If you’re an A.V. Club reader, you probably share our general cynicism for promotional nonsense. People trying to sell you things is never not going to contain a whiff of unpleasantness, like someone just just farted and then tried to bottle it and sell it to you as “People-B-Gone” protection. But there are exceptions.
Just as last week saw Spike Jonze create a superb music video that also doubled as an ad for Apple’s HomePod, so too does this weekend find HBO taking the reins of one of the best damn PR creations in a long time. If you’ve been following along with my SXSW coverage this weekend, you know it’s often hard not to bite your tongue at some of the stupider “activations” companies put on to try and drum up a few extra tweets for their new brand of facial cleanser or whatever. At best, you enjoy the ironic absurdity of it all (see: exhibit A) and just roll with the general air of nonsense suffusing this hyper-capitalistic world of entertainment we’re all enmeshed within. So, when I tell you that I never want to leave HBO’s recreation of the fictional amusement park reality of its hit show Westworld, please know that I am not shitting you.
From the moment I arrived at the tavern where we were greeted by “hosts,” handed refreshing sparkling soda water, and assigned our respective hats, this activation bounded light years ahead of any other stunt I’ve ever experienced—and I rode a damn ferris wheel for Mr. Robot a couple years ago.
We were driven far outside of Austin to an unknown location, where HBO literally recreated an entire version of the show’s fictional town of Sweetwater, complete with numerous actors, taverns serving real alcohol (provided you had gold coins, which you could acquire by going on various missions for the sheriff or other townsfolk), and a plethora of side plots and individual mysteries you could journey forth to solve, should you so choose. Or, you could just kick back and listen to the local music, get a beard trim (I did), watch some knife throwing, or pretend to be one of those creepy dudes who goes to Westworld to talk down to the whorehouse women (which I saw a couple of fellow travelers do and which bummed me out, even though the actors clearly relished anyone willing to participate wholeheartedly in the charade. So, I guess it’s not as gross as it felt.) (It felt gross.)
But even so, the entire thing was amazing, to the point that I really don’t know how to do justice to it. If you’re intrigued, please scroll through the entire Twitter thread I posted up above. The world could use honestly more advertising like this; I really wish I could’ve stayed and solved every mystery. At least I got to keep the hat.