‘Westworld’: Season 3 4K UHD Blu-Ray Review – HBO Sci-Fi Epic Attempts A More Accessible Season

When Westworld debuted back in 2016, expectations could not have been higher for the sci-fi project. This series from the minds of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy was designed to take up the mantle of Game of Thrones as it was preparing for the end. The first season was an incredibly fun, critically-acclaimed journey filled with twisty narratives, impeccable performances and some of the most stunning production design on television. It is when we get to the second season that the ambition of the creative team alienated viewers with overly-complicated narratives that made certain audience members feel like they were doing homework when it came to keeping up with the different developments. After a nearly two-year wait between seasons, the third season finally arrives as something of a soft-reboot for the series. In addition to new characters and locations that give us a glimpse of the world that was previously unknown to viewers, the plotting is also streamlined quite a bit in an attempt to welcome back viewers they shedded during the sophomore run. The third season of Westworld may be easier to digest, but it often feels lacking in different ways from the previous seasons. 

The following paragraphs will be as spoiler-free as possible as to ensure a pleasing viewing experience for those considering embarking on this adventure. Westworld picks up from its brain-bending, blood-soaked second season with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) free from Westworld and taking up residence in a 2058 Los Angeles. Rather than go full cliche dystopian nightmare, the show hues very close to our modern world with a lot more technological advances and robots moseying about. Dolores is a woman on a mission; she wants to cleanse the world of all the evil-doers, and you cannot fault her for that. Her storyline proves to be one of the most interesting of the season, as she ultimately comes together with down-on-his-luck army veteran Caleb (Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad), who is trying to get by through innovative criminal means. Caleb is easily the most emotionally resonant character that helps you remain invested in the ultimate outcome. Aaron Paul is an excellent addition to the cast, and his interactions with Wood are some of the standout scenes of the season. The high-stakes intrigue going on in this futuristic setting takes its time to connect to the other plotlines, but it is satisfying once it gets there. 

In what may or may not be a spoiler for this latest season, we have Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) trying to survive in various locales. Newton continues to amaze in this role as she embarks on one of the trippier plot threads of the season. The location she is thrust into proves to offer a lot of fun and excitement for the character, even if it possibly overstays its welcome. Thompson gets to tap into her reserved nature as she tries to hide in plain sight in her new setting. Newcomer Vincent Cassel brings a cool intensity to Engerraund Serac, the newly employed big bad who is looking to limit free will in the world. In what may be the strangest pairing of the series so far, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Ashley (Luke Hemsworth) embark on a plotline that nearly screams buddy comedy. As mentioned, the narrative this season is a lot less convoluted, but it might just be straightforward to a fault. Where early reveals used to seriously blow minds, the reveals in this season often lack a certain magic that makes the show truly stand out. The show was previously striving for transcendence and missing the mark, but is the course correction to offer a show that aims to be merely “good”? 

From a production standpoint, the series is as on fire as it ever was. The creative team really goes for the gold this season in terms of new locations and grand spectacle. Yet, the series does not seem to be having as much fun as it used to in the early days. This is perhaps due to the lack of thematic depth that is put into the characters this season. The actors are all doing some incredible work, but motivations and overall progress seems very thin. The show is still very entertaining, but what it offers up in the third season leaves you a bit curious how long it can continue moving forward. The creative team are in a tough spot; if they make the show they want to make, they lose impatient audience members, but they fail to be creatively fulfilled if they make a show that appeals to a broader audience. I, for one, rather have a bold, challenging show rather than an average show that lends itself to being second-screen viewing to Twitter. To be clear, neither of these scenarios are at play in the third season. The show is currently at a point where it is really watchable, but not quite reaching greatness. If you have enjoyed the ride up until this point, this season should offer many exciting developments. But who knows which way the creative team will veer in the future? 

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'Dead Boy Detectives' Season 1 Review- A Hauntingly Entertaining Addition To Netflix's Sandman Universe

Video Quality

Westworld improves upon its already excellent Blu-Ray presentation with a stunning 4K UHD Blu-Ray upgrade in mostly 1.78:1. The High Dynamic Range is pretty stellar from the more nuanced colors to vivid highlights in specific settings. The brighter landscapes remain stable and do not suffer from banding or blooming. The clarity and detail present here is simply phenomenal, exposing details otherwise imperceptible due to the limitations of the format. Everything looks natural from the skin tones to the colors of the clothing and the landscapes. Subtle details in the production design that might blend in with the background are incredibly clear and well defined. Many elements have a greater sense of texture in this format. This series is one that benefits a great deal from 4K UHD with improvements to image stability and deeper black levels that make it a recommended upgrade. A great amount of depth is gained with this transfer, both in close-up and long shots. This 4K UHD transfer brings richness to the series that a simple Blu-ray cannot replicate. 

Audio Quality

The 4K UHD Blu-Ray set offers a substantial upgrade in the form of an intense Dolby Atmos presentation that handles the action incredibly well. This track is not just impressive because it is loud or busy, what truly impresses is the nuance that is employed in the sound design. Directionality of sound is never an issue with this series, and dialogue is reproduced with supreme clarity. The track also offers expert level immersion into the various lands so that even the subtlest elements are represented. The Atmos presentation takes full advantage of the expanded channel allotment. During scenes in the World War II setting, you get some intense moments of height immersion from overhead channels. Overhead sounds during battle sequences may be expected, but it thrills nonetheless. It is not just the obvious aspects of this track that impresses, but also aspects such as environmental effects from the pristine to chaotic settings. All of the sounds are balanced well during kinetic sequences that are plentiful throughout the season. This show offers up  ample opportunity to get things shaking in the low end. Speakers remain remarkably engaged throughout the season, even when settings shift to more calm environments. The audio presentation is a wonderful experience from start to finish. 

Special Features

  • Creating Westworld’s Reality: Behind-the-scenes explorations ranging from four-to-nine-minutes are provided for every episode (except one) that provide a compelling breakdown of the events in the episode and how it fits into the larger narrative at play. Additional insights are always welcome on a show such as this one. 
  • Escape From Westworld: A two-minute taste of what this new season is trying to tackle including expanding the scope of the world and introducing new characters. 
  • Exploring Warworld: A four-minute featurette which explores everything that went into crafting the new war-themed park including finding the right location, getting the production design just right, the costumes and more. It is fun to see the original Spanish locale before they dressed it up for the show. 
  • We Live In A Technocracy: A fourteen-minute featurette which delves into complicated technological concepts like algorithmic determinism and how data is the currency of the future. This also explores the new characters played by Aaron Paul and Vincent Cassel, along with a discussion of the differences between humans and machines. Through conversations with Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, you get an even greater sense of what they were trying to accomplish with this season. 
  • A Vision For The Future: A fourteen-minute look at the production design of the third season including all of the new environments and how the creative team tried to make the future as believable as possible based on our current trajectory. The most fun aspect of this feature is seeing all of the ways in which visual effects enhance the world in various stages. 
  • RICO – Crime and the Gig Economy: A seven-minute featurette which looks at the chilling app that offers the opportunity to commit a crime for extra cash. The creative team explains how this is a natural extension of apps we already have in place. They also detail some real-life crime stories that are quite interesting which influenced the show. 
  • Westworld On Location: An eleven-minute exploration of the ways in which the world has opened up in this latest season and where it has taken the cast and crew. We got a closer look at the locations in Spain and Singapore that are truly stunning. 
  • Welcome to Westworld: A series of videos totaling fourteen minutes are provided here which finds the pairings of Evan Rachel Wood & Aaron Paul and Thandie Newton & Tessa Thompson discussing their experiences working on the show as well as quizzing each other on who said certain lines from the show. There are a lot of playful moments within these videos that make them worth watching. 
See also
'Doctor Who' Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2 Spoiler-Free Review - A Breathtaking Joyride Through Time And Space

 

Final Thoughts

The third season of Westworld finds the show tidying up the narrative a bit while exploring new areas of the universe. The show still offers big-budget spectacle alongside a cast of characters that hold onto your attention from week to week. The season does not offer the thrills of earlier seasons, but it proves to be an important transition season that will hopefully build back to top-tier excellence. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and HBO have delivered a 4K UHD Blu-Ray with a splendid A/V presentation and some worthwhile special features. Fans of the series will be delighted by the visual treat that is in store for them. Recommended 

Westworld: The Complete Third Season is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and HBO have supplied a copy of this set free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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