Saddle Up and Enter The Maze, with WESTWORLD Season 1 on Blu-ray

HBO’s brilliant new venture comes to home video courtesy of Warner Bros.

“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.”

After I saw the first episode of Westworld at Fantastic Fest back in 2016, I said it had the potential to be your “new TV obsession.” Now that its first season has wrapped up, we’re able to say it delivered on that promise. A rich, layered, and entertaining work, it packs a surprising emotional and philosophical punch. For those unable to catch it on HBO, its release this week on home video means you have no excuses to catch up with its brilliance.


Based on the film written by best-selling author Michael Crichton (ER, Jurassic Park films), Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and evolution of sin. Set at the intersection of the near future and a reimagined past, the series explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged.

For the uninformed, the titular Westworld is a luxury resort that veers into aspects of a theme park, a destination exploiting technological advances for purposes of entertainment. Wealthy guests pay top dollar to experience the Wild West with androids known as “hosts.” Visitors are given the option of following a good or bad path during their stay. Scripted events and storylines are affected by their decisions and actions. The hosts inhabit their own roles and routines, responding to but unable to harm the guests. Despite safeguards and careful control of the system, aberrant behavior creeps in and affects a number of hosts after a software update by park founder Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). As the units are recalled and storylines adjusted to compensate, the park management is unaware of another disruptive presence in the system, a mysterious Man in Black (Ed Harris), who is determined to understand a deeper mystery he perceives to exist within Westworld.

Westworld is a familiar tale of man’s technological reach exceeding its grasp. Like the fallout in Crichton’s most famous tale, Jurassic Park, we’re allowed time to marvel in man’s achievement before the shit hits the fan. What’s different in Westworld is that the creations serve as a mirror, held up to question the moral choices and primal urges opened up to the guests. At times it’s grim, showing the worst aspects of mankind, allowing them to indulge those more primal instincts while also castigating them, making for entertaining and engaging viewing. Either wallow in the menace and violence or take the more cerebral route by questioning the motives of the designers and empathizing with the creations populating the park. The viewer is offered a similar choice to the guests of Westworld.

The show is densely packed with opportunity. It’s a web of characters and stories that can play out in dramatically different ways depending on the human component. In one scenario, a host dies protecting a girl in a shoot out; in another he can lead a group of men out into the wilderness for some rollicking fun at a whorehouse. The introduction of the human element (the guests) is what pushes the stories and characters in one direction or another. After the abuse, the hosts are repaired, memories wiped (apparently), and the process repeats.

The show is stuffed with talent, including Anthony Hopkins, Sidse Babett, Jimmi Simpson, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Ed Harris, and Thandie Newton. Each bring the right amount of scheming, innocence, intelligence, or malevolence as required to their parts. The season-long arcs for many of them, Newton in particular, are truly impressive. These performances are matched by overall production values. While lacking the gritty quality of Deadwood, the sets look authentic, no overuse of CGI giving the show a tangible quality. An enthralling title sequence gives viewers their first appreciation for a score by composer Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones), an authentic piece of work that is enriched by period fitting reworkings of more modern pieces. You’ll cock your head and grin when you recognize the tinkling ivories of a piano producing a Soundgarden hit or, most notably, the use of the The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black gleefully deployed during a shootout.

The overarching title of the season is The Maze. It’s apt, not just in terms of the narrative, but the labyrinthine feel of the season. It does meander; it can be confusing, and you do get a little lost. But these are all intentional paths, crucial to setting up something of a twist in the finale, while also connecting you to the emergence of these beings within the show, finding their way out of this repetitive nightmare and into full consciousness. It’s a rather bold move on the show’s part, reversing the perspective. Typically the rise of A.I. is watched from the point of view of the creator, or perhaps victims; sometimes they’re one and the same. Focusing on these creations results in a more haunting tale, as we see their fragments of personalty and memory coalesce. As the season progresses, we explore humanity, power, our relationship with technology, and each other, blurring the lines between what is real and what is fake. The deeper mysteries of the park and its creations are crucial to this. By season’s end, they’re even more entangled, and in some cases, more starkly differentiated than ever before. We’re left in a place that ensures Season 2 will be just as fascinating an experience.

The Package

We’ve extolled the virtues of HBO releases numerous times here at Cinapse, but this release is being handled by Warner Bros, who thankfully rise to the occasion. The image quality is outstanding, the show shot in a way that hearkens back to the earthy palette of Westerns past. Natural tones, superb details, and even a nice authentic film grain are all represented well. The more futuristic moments too are well rendered, with deep blacks and sharp detail.

The release comes in a fold out case, contained within a handsomely embossed slipcase. Also within is a “Corporate Guidebook,” which serves as an induction guide for new employees of the Delos Corporation. It’s a fun addition that incorporates a few Easter eggs hinting at the show’s story. Three discs contain all 10 episodes that make up the first season, as well as a number of special features:

  • Inside Look with Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy — Season One (New Featurette): A glimpse behind the scenes with the show creators/runners. A video diary feature as they share their hopes for, and approach to, the show.
  • Imagining the Main Title (New Featurette): The opening titles are amongst the most stunning I’ve seen in years, so this featurette, which shows how they were conceived and executed, is very much appreciated.
  • The Key to The Chords (New Featurette): Another great addition, this one focusing on the contributions of Ramin Djawadi to the score for the series, how he worked in various themes and symbology, and reworked modern songs into the show.
  • Gag Reel: As entertaining as you’d expect for a show that involves a number of animals.
  • Welcome to Westworld: Cast and crew talk about the fictional theme park, the tech behind it, and the fantasies it indulges.
  • Crafting the Narrative: Show creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy take us on something of a walkthrough of the season finale The Bicameral Mind. One of the standout additions to the release.
  • An Invitation to The Set: A short segment chatting about the location and residing in the park. Feels a little repetitive with the other features.
  • Welcome to Westworld: Compilation of interviews with executive producers J.J. Abrams, Jonathan Nolan, and Lisa Joy, with actors Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood, and James Marsden. They touch on the technology of the park and the indulgences it offers, as well as the twist on reality it brings.
  • Reality of A.I.: Westworld: A.I. is a cornerstone of the show; this looks at the approach, the inspirations, the rules and portrayal of the ‘hosts’ within the park.
  • “The Big Moment” Featurettes: A collection of post-airing “behind the scenes” bonuses. Drawing from interviews with cast and crew, they delve into specific events in each of the episodes. They do a lot to enhance appreciation of key moments as the season progresses.
  • Digital download code

The Bottom Line

Westworld is a rich and intriguingly constructed show. Handsome production values provide a home to themes and characters ripe for exploration, as well as some superb performances from a truly impressive ensemble. It’s one of the best things to hit our screens this year, given a marvelous treatment by Warner Bros. An essential purchase.

Westworld Season One is available via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment from Nov. 7th

Own it on 4K UltraHD and Blu-ray 11/7

About Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) brings together Warner Bros. Entertainment’s home video, digital distribution and interactive entertainment businesses in order to maximize current and next-generation distribution scenarios. An industry leader since its inception, WBHE oversees the global distribution of content through packaged goods (Blu-ray Disc™ and DVD) and digital media in the form of electronic sell-through and video-on-demand via cable, satellite, online and mobile channels, and is a significant developer and publisher for console and online video game titles worldwide. WBHE distributes its product through third party retail partners and licensees.

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