With the popularity of LOST, and other mind-bending shows, an update of long-time cult favorite and anglophile/nerd barometer The Prisoner was inevitable. Inevitable, but tricky and daring all the same. As a show that was very much a product of its time (the late 60s), freakishly surreal, and didn’t actually end or reveal its ultimate tricks, an update would clearly mean a complete re-imagining.
The decision to go with a mini-series layout naturally adds to the difficulty, just based on the fact that such creatures had better wrap things up somehow. Not only does that avenue make the undertaking a different beast, it’s a double-edged sword in terms of the response of fans of the original show, who are likely to split into camps that are excited about theoretical answers, and dismissive of the arrogance behind providing theoretical answers.
Whatever the expectations, and whatever reaction might come through the particular lens of fans trying to work with the re-invention of an old flame, it’s one hell of a try.
Michael (Jim Caviezel) wakes in a desert with no idea how he got there. He seems a little fuzzy about the recent past to a greater extent than simply his transportation, but his attention is quickly drawn to an old man being chased by men with machine guns.
Armed only with the knowledge that someone was hunted down in this desert (and he had to have arrived there somehow), he wanders through the desert with the unnerving conviction that he has to be able to find something. What he finds is The Village. A curiously “normal” town right in the middle of nothing, The Village is populated by hundreds of ordinary people who seem convinced that The Village is all there is in the entire world.
Soon told that his name is actually “6,” and that he has moreover always been a resident of The Village, Michael starts his journey to unravel the mystery of this unique prison. Looking only to escape, 6 discovers that The Village, and the man in charge, 2 (Ian McKellen), have some strange twists available to throw at anyone who doesn’t conform. Chief among the curiosities that keep 6 from formulating any solid plans for escape is the fact that no one seems inclined to prevent him from trying.
Clues and footholds come from the oddest places, including 2’s own son, and each episode leads 6 further down the rabbit hole without ever really letting him get his bearings.
While somehow lacking in suspense (and there it follows the original well), the psychological warfare of the show is intriguing and certainly entertaining, and the two stars work a kind of crazy magic. The final verdict probably has a lot more to do with what you bring to the table than the objective merits, so a recommendation is as tricky an affair as creating the show. It’s either a bit longer than it needs to be, or a bit shorter (and could stand a few more screenplay revisions), but it’s a lot of fun if you can manage to remove the original from steering your viewing too much.
DVD Special Features
From the world of things you’ll probably never hear me say again, the bonus content may be more valuable than the show itself.
- Unaired Scenes
- Cast/Creator Commentaries
- Beautiful Prison: The World of The Prisoner
- A Six-Hour Film Shot in 92 Days: A Production Diary of The Prisoner
- The Prisoner Comic Con Panel
- Jamie Campbell-Bower Interviews Sir Ian McKellen
- A Six-Part Look Inside The Prisoner
The Unaired Scenes don’t amount to that much, and don’t exactly clue you in to wildly different possibilities, but they’re nice to have. The commentary tracks (on 2 episodes) are pretty interesting, and give you a lot of insight into the thought process behind taking on this challenge. They are solidly focused on relating the story, updating the general idea, and figuring out how to get something to screen. Thus, they wonderfully stay away from much anecdotal reference to the shooting, which is exactly how it should be for such a show.
The rest of the bonuses deliver like few special features you’ll run into. As a complete package they’re worth owning in themselves. The Production Diary and Beautiful Prison Featurettes are especially worthwhile, giving behind-the-scenes bonuses a new bar to aim for. There’s something inherently stagey (obviously) about most behind-the-scenes efforts, but these are put together in a way that just makes them fun to watch on their own. As though these were somehow “the real thing,” the ambition of the work here is above-and-beyond.
I’M A PRISONER