This season, ‘Westworld’ imagines Los Angeles in 2058. Here’s what it looks like
The robot revolution is coming to Los Angeles.
In the third season of HBO’s “Westworld,” premiering Sunday, renegade humanoid Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) has escaped from the synthetic American West of the Westworld amusement park and relocated to the City of Angels, vowing vengeance on the humans who oppressed her.
But the most surprising development may be that Abernathy won’t get stuck in traffic while carrying out her mission of mayhem.
Much of the new season takes place in a futuristic Los Angeles populated with flying cars, spacious landscapes and picturesque pedestrian plazas. The air is clean, there’s a lot of greenery and park space, and signs of homelessness are all but invisible.
It’s a stark contrast with the metropolis presented in Ridley Scott’s 1982 landmark “Blade Runner,” which was set in November 2019. Although there are also flying cars in the film, the streets are drenched with acid rain, crosscultural digital billboards line the landscape and refineries spew out explosive towers of flames.
“Westworld,” HBO’s divisive sci-fi drama, can confuse even the most astute viewer. But what if the frustration that causes is exactly the point?
While Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the creators of “Westworld,” are fans of “Blade Runner,” they wanted to create an urban environment for the series, set in the 2050s, that was not only dramatically different but more inviting — at least on the surface.
“When we think of the future, we think of all these different versions of what it will look like, and in many cases the wrong turns that have been taken,” said Nolan in a phone interview earlier this month. “‘Blade Runner’ is one of my favorite films — it’s a monumental work and has defined the way the future has been portrayed for many years. But we’re living in Los Angeles in 2020 and it doesn’t look like ‘Blade Runner,’ which is this beautiful, iconic, acid rain-washed dystopian hellscape. We’re covered with public art and the city looks like an Apple store. But when you lift up the rock, there are tremendous problems in Los Angeles, problems we’ve failed to grapple with.”
Nolan and Joy were also determined to move beyond the settings of the first two seasons, which incorporated western characteristics, including vast landscapes shot in Utah. Until now, the series has mostly been set at a future resort where humans carry out their fantasies with robot “hosts” that are programmed to fulfill their desires.
“We’re all taken with shows that expand and enlarge their view of the world season after season,” Nolan said. “It allows us as filmmakers to reinvent how we’re doing the show.”
To that end, the creators joined forces with production designer Howard Cummings and renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels to create a futuristic Los Angeles based in large part on Singapore, with its dramatic facades and structures covered in greenery. They also wanted to illustrate that country’s stance on limiting car traffic. The result is a mashup of locations in Singapore and Los Angeles, flavored by special effects.
“We can’t exactly shoot on location in Los Angeles in the future — or so we thought,” Nolan said. “We went to check out Singapore, where they have this insanely ambitious architecture. We were able to figure out a path to work there and in Los Angeles, and then blending the two together. For instance, Singapore has this mandate to cover all of its buildings in living greenery. It looks very beautiful but also seems like a token effort to offset global warming as a way to reassure ourselves that we’ve fixed that problem.”
As for the transportation and the lack of traffic, Nolan said, “Singapore has eliminated a lot of its traffic problems by getting rid of a lot of cars. And I think Los Angeles has become a laboratory for a lot of tech companies trying to figure out mobility in the future. We’ve heard about the flying car for so long it’s become a cliché. But it’s clearly going to happen. There’s a market for it given there’s an increasing number of very wealthy people who don’t like to sit in traffic.”
Cummings and Ingels said they wanted to present a “new world order” where everything looks wonderful even when it isn’t. “Jonah [Nolan] wanted this city to be grounded in stuff we’re familiar with instead of being totally re-imagined,” Cummings said. “We have these giant carbon-eating machines that have helped solve global warming. It doesn’t look like a repressive region on the surface, but we find out there’s something controlling everything.”
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“Even if there is lot of darkness in ‘Westworld,’” Ingels said, “the environments they have envisioned are incredibly plausible.”
The architect welcomed the opportunity to work with Nolan and Joy. He was excited to realize the new Los Angeles because it offered him an opportunity to revisit renderings of his projects that never got built: Some of his three-dimensional models have been incorporated into the series.
“I got a second chance,” he said, describing his “big cemetery of projects that never got built.”
Joy said much of the upcoming season has to do with the exploration of free will and human nature. “In the past two seasons, Dolores saw a dark side of human nature, which is what compelled her to be free and go into this new world,” she said. “I’m optimistic there is more to us than just darkness. This season we get to explore that.”
And Joy and Nolan know that fans will be intrigued by their view of the future.
“Parts of our vision reflect things people will be excited about, like climate change and traffic,” Nolan said. “It will look like a dystopia, but dystopias don’t look like dystopias. They look awfully inviting. But when you examine how it works, it’s actually a bit of a horror show.”
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
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