AMC’s re-invention of The Prisoner finds its way onto DVD tomorrow, so I spent some time this weekend with the DVD set to not only see how it looks, but also if it might make more sense on a second viewing…after all, it probably took several viewings of the original to figure out some of it, especially the final episode which is still debated to this day…
I posted briefly when it first aired on AMC, and it wasn’t favorable. I found it confusing and hard to pay attention to, and I wasn’t alone, given the ratings drop. It wasn’t a critical success either, getting a fairly mixed set of reviews (46 on Metacritic).
But I did rewatch the whole thing (admittedly a little faster due to time constraints). And I discovered something – you can’t go in with any sort of preconceived notion of what is going on based on knowledge of the original show. AT ALL. Because although it is about Number 6 being held against his will in The Village where the inhabitants know nothing other than The Village, and it is run by Number 2, that is about ALL the plot shares with its namesake. And it is unfortunate to have the association at all, as they tried to tell a very different story in the same framework, and perhaps didn’t stand a chance. The purpose of The Village, the reason for 6 being there, and 2’s motives are completely different as they brought the plot into a modern context dealing with privacy, observation, corporate governance of our lives, etc.
That’s not to say that this version is a great, outstanding work of film. But I think it is better than it was given credit. It still is confusing at times and could have used some additional explanation of certain occurrences (like the “2×6” and “Not2” in the “Schizoid” episode), the explanations that did occur were fairly weak, and I have MANY questions still about how The Village worked…but taken as a psychological drama I think it works at some level – I just don’t think that it had enough to appeal to a mass audience and keep them interested. It was rather slow at times, with little from an action perspective – it is very heavy in dialog. And with there being a #2 seemingly in charge, obviously there should be some question about #1 – but unless I missed it a second time it is never mentioned. I did think it was the woman in bed, but she is identified as “M2”.
And perhaps another discussion point – the meaning of the final tears.
I would have liked to see more from stars Sir Ian McKellan and James Caviezel (in their respective roles as #2 and #6) as both sides begin to break down a bit in their battle against each other. No performances stood out as spectacular, although McKellan leads the pack as expected with his indignant attitude and even questioning his own psychological status.
Visually, The Village is quite stunning. As opposed to the island oasis-like Village of the original, this one is an apparent Desert-locked location but with anomalies like a rowboat and ship anchor and a rail station with rails that lead nowhere, plus two mysterious glassy towers. And like the original, The Village itself is a real town – Swakopmund on the coast of Namibia, a late 19th century German settlement. All of the architecture is in fact real, with the exception of the Amphitheater and the cafe.
For those who demand such things, there are a number of nods to the original (beyond the numbering of people) – “Be seeing you” is said many times as a farewell and at one point 313 tells 6 “You’re a free man,” and in the opening the old man (93) is wearing a classic Village blazer, along with some others wearing designs inspired by it – but people don’t wear the badges with the numbers. Also, the ending of the first episode mimics the opening sequence of the original show.
As for the DVD set, it comes on three DVDs, each with a print of The Village logo, which to me looks like the fingers of an upturned hand held as if to say “stop”, although if there is an official meaning to it I am not aware. Each DVD is colored differently with the “desert pastel” colors of The Village.
The DVDs come in a translucent plastic case, with two of the discs on a small “flip” holder and the third on the back as normal. The cover bears an image of 6 in the desert with Rover appearing from behind, with 2s eyes across the top. It comes in a cardboard slipcase which is a duplicate of the cover.
The first two discs contain three episodes each of the feature, along with deleted scenes from each (although no context for them is provided). Commentary tracks are provided on the first and last episodes.
The third disc contains the special features:
A Six-Hour Film Shot in 92 Days: The Diary of The Prisoner (15:32) – a short making-of featurette.
Beautiful Prison: The World of The Prisoner (16:33) – A look at the location of Swakopmund, Namibia.
The Prisoner Comic-Con Panel (11:25) – A look at the 2009 Comic-Con panel featuring the Q&A session with the stars and crew.
The Man Behind “2” (4:54) – A brief one-on-one interview with Sir Ian McKellan done by co-star Jamie Campbell Bower (11-12, and soon to appear in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
I was hoping perhaps for a bit more in the special features, with the provided ones being fairly short. Something that perhaps compared and contrasted with the original show might have been helpful. There isn’t a single frame shown of the original, with only a brief anecdote in the Comic-Con panel mentioning discussions with Patrick McGoohan – although rights issues may have affected that.
So this might be worth a second viewing – if you can purge your mind of all preconceived notions of what the story is all about and give it a chance on its own merits. Perhaps they shouldn’t have called it The Prisoner…but then we’d call it a rip-off of it…