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“The Prisoner”(2009 mini-series)
Wayne Klein
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date:
Special Features:

Two commentary tracks, a variety of featurettes, interview, Comic-Con 2009 Panel


Updating a classic can be a bad thing particularly if you rob it of all the relevance that occupied the core of the content. Patrick McGoohan’s “The Prisoner” TV series remains a classic TV series as much for what it accomplished as for its unconventional approach to its content. A follow up (whether truly intentional or not) to “Danger Man” (aka “Secret Agent Man” in the U.S.), “The Prisoner” was designed as a limited series and truly can be seen as the first series with a story arc; in every episode throughout the series the purpose of No. 2 (played by a variety of rotating actors) was to discover why No. 6 (Patrick McGoohan)resigned from his position in the secret service by playing on No.6’s desire to escape the confines of “The Village” an isolated town that had no connection to the outside world and was totally populated by ex-spies. ***

Hollywood has been trying to “re-imagine” (the use of this word ALWAYS fills me with horror) the series for well over 20 years; at one point Mel Gibson was connected to a movie he was developing with Patrick McGoohan’s approval. Yet project remained elusive preventing the best writers and directors in Hollywood from figuring out a fresh way to tell the story without robbing the original premise of its power. “The Prisoner” managed to be both of its time and transcend it by dealing with the universal theme of loss of individuality. The original series manages to be both pretentious and to transcend that pretense with well constructed, imaginative stories that reflect the archetypes of storytelling. It’s a tricky business to be both intelligent, capture the very elements of great literature and translate them to the screen without pandering to the lowest common denominator. “The Prisoner” was intelligent television and never apologized if it’s message shot over the head of its audience. ***

A&E’s remake occupies a slightly different place in TV history. “The Prisoner” (2009) starts off with the right ideas but manages to express them in all the wrong ways. Advertised not so much as a remake of the original but an examination of similar themes using the basic concept the 2009 version of “The Prisoner” flounders as often as it flies which is frustrating because all of the right ideas were in place, the cast and even the setting were different enough to give this version its own unique identity. The best thing about the 2009 “The Prisoner” remains the cast featuring James Caviezel and Ian McKellen. The first two hours of the movie are promising but the show quickly falls apart after that. The problem with this remake is that the narrative has a lack of continuity in the series. Even a fantastic concept totally alien from our experience can work IF the series has a sense of continuity as if it takes place in a “real” world. The pacing for the series is glacial as well and will put even the most dedicated viewer to sleep after a few hours making them feel like a “Prisoner” themselves. ***

No. 6 (Caviezel) wakes up in the desert encountering a man he’s never met (probably a role originally meant for McGoohan in a cameo but the actor passed away before the show was shot)who tells him to tell everyone else in The Village that he escaped. No. 6 vaguely remembers a life outside of The Village another life where he had a name and a life. The problem is that everyone else in The Village seems to think that there is no world outside of their city in the desert. No. 2 who leads most of the citizens in the city also denies that there is another world outside of The Village and he continues to butt heads with No. 6 as he searches for information and get No. 6 to accept his life in a cage without bars. ---

Image & Sound:

“The Prisoner” looks quite nice with a top notch transfer to DVD. Detail is remarkably consistent and the color (although the palette is somewhat limited due to the setting of the series)pops from time-to-time. ***

Audio sounds extremely good with a nice use of the 5.1 surround soundstage. Although the show is primarily dialogue driven there is enough activity to put you in the environment of No. 6. ---

Special Features:

We get a nice variety of special features. The main flaw of the commentary track is the lack of the original writers, directors or actors involved in the show. While producer Trevor Hopkins and editor Yan Miles are certainly qualified to discuss the production of the series itself they aren’t the most qualified to deal with the themes presented in the series much less the flaws of the show. ***

We get deleted and extended scenes. The cut scenes aren’t introduced nor are we given any context for the material. ***

The bulk of the special features are on disc three. “A six Hour Film Shot in 92 Days: The Prisoner Diary” covers the location shooting in Africa. *** “Beautiful Prison: The World of The Prisoner” also fails to answer the big questions about the series or address the problems with the show. *** We also get a Comic-Con panel from 2009 featuring Caviezel and others associate with the production of the series discussing the production and how it compares to the original. ***

“The Man Behind No. 2” features an amusing interview with Ian McKellen. ---

Final Words:

A fascinating failure “The Prisoner” stands as an example of how good intentions can go wrong even if the concept is solid. The show looks quite good in its DVD debut but the series itself lacks the insight and quirky charm of the original series. “The Prisoner” does try to capture the tone of the original show while trying to maintain a unique identity the fact that it fails in every way is both a testament to the power of the original series and how some things just cannot be remade.


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