The Prisoner was a television show that ran in the UK from September of 1967 to February of 1968. It starred Patrick McGoohan as the Prisoner who was trying to understand what the Village was and how to escape from it. Enter 2009; we have a remake and this time we have Jim Caviezel in the familiar role. However, this time things go just a little bit differently.
Michael (played by Jim Caviezel) just resigned from the corporation Summakor. However, the events that follow are unclear until he awakes in a desert surrounded by nothing but sand. He struggles to get to his feet and walks for a bit until he sees an old man (played by John Whiteley) running. The man is being pursued by armed guards who shoot at him until it appears he is gunned down.
Michael rescues the man who is very hurt and dieing. He takes him to a nearby cave as he mentions to get a message to “554” from “93”. After, the man is buried in a shallow grave, Michael makes his way to what appears to be civilization. Once he makes it to town, he sees a strange row of houses and a taxi. The taxi is drove by 147 (played by Lennie James) who takes him wherever he wants to go.
Eventually, 6 (Michael) bails out of the cab and tries to find his own way. He comes into contact with the leader of the Village, “2” (played by Ian McKellen) who grills him about 93 (old man) and asks what happened to him. 6 denies everything and is left at the “Clinic” for observation. His doctor, 313 (played by Ruth Wilson) looks over him. Later 6 escapes and gets 147 to drive him to 554 (now understanding the name to a number system).
Meanwhile, we get flashbacks of events that happened in New York shortly after Michael’s resignation. It seems he got involved with a girl named Lucy (played by Hayley Atwell) that night which led to a string of events that again he can’t quite figure out. We flash back into The Village where 554 reluctantly gives him a bit of information but not enough to make any sense.
The Village seems to be some kind of Utopian society where people don’t know how they got there and have no wish to leave. The society is governed by 2 who grows increasingly concerned and tries to sway 6 into accepting the society. But 6 stays defiant and seeks the truth. However, he must figure out who he can trust and how to get out of the place simply known as the Village. Perhaps, he can find some fellow Dreamers.
The Prisoner owes a ton of respect to the amazing performance of Ian McKellen. Sir Ian is absolutely wonderful as a representation of the devil himself as “2”. He goes through every scene at the top of his game and even when his character seems to be letting down his guard, he is merely setting up the others for an even bigger swing and retaining his superiority over everyone and everything that goes on.
The rest of the cast does a very adequate job with a good deal of respect to Ruth Wilson and Jim Caviezel. Ruth aka 313 probably turns in the second best performance here as shows a well balanced range of emotions that you wouldn’t normally expect in her part. Jim does a good job as 6 and leads the movie exactly where it should go. His job as his real world counterpart Michael was also adequate, but sometimes seemed to be two different people when in reality they shouldn’t have been.
Also, I do want to mention the strong storytelling in this miniseries. A lot of people will compare it to the show Lost and you could certainly see the touches and inspiration from that show. The other obvious comparison will be to the original Prisoner show. Now, while some of that might turn out to be negative towards this new adaptation, one has to judge it as two different animals. The good part is there are many things that could be considered homage to the classic but there are things that I’m glad that turned out far different.
One of these things that I’m talking about is that this Prisoner ends on a fairly non-ambiguous and straight forward note. As long as one sits there and thinks about it, the ending makes sense even if some would wish it would have gone a different way. The only criticism I have is that there were too many flashbacks, forwards, parallels at times leaving the viewer in a bit of a mess until the final closing minutes.
The video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The desert comes alive as well as the Village with a very strong visual presentation. There are so many visual cues that pay homage to the original show, it is something of a game for an avid fan to try and find them all. The only thing I wasn’t exactly thrilled with was the pseudo New York scenes as I did tend to find them not half as stimulating as their work with the Village.
The audio is presented in English 5.1 Dolby Digital. The opening theme as well as the entire score is one of the most fitting pieces of music to a show I have heard in quite a while. Surrounds are limited but the dialog is crystal clear which is surprising since there are a lot of accents in the various actors. For five hours, audio wise you are transported to the Village and are able to really assess the experience. Subtitles are provided in English & French.
Disc One & Disc Two
- Audio Commentary w/ producer Trevor Hopkins & editor Yan Miles: These two commentaries are done for the first episode: Arrival & the last episode: Checkmate. The commentaries mainly include behind the scenes stories as well technical details that went into the mini-series. They also elaborate where they payed homage to the original show.
- Unaired Scenes 43:19: This is spread along both discs & all six episodes for a total of 24 scenes. Most of these unaired scenes fall into the category of too much information too soon, meaning it gave away some of the later plot or lead the story into a confusing direction. The other small fraction were just the usual time constraints but still beneficial to see.
- A Six Hour Film Shot in 92 Days: The Diary of the Prisoner 15:35: Goes over the various locations that they shot the Prisoner in. Early shooting started in the Namib Desert in Namibia where a large wind storm seriously hurt production. Also, due to the extreme heat and light, that played into other challenges. Once they moved to Cape Town, South Africa things were a little better but had to do odd things like transforming Cape Town’s busy streets into a pseudo New York. Interesting note, the odd houses seen in production were not a set piece, they were actual houses built by Germans.
- Beautiful Prison: The World of the Prisoner 16:32: This spends some time with the stars of the show and what they felt it was about on a literal and spiritual level. Freedom and relationships are two of the central themes. They also take some time to compare it to the original Prisoner show. Characters are also well explained including their relationship with each other, e.g. “2” & “11-12”. The featurette finishes by talking about set pieces they found that were deemed “village like” and how they decided on how to show the Twin Towers seen in the show.
- The Prisoner Comic-Con Panel 11:25: From the 2009 Comic-Con, the panel is Jim Caviezel, Lennie James, Jamie Campbell Bower, series writer: Bill Gallagher and AMC’s Vlad Wolynetz who is the vice president of production. It is moderated by producer/director Robert Meyer Burnett. There are some good questions and candid moments. The only thing I didn’t care for was that this was supposedly an hour long but it condensed into eleven minutes. The third disc had plenty of room for the whole thing.
- The Man Behind “2” 4:54: This has Jaime Campbell Bower interviewing Sir Ian McKellan who is carrying an umbrella because there is a giant ozone above Cape Town, South Africa. They joke about his “Sir” prefix as well as the difference between Film & Theater (“Filming is for Wimps”). Ian finishes up talking about how he loves to act and that the cast becomes his “Instant family”. Again, good footage, just wish it didn’t feel so cut down.
At the end of the day, The Prisoner wraps up the story with very little questions and a super strong acting cast. From the masterful Ian McKellen to an adequate supporting cast, one can appreciate the twists and turns until the credit rolls. Perhaps, I only wish that this Prisoner also went seventeen episodes to flesh out the characters even more.
The disc has good video and audio while the extras are more than enough to satisfy most fans of this adaptation. Maybe, I’m being selfish when I do desire that the cast would have also participated in the commentaries. As long as you have an open mind and aren’t looking for a true Prisoner remake (this follows more along the lines of a homage), I can easily recommend this to any viewer.