Westworld is real – and it’s actually in a field in Kent.
So I found when I entered Laredo, a fully-functioning Western town situated on the outskirts of London where I’d been brought to learn a handful of “cowboy skills” like knife-throwing, whip-cracking, lassoing and (I presumed) dying of a historical and now easily-preventable disease. Just like in the movies!
I was fascinated to imagine what I might find. Like most yammering journalists, I’d spent the autumn obsessing over Westworld’s many twists and turns, and finding out that a cowboy town recreation existed pretty much on my doorstep (and had people actually stay there) there was no question of me turning down a visit. Plus, I’d enjoyed the Magnificent 7 remake released last year (out now on Blu-ray & DVD), and fancied learning how to pointlessly spin a gun while taking heavy fire. It was a win-win.
Laredo in muddy form
And so it was – though an extremely muddy main street meant I was more likely to perish from trench foot than the period-accurate dysentery (boo!), the town itself was almost as detailed as the real Westworld, with every building built from scratch by enthusiastic amateurs. PLUS, there was no-one droning on about how Laredo would show me my true inner self, or the man I wanted to be or something, which slightly nudges it above the HBO series’ resort.
Soon enough I’d donned a Stetson, buttoned my authentic Next jacket and set out to prove my skills. I was quickly in the loop with lassoing, cracked the whip-cracking (OK it only worked once or twice, by how many times have YOU broken the sound barrier today), and if I do say so myself, by the end of the day my knife-throwing was looking pretty sharp. I’d be one of those Seven Magnificents in no time.
I also got to live my dream of pointlessly spinning guns round my fingers, in even tougher conditions than Mag 7 stars Chris Pratt et al. Yes, they were taking bullets from nasty villains, but I was in England in January and my fingers were so frozen I could barely move the revolver, let alone twirl it. Still, with some careful editing I can look cool too – see?
Yes, dear reader – you’re damn right that’s pointless but looks awesome.
We then broke for a quick shooting demonstration from the town regulars in scenes to rival any of Westworld’s costly “narratives”, albeit with more Essex accents because nobody wants to hear a Brit attempt to sound like a cowboy, and then we were let loose on the guns ourselves.
Now, I won’t go into how much joy I found from firing blanks into the air from a real pistol (with real gun shot residue on my hands – just like in CSI!!!!) or the satisfaction that flowed through me as I was let loose with a pellet machine gun, because I’m not entirely comfortable with the repressed desires stirred up in me by the process.
What I WILL say is, guns are bad, even fake airsoft ones, and no matter how cool screen cowboys make it look, you shouldn’t aspire to use them. Not even when you can turn your use of them into self-indulgent gifs that you watch over and over again at work while muttering “That’s why they call me the heartbreak kid,” in a terrible Texan accent.
So, conclusions? I’d say that real-life Westworld would probably be a lot less glamorous and more humdrum than glossy TV shows would have us believe (shocker!), and there should never ever ever be a real one in the UK because it’s just too damn cold for any of that nonsense (with special thanks to the Laredo guys for authentically not having central heating or running water in any of the buildings).
And I also feel a lot less snide about the sort of over-the-top gunplay seen in most Westerns, as I was fairly reliably informed by a man in a cowboy hat that such practices had a purpose – intimidating your opponent – and mastering them wasn’t quite the time drain I’d assume because there was NOTHING to do as a cowboy except practice rope-spinning and so on.
But as I travelled back to civilisation at the end of the day, fingers warming and mud crusting off my boots, I knew there was one thing above all others that I’d take away from the experience.
My stetson – because they said I might as well keep it now that they’d finished offering the promotional day out. Yee-haw!!!
Magnificent 7 is out on Blu-ray and DVD from today