TV review: Westworld, Sky Atlantic (4 stars)

TV review: Westworld, Sky Atlantic

Sci-fi action from JJ Abrams set in a Wild West theme park populated by advanced robots

Westworld is probably 2016's most anticipated TV show. Based on a much loved sci-fi film from 1973 (adapted from a book by Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame) featuring an iconic turn from Yul Brynner as a murderous malfunctioning cowboy. And JJ Abrams seems to have a knack when it comes to reinvigorating dormant sci-fi franchises at the moment.

It's a wonderful premise: a futuristic theme park populated by lifelike robots where guests can live out their Wild West fantasies. Rich punters completely immersed in a world of cowboys, bandits, shoot outs and saloon bars. A heady mix of sex and violence, a chance to be a hero (or villain) in the ultimate playground. However a bug in a recent software update has unexpected consequences, the robots accessing former memories, remembering past lives, questioning their existence.

Much has been made of Abrams involvement as Executive Producer but it's husband and wife team Jonathan (brother of Christopher) and Lisa Joy Nolan who got stuck in with the nuts and bolts developing the TV version of Westworld for HBO. Jonathan directs the opening episode with names like Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones / The Descent) and Vincenzo Natali (Hannibal / Cube) later in the series. It looks gorgeous, the special effects are beautiful and elegant, the vast western vistas simply stunning. The soundtrack is similarly sophisticated with olde tyme reworkings of Soundgarden, The Rolling Stones and Radiohead. The cast is packed with big names. Ed Harris steps into Brynner's dusty boots as a sinister gunslinger out for revenge (though there's a neat twist we won't spoil); Anthony Hopkins plays the head scientist and mastermind of Westworld; while Thandie Newton plays a malfunctioning robotic prostitute.

The opening three episodes are still setting up the characters and scenario so it's hard to know exactly where the full series is headed but it looks like a fascinating journey. Of course you need to expand on themes to turn a 90 minute film into a long running TV show. Delores (Rachel Evan Wood) is at the centre of the ethical dilemmas of artificial intelligence. An android who believes she's human. Continuing the questions Isaac Asimov first posed. How do we measure consciousness? Are machines capable of love? Would advanced robots deserve human rights? The perfect mix of brains and brawn, Westworld lives up to the hype.

Westworld starts on Sky Atlantic, Tue 4 Oct, and is available through Now TV.