Apr 8, 2010
DVD Review: The Prisoner (2009)
After re-watching the 2009 AMC miniseries remake of The Prisoner on DVD, I’m afraid I haven’t changed my opinion of the show from when I reviewed it when it was on TV. It’s simply not very good. (Since my opinion hasn’t changed, I won’t waste time repeating what I said before; instead this DVD review will serve as a companion piece to what I originally wrote.) That said, there’s something compelling about its very existence, and I’m glad to have it on DVD. Is that a contradiction? Yes. In no way am I recommending this poorly reimagined version of the classic series over the original. But for fans of the original series, I think there is something interesting–instructive, even–to be found in the failure of the remake. The mere concept of the show (a man awakens a prisoner in a mysterious village called “The Village” where everyone is known by numbers, and butts heads with its authority figures) holds up well, as do its themes, and I feel that this experiment has proven that other interpretations are at least possible. After this meretricious failure, I would be more open to seeing other, future versions. (Most of all, I’d like to see that Christopher Nolan film version that was announced years ago but never came to fruition.)
“What is it about?” asks Gallagher reflexively in one of the featurettes. “It’s about whatever you think it’s about.” And that’s the problem. At some point, someone involved should have decided that the series needed to be about something, and not about what you think it’s about. There’s nothing wrong with being open to interpretation (the original series certainly is), but, frankly, a series has to be worth interpreting if that’s what you’re going for. This version of The Prisoner builds mysteries and poses questions with such wild abandon that the answers, when they come, should have been a little more original. If the intention was to be as thought-provoking as everyone involved seems to think it is, then you can’t fall back on a trite resolution as old as the medium itself. I’m sorry to be as oblique as the series, but I can’t bring myself to spoil even a bad ending.
The structure follows the Prisoner’s life in the Village intercut with scenes of his previous life in New York. “They’re actually not flashbacks and they’re not flash forwards,” Morris points out. Maybe not, but the clear effect of anything of the sort in this era is to evoke Lost–and that show (while still unresolved) handles its mysteries and its parallel storylines much more competently. It’s a bit sad when a remake of the seminal head-scratching TV puzzle fails to live up to other series it inspired.
Warner’s DVD of The Prisoner offers a lot of special features–a lot of tools for curious Prisoner scholars to evaluate what went wrong. The commentaries I’ve been quoting from–on the first and last episodes, both featuring only Hopkins and Morris–do make for interesting listening, even if they don’t provide any amazing insights that will change your whole opinion of the show. Besides commenting on its oblique nature, the two provide some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits on the production of the series, including the challenges and benefits of shooting both the Village and New York City in South Africa. They also like to point out all the homages to the original series (and I’ll grant, those are fun), like the arch and the lava lamp in 93's apartment and a large chessboard that despite their assurances of its existence, I have yet to spot myself. They also confirm that the character of 93, an old man dressed like McGoohan’s Prisoner is indeed supposed to be the original Number 6, an assertion that makes no sense whatsoever in the context of the original series or this one, especially given that the two Prisoners are clearly set in entirely different worlds.
I was hugely disappointed by the featurette “Beautiful Prison: The World of The Prisoner,” because from its title I expected it to be about art direction and designing (literally) the “world of The Prisoner.” It is not. Instead it’s one of those EPK-style featurettes where the actors and a few members of the production team more or less narrate the story of the show, and various Talking Heads offer more enigmatic little homilies like “I think there’s something for everyone in The Prisoner and I think it’s a little bit of a mind game,”that one coming from executive producer Michelle Buck.
the actor’s death. Caviezel also fails miserably at an Ian McKellen impression. This being Comic-Con (a forum for fans to interact with stars), the tone of the discussion is kept pretty light, and since it occurred before the series aired, the panelists steer clear of spoilers. I was at this panel last summer, and it was good enough to turn me from being apprehensive about the remake to genuinely excited. If only the show had lived up to its Comic-Con presentation!
This DVD isn’t for people who haven’t seen the original, but die-hard Prisoner fans should find plenty of interest here, if not anything approaching the quality of the original series. I think it’s pretty cool that someone took a crack at remaking The Prisoner, and I hope it’s not the last attempt.