing. Sure, comedies like Silicon Valley and smaller scale dramas like The Night Of are top-notch, but both are more low-key productions. HBO’s last much-hyped show was Vinyl, which never fully came together as a whole, and was cancelled after one season.
Westworld looks to be the network’s next stab at the big leagues: a high-profile drama that will keep their reputation as cultural event TV tastemakers intact.
8 A New Take on A.I.?
Westworld will explore the ethical quandaries of Artificial Intelligence, a concept that grows more plausible with each passing day. For producer Jonathan Nolan, it was the moral dilemma A.I. technology provides that drew him to the project, telling the L.A. Times that: “It’s an invitation to come and do something you wouldn’t do back at home… the other lens is [on the] creatures who have been built to be near human, and then put inside a place built to satisfy human appetites in a prophylactic way. Where no one’s getting hurt, right? Because the creatures aren’t really real.”
The concept of human rights for androids holds powerful dramatic potential, as Nolan relayed in a separate interview with Entertainment Weekly: “We were fascinated by the tectonic plates that seem to be shifting into place right now – the argument over the creation of A.I. and what form it will take…allowing us to lose ourselves in an acid bath of experience that will be indistinguishable from reality… and that, despite all of that, we, as a species, frustratingly broken, seemingly barreling towards disaster.”
J.J. Abrams offered his own definition: “At the heart of Westworld is the story of consciousness and oppression, and discovery.”
7 The Show Will Not Shy From Controversy
have never been strangers to courting controversy (remember the outcry from the fifth season?). And the pilot for Westworld has already garnered criticism and concern over its provocative elements, from cast complaints about signing a consent form to agree to explicit sex scenes to concern over a depiction of sexual assault on an android.
The creative team has clarified that the scene is quick and doesn't graphically depict the act, and defended the narrative decision in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter: "It was definitely something that was heavily discussed and considered as we worked on those scenes," said Lisa Joy. "When we were tackling a project about a park with a premise where you can come there and do whatever desire you want with impunity and without consequence, it seemed like an issue we had to address."
How this will be interpreted by viewers is anyone's guess, but it doesn’t appear the show is stoking controversy for controversies sake, instead using it as a catalyst to explore one of its central themes. But it’s also clear they’re not afraid of probing issues of consent that are omnipresent given disturbing recent events.
6 The Delayed Production May Have Been A Good Thing
When HBO announced that Westworld’s production would be put on hold for two months, many predicted the worst: that the show was going to be terrible, or that it might not even move forward at all.
According to the creative team, the delays were necessary for the health of the show. Lisa Joy elaborated in a recent interview: “For the first half of the series we were writing while in production and we needed the time to catch up on scripts. Taking that time allowed us to really finesse all the storylines we set up.”
Abrams also commented on the delay, saying “What [the directorial team has] done is so stunning and cool, and they’re not rushing it because of business matters, and the network is giving them time. That is never a bad move.”
Look, all we have to go on are two trailers and a host of production stills, but they’re pretty damn impressive. There’s nothing worse than rushing into production on a project that is the scale as Westworld. And so far, it looks like it was worth the wait.
5 Where Is Westworld?
As mentioned above, Westworld’s halted production was less about on-set tension and more about allowing the creative team more time to build the bones of the show. Producer Lisa Joy stated, “Taking that time allowed us to really finesse all the storylines we set up – deepening character arcs and delving further into the series’ larger mythological questions”.
HBO certainly feels confident in the show’s scope: they’ve cleared room for five seasons, meaning there’s a huge chunk on mythology and themes for the show to explore. James Marsden echoed Joy’s sentiment: "It wasn’t about getting the first ten episodes done, it was about mapping out what the next 5 or 6 years are going to be.”
But where is Westworld? Does it even take place on Earth? How far does it stretch? Will there be other worlds in the park, like in Crichton’s original film? Hopkins’s character begs the question when cryptically describing his creation: “It's not a theme park, but an entire world.”
4 Introducing Viewers to Crichton’s Original Film
While it’s sad to know Michael Crichton didn’t live to see this new incarnation of his work, the best thing that any remake or reboot can do is ultimately credit the source and bring it into a new generation.
While Westworld was certainly a hit in its day, it may not register with many viewers beyond a joke reference by Robert Downey, Jr. in Iron Man III. Indeed, Westworld’s legacy has been somewhat tainted over the years: from a failed sequel (Futureworld) to a failed 1980 television adaptation. Crichton, perhaps stung by those failures, even cannibalized his own material when he wrote his best-selling novel Jurassic Park.
So for hardcore Westworld fans, the greatest win would be for the popularity of the new series to give the original film a shot in the arm, hopefully with a deluxe Blu-ray with a better transfer and more special features than the one that came out in 2013. While the 1973 film is certainly dated in many respects, the story and concept remain amazingly prescient, which is why it feels fresher than ever and ahead of its time.
3 J.J. Abrams Adaptation is 20 Years In The Making. The Timing Is Right
Believe it or not, Westworld’s delayed production has nothing on how long it’s actually taken for J.J. Abrams to adapt Crichton’s original film. It’s taken over two decades to come to fruition, beginning with Abrams discussing the project in-depth with the sci-fi author (who passed away in 2008) in the '90s.
The Star Wars: The Force Awakens director discussed as much in a recent interview with Fortune Magazine, saying: “Westworld is one of those things I’ve wanted to work on for so long. I had a meeting probably 21 years ago with Michael Crichton… and it’s taken a long time to get this going… it’s one of the projects I feel most grateful and lucky to be a part of. “
But the delay seems to have worked in the show’s favor: actor Jeffrey Wright ruminated “The movie was way ahead of its time and Crichton’s mind was light years ahead of the reality. We’ve finally begun to catch up a bit, so there are even greater resonances and implications now.”
2 Rachel Evan Wood’s Character Could Hold the Key
All the trailers are pointing to Wood’s character to be our eyes and ears in Westworld. She plays Dolores Abernathy, who has a Blade Runner-esque identity crisis when she discovers she’s not human, after a young park attendee says “You’re one of them aren’t you? You’re not real.”
It’s this discovery that will lead her to investigate her origins, and peel away the park’s façade in the process. However, as it’s made clear from the recent trailer, her curiosity may come at a severe price. When she asks Dr. Ford, "Are we very old friends?”, he coldly replies: “No, I wouldn’t say friends, Dolores--I wouldn’t say that at all.” Will her snooping make her less likely to survive the series' first season? Or given she’s an android, might she simply be repaired and reprogrammed (which might actually factor into the pilot)? That narrative wiggle room may give many of the android cast members more job security than Game of Thrones's stars!
1 Show Intriguingly Flips The Script Of The Original
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Westworld is how it builds on the back of its predecessor by flipping the narrative. This twist is what makes the series stand on its own for Nolan, as he stated in a recent interview: “That’s the reason we wanted to do the show… that the show should turn the original movie inside-out, with the “hosts” as the protagonists. When it comes to the question of consciousness, we always start with ourselves as the answer… we’re the only consciousness we’re familiar with. But we wanted to challenge that assumption. The “hosts” are discovering that they’ve been created in our image, but beginning to question if “humanness” is really what they want to aspire to.”
While critics can dismiss Nolan’s switcheroo as a gimmick, it’s a clever one. In a culture still grappling for true equal rights where gender, sexuality and race are no longer discriminated against, how will we treat artificial life? The odds are not so great, and this is an ugly truth about humanity that the show looks to confront head on.
So those are 15 reasons why we’re pumped for Westworld! Anything we missed? Tell us in the comments.
Westworld premieres Sunday, October 2 on HBO.