"Wait, what?" is a standard reaction to the promotional trailers for HBO's ambitious new series Westworld. The footage previewed seems to split the show into two distinct locations, the wild west (complete with sheriffs, horses, and saloons), and some weird futuristic void where Anthony Hopkins lives. Westworld seems positioned to be HBO's new high-concept critical success just as Game of Thrones is, but fans knew going into GoT where it was set. Unlike the fantasy series, when Westworld takes place and what exactly is going on with its sci-fi elements are not very clear just yet.
The obvious explanation is that Westworld is set, at least partially, in the past. There are all the makings of a wild west series and the show itself is called Westworld. The world of the West! While that may be the obvious answer, the reality behind Westworld is anything but obvious. The theme park that shares a name with the series is actually meticulously recreated to look like the past, from the sweeping western landscapes to the steam engine that brings visitors to the town. However, that level of detail is only possible because Westworld itself is actually a theme park from the future.
Westworld envisions a future in entertainment where theme parks are not populated by actors and teenagers in mascot costumes on the verge of overheating. Instead, Westworld is an attraction populated almost entirely by robots where a visiting patron can live out their wildest western fantasies with a world programmed to give them the ultimate recreational experience. This science-fiction spin on the classic western (or maybe it's a western spin on the classic sci-fi?) uses its futuristic setting to dive into questions of reality and free will, while also featuring some of the intimate tension and epic sweep usually associated with the spaghetti westerns of yesteryear.
Westworld, the show, is based on the 1973 movie of the same name written by Michael Crichton, who later became famous for writing the novel Jurassic Park. Needless to say, when Crichton writes about a theme park, things tend to go badly for its visitors. While the future of Westworld may be exciting, putting guns in the hand of robots is often a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, humanity is nowhere near reaching a point where something like Westworld could be a possibility... right?
The show itself doesn't mark an exact year in the future for its setting, but it can be safely expected that humanity is fairly far away from sentient robots populating fictional western towns that people can visit to indulge in their wildest fantasies. There's still a lot of progress to be made in the field of artificial intelligence before something like Westworld can exist. Then again, as technology continues to advance and create more immersive experiences, perhaps we're not so far away from a place like Westworld after all.
Images: John P. Johnson/HBO (2)