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'Westworld' premiere recap: Violent delights at a robot amusement park

Released in 1973, "Westworld," starring Yul Brynner and James Brolin, was a blaze of saddles, satire, blood and humor. The movie was campy and silly and hilarious, and seemed to beg for a reboot to be made in the 21st century. The plot of a Western-themed amusement park where there are no consequences to one's actions cries for a big-budget, effects-driven summer blockbuster.

Now there is finally a reimagining, but in the form of an HBO drama. "Westworld" made its series debut Sunday.

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From the outset, the tone feels different from the 1973 original. The opening credits show the meticulous design of the robotic theme park props in slow motion in front of an imposing, suspenseful opening theme song. These props are meant to walk, talk and act like people, with their sole purpose being to fulfill the dreams of the patrons looking to have an authentic Western experience.

We are immediately greeted with Evan Rachel Wood's character, Dolores, giving us her narrative through an interview.

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"I am in a dream," she says, but she does not question her reality.

Dolores is a robot in the Westworld amusement park, painted as nothing more than a dainty country girl fascinated by the tranquil, scenic beauty of the American West.

As Westworld is described as a place with limitless possibilities, we are introduced to the customers of the enterprise. James Marsden's character, Teddy, strolls through town surrounded by people bragging of past exploits in Westworld or complaining about the price.

Co-creator Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher Nolan) shows his aptitude in these first few scenes, as I find myself immediately thrust into the world and jealous that I can't take a trip there myself. However, something tells me I will not feel the same way by the end of the episode.

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The interview with Dolores continues over narration, clearly a test to see if her artificial intelligence is working properly and won't question her place in the theme park. Dolores' personality has been meticulously designed and crafted for a certain purpose. That is when Teddy and Dolores meet… again.

Dolores tells Teddy that everyone has a path, a place in this world — and Teddy's path leads him back to her. Everything seems a little too perfect, between the sunset and the cows roaming in the countryside, as Dolores says that everything will work out perfectly.

That's when the interview takes a turn. The interviewer tells Dolores that she was built only to please paying costumers and she can't hurt the visitors. Promptly, a man in black, played by Ed Harris, makes his violent entrance. Teddy, in an attempt to protect Dolores, shoots the man in black but the bullets do nothing.

Just then is when I discovered that Marsden is not a visitor, but another robot playing the tragic, star-crossed lover of Dolores. The guest, this Man in Black, plays around with the robots, a 30-year veteran of the park disillusioned by the novelty of it all.

This is one creative call back to the original film. The man in black, played by Yul Brynner in the film, was a robot who starts to kill guests, violating his programming. In the show, Ed Harris, a human guest hell bent on finding the deeper levels of the game, occupies the role of the same name.

"Goddamn … it feels good to be bad," the Man in Black exclaims as he kills a shocked Teddy in glorious, dramatic fashion. He then drags a screaming Dolores along to "celebrate."

Then the automatic organ starts, Dolores wakes up peacefully in her bed, and Teddy wakes up smiling on the train — and the intrigue begins.

We are then taken to a laboratory as we begin to get a real look behind the scenes of the whole operation. It is revealed that an update to the robots has given them a sort of subconscious, a way for robots to access the memories of their past exploits in Westworld to create gestures and mannerisms. Artificial intelligence? Was it ever in doubt?

"It's the tiny things that make them seem real, that make the guests fall in love with them," says the suit-wearing lead programmer, Bernard.

After a brief encounter with the lab police force headed by a guy who looks a lot like Thor's brother (Luke Hemsworth), we meet our ringleader, Ford, played by the remarkable Anthony Hopkins.

Ford appears to be having a potentially volatile crisis of character, pondering his creation with one of his oldest robots. Just as we meet out park curator, stuff begins to turn sideways.

Some robots begin to malfunction as a result of the new update installed in 10 percent of the population. The leader of a posse simply stops functioning, a homicidal villain acts a little more homicidal and villainous and Dolores's father begins to panic after picking up a picture of a woman in Times Square.

It becomes clear to the suits in charge, posted atop one of the large cliffs overlooking the park, that they need to pull the updated robots and remove the update. In order to do this, the park script writer stages a massive shootout at the saloon.

As we see another gut-wrenching death of Teddy alongside plenty of other robots, the suits are back in the lab trying figure out the issue. The sequence features a piano cover of The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black," which is an awesomely creative detail.

Meanwhile, Dolores's father clearly understands that something is amiss. In his recall evaluation, he grabs Ford by the wrist and proclaims a Shakespearean call to arms, ending by repeating what he said to his daughter: "Hell is empty, and all the devils are here." Dolores's father is, naturally, decommissioned and taken down to cold storage, but not before Bernard has a shady final word with him.

The episode concludes with Hemsworth's character, Stubbs, interviewing Dolores, asking the same questions asked at the beginning of the episode.

"These violent delights have violent ends," Dolores says, revealing what her father whispered to her.

Now it's another day in Westworld. Teddy awakens on the train but something is different. He touches the part of his chest where he was shot the day before. Dolores awakens as well on the other side of the prairie, and all seems normal aside from her brand new father. However, as a fly zips around her she instinctively whacks it out of existence, proving that these robots are now able to hurt flies.

The next stage of evolution has begun.

This show has me watering at the mouth and has awakened my imagination to the possibilities as to where the adventure can take us.
As a fan of Westerns there, will be no shortage of violent delights to entertain my animal desires. Revolvers will be cocked and high noon will be struck. This show is the love child of "The Terminator," "Jurassic Park" and "Tombstone."

But beyond the appeal of a HBO Western, there is the social context behind the multiple storylines. A question is posed in the episode about the difference between the desires of the guests, the desires of the shareholders and the desires of the management. The three totems provide three unique and intriguing storylines.

There is the tale of obsession as presented by the guests and the Man in Black. His goal is to penetrate the inner levels of the "game," no matter how sadistic the means. His disillusionment with violence and acts of horror has evolved through years in a video-game-like atmosphere.

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Guests crave the violence, sex and danger advertised by the theme park (and the show), as is human nature. But since most guests need this outlet as an escape, a vacation, what happens — such as the case with the Man in Black — when this escape becomes our life? What happens when we need more?

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Outside of the park, an entirely different question is posed. Ford — in "Jurassic Park's" John Hammond-esque fashion — theorizes that humans have reached their peak of evolution. So what is left to evolve?

Ford believes that technology is the only thing that can evolve. Ford and his admirer Bernard seem to have the desire to spur this next stage in evolution in their children, the robots.

And finally, we arrive at corporate, whose only desire is to make as much money as possible. They are working against the desires of management and provoking the desires of the guests. Stoking the animal desires of humans and trying to restrain the natural evolution of artificial intelligence can only lead to one conclusion: These violent delights can only have violent ends.

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