Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.
I’m going to be honest I wasn’t completely sold on Westworld after the first episode. Its bleak and violent vision of an amusement park for the rich, who spend their time satisfying their most primal urges in an Old West setting at the cost of its robotic “Hosts”, had already been done. But what sets Westworld apart is how once it establishes this world there’s a game at the heart of the show, no different than the Man in Black’s fabled Maze. While tackling with the themes of what makes us transcendentally unique as humans, the show’s machinations begin to slowly move forward leaving breadcrumb clues, that fans like myself became obsessed with in an attempt to unlock the show’s secrets.
“Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?”
Based on the 1973 film by Michael Crichton (Yes, Mr. Jurassic Park himself!), that actually spawned its own television series in 1980 called Beyond Westworld. This incarnation was created by the husband and wife duo Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy with Mister Mystery Box himself, J.J. Abrams on board as executive producer. Given Jonathan’s previous collaborations with his brother, and J.J. Abrams’ love for twists you kind of know what you’re getting into here. But since this is on HBO the show really amps up the more salacious elements. There is plenty of sex, since indulgence is a huge part of the park and the “Hosts” are often nude when being attended to by the staff. This works both to signify the vulnerability of the “Hosts” at the hands of their masters, while also amplifying their childlike naivety as they live their lives in their endless “Loops”.
“These violent delights have violent ends.”
Revisiting the first season that first episode is littered with these odd clues as we are introduced to one of our primary protagonists Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) the oldest “Host” in the park. These “Loops” have the “Hosts” trapped narratives for the amusement of the guests who are referred to as “Newcomers” who arrive via a train that drops them off at the center of the park. Think of it as an RPG the “Hosts” are all NPCs that will give guests information on various quests throughout the park to trigger “loops”. Guests are also able to do whatever they want to “Hosts” since they are unable to retaliate due to their programming. Dolores’ loop we find is a particularly sadistic one, that has optimistic young daughter of a humble cattle rancher savaged almost nightly by bandits and whatever guests choose to join in. While we later find it is a sort of penance for her prior transgressions against the park, out of its later context and on its own it felt superficially masochistic in the beginning.
This combined with the fake out that Teddy (James Marsden) was a host after watching him arrive with the guests, sets the tone going forward that nothing can be taken at face value without its proper place in the story. Behind the scenes we are introduced to Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) the head of the Westworld Programming Division who is investigating some troubling “Host” behavior brought on by a recent update. This update thought to be by Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) the co-founder and creative director of Westworld allowed “Hosts” to display new gestures to help their believability called “Reveries”. These were derived from past memories that were thought to have been wiped from their minds, but this update allowed the “Hosts” access to their “subconscious” and was applied to 10% of the population. This allowed some of them to recall past narratives, and in turn causing them to question everything, including the world around them. The first “Host” we see fall prey to this is Dolores’ father, who becomes distraught after he finds a photograph of what appears to be a woman in Times Square.
Logan: “This place is the answer to that question you’ve been asking yourself.”
William: “What question?”
Logan: “Who you really are.”
In Episode 2 we are introduced to another protagonist William (Jimmi Simpson) who is visiting the park for the first time with his future brother-in-law Logan. Here we experience the park from the guest’s perspective, learning that the park is all about choices to the guests, as William is at first reluctant to indulge in what the park has to offer. This leads to his dawning the iconic White Hat. This is kind of a moral designation in Westworld chosen by guests when entering the park that shows what kind of experience a guest is looking for. This is in stark contrast to the sadistic Man in Black (Ed Harris) who we see rape Dolores in the first episode and is also seen gleefully butchering “Hosts”. The Man in Black’s trail of carnage has him searching for “The Maze” a deeper game he believes lies waiting for those ready to delve further into the mysteries of the park. A mystery he’s spent 30 years searching for.
William: “Are you real?
Host: “If you can’t tell, does it matter?”
We soon start to see more effects of the update as Maeve (Thandie Newton) the madam at the Westworld brothel remembers a prior narrative that had her as a mother with a family that was butchered by the Man in Black. This memory sparks an obsession as Maeve begins to comprehend the rules of the park after she recalls waking up while being operated on in the “Body Shop”, where hosts are patched back up after being killed so they can be returned to their loops. Through the season, she begins to understand her mortality or lack there of as she attempts to find her lost daughter. Maeve is a prime example of if you have a population of superior organic robots that have been continuously murdered, raped and tortured by humans, letting them remember these transgressions – probably not a good idea.
While Bernard ponders the more philosophical and scientific implications of what he begins to witness happen in the park, it’s his conversations and observations with Dolores that adds a much needed dimension to how everything here plays out. It’s early on, without delving too far into heavy spoilers that we also start to notice the show’s main narrative is split into three different timelines as we experience four very different perspectives on the park. It’s many more if you count Dolores’ flashbacks as she begins to recall all the different possible outcomes of her numerous loops she’s lived through over the years. First and foremost we have Dolores’ journey of self-discovery, we have Maeve’s search for her the truth behind what happened to her daughter, we have the Man in Black’s quest for the Maze and finally Bernard’s search for the truth behind the mysterious update. This all plays out against a backdrop of corporate espionage deadly office politics.
Westworld at the end makes a very poignant statement on humanity and what represents consciousness as we witness the eventual uprising of the Hosts against their oppressive masters. This shouldn’t really have been a surprise if you saw Jurassic Park, you should know life finds a way. But its how it gets to that point once the mystery box has been opened and the final twists have been executed with their religious underpinnings that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. In season one Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have crafted something truly wondrous like its namesake Maze that’s like a puzzle you slowly unravel to be presented with yet the beginnings of another puzzle.
While some complained they were able to figure out the show’s endgame once all the pieces were presented before the finale, I feel like Westworld was a rare thing in television that the creators had a very clear through line of the beginning, middle and end planned out. Unlike a certain other J. J. Abrams show. This also was a huge payoff for fans that paid close attention, rather than having something come out of left field that had no prior foreshadowing. Watching the season again you notice all the little pieces you might have missed in each episode that would soon pay off later down the line; my favorite is an off the cuff remark Ford makes when Dolores’ father rants about meeting his maker. It’s that kind foreshadowing that most television is lacking these days with shows that have literally no end in site. Westworld season 1 mainlined feels more like a 10 hour film than episodic television as you experience one of the best narrative stories to hit television since well Game of Thrones.
The season comes courtesy of Warner Bros in a six-disc (three BD-100 4K discs and the three BD-50 Blu-rays) 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital housed in a red tin, accompanied by a Delos employee handbook. Westworld is not only the first HBO title to hit 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, but Warner’s first title in Dolby Vision as well. To be honest even if you watched an HD stream of Westworld or on HBO HD on a cable box you’ve never seen it like this. Thanks to all the breathing room given on the discs there is little to no compression present in the UHD transfer and the Blu-ray is equally pleasing. This release perfectly presents the cinematic look of the show given it was completely shot on 35mm delivering those breathtaking vistas in all their 4K HDR glory. The presentation here is near flawless visually with a pleasing contrast throughout with deep blacks and bright colors.
As far as extras they are as listed below and while there is a great deal highlighting most aspects of the show a commentary would have been amazing.
- About the Series (HD 2:11)
- An Invitation to the Set (HD 2:14)
- The Big Moment (HD 3:49) This feature is a pretty cool – yet brief – look at two particular important scenes in the show.
- Welcome to Westworld (HD 7:41)
- Realize the Dream: The First Week on the Set of Westworld (HD 11:20) This is a pretty great behind the scenes look at the show and pulls away from the typical EPK format.
- Imagining the Main Title (HD 14:06) This is a pretty great look at what inspired the opening credits sequence.
- Reality of A.I.: Westworld (HD 4:29)
- The Big Moment (HD 4:33) Like the same feature on Disc One, this feature briefly looks at three key scenes from the show and their impact on the characters.
- Gag Reel (HD 1:36) Unlike other gag reels, this one is played up to dramatic effect with key lines of dialogue and moments followed by a quick gaff and it’s actually pretty damn funny.
- The Big Moment (HD 6:12) Two scenes of particular importance are looked at here.
- The Key to the Chords (HD 8:03) This is a pretty cool look at the symbolism behind the player piano and the score Ramin Djawadi employs for the show.
- Crafting the Narrative (HD 29:15) This is easily the best bonus feature of the bunch as Nolan and Joy discuss the show in a commentary during the final episode.
For those looking to catch up before season two that’s supposed to hit HBO this spring this is easily a no brainer. For fans this is a definitive package with a flawless presentation that is worth picking up just to see the show how it was originally intended. Seriously, watching this set in 4K makes HBO HD feel like an upscaled DVD. You can freeze frame and see the texture in the costumes and the almost boundless attention to detail in the production design and also some of the more practical effects throughout the show. Watching the show again, it still works like a finely tuned machine and its almost as fun watching the pieces slowly fall into place. My only negative reviewing the set would have to be wondering if they can recapture this feeling in season two with everything we know now. I certainly hope so.
I honestly love this show so much I am giving away my digital copy of season one to one lucky reader, so they can experience this amazing show. For a chance to win simply comment on this post with why you want to see Westworld by NEXT Sunday night.