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TV Review: AMC's 'The Prisoner' remake

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'The Prisoner'
Two stars
Beginning Sunday at 7 p.m. on AMC

There is a very good reason why I am not tripping on LSD right now: I have no desire to be disoriented for six hours. There's also a reason why I am not conking myself on the head with a croquet mallet, but "The Prisoner" somehow has the same effect.

This AMC remake of the groundbreaking, beloved '60s series is not to be entered into lightly. Patrick McGoohan co-created and starred in the British version. The Mel Ferrer lookalike died last January, but you may remember him as "Braveheart's" Edward Longshanks.

The original was surreal and counter-cultural, about a former spy named Six who has found himself stuck in a prison that seems a lot like a resort. He was forever facing off with No. 2, who was played by various actors and who reported to a mysterious No. 1. All 17 episodes are available on Blu-ray DVD, but suffice to say that the finale made extremely ironic use of the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love."

In the remake, Jim Caviezel steps in as Six. Nobody can convey suffering quite like Caviezel, who played Jesus in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." Every time violence threatens, I want to scream, "Not the cheekbones!"

Six's prison is more of a desert village, where identical A-frame houses are everywhere. It seems like a nice little existence to me, but Six is not interested in barbecuing with faux families. "I am not a number!" he shrieks, and tries to dissect occasional flashes of memory.

He thinks he remembers working for a company called Summakor in New York City, from which he angrily resigned. (Tip to young employees: Don't use red spray paint if you hope to get references.) He thinks he remembers meeting a sultry brunette, but is she on his side, or a Summakor spy?

This is where it gets all confusing, all the time. Among the questions you'll hope to have answered if you make it to hour six:

What was Six's job?

Why did he quit?

Where is he now?

Is everyone in on the pretense, or are they victims, too?

How can he get out?

Why is a giant, white, bouncing balloon consuming everyone he cares about?

The acting is top-notch, with Ian McKellen playing the enigmatic No. 2 with a memorable twinkle in his eye. He's got his own problems: His wife appears to be in a voluntary coma, and his son is gay in a town where the dating pool is limited, to say the least.

The son, named 11-12, is played by Jamie Campbell Bower with a sullen sensuality befitting a Calvin Klein ad campaign. He sure has the credentials: He's been in Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd," will appear in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," and has been cast as a Volturi vampire in the pantingly anticipated "New Moon." Pre-order your copies of Teen Beat now.

"The Prisoner" is beautiful. I suspect I would have appreciated it even more with the sound muted. Everything is bleached-out, with the men in summer suits and the women in chiffon head scarves. There are crystal towers in the desert that can never be reached. You can hear the ocean, but you can't get to it.

For art's sake, I tried to stick with the psychological thriller to the end, so that I could at last console myself by saying, "So THAT's it." But, my friends, that moment never came.
It was in Hour Five, when Six suddenly appeared with a doppelganger called "Two Times Six," and Two started wandering around town calling himself "UnTwo," that I wanted to cry.

Every line is a riddle. "UnTwo will grant your wish whether you wish it or not," said UnTwo - or was it Two? - right around the time my brain imploded.

Maybe you can appreciate this series without the fear that you will be expected to write a thesis on it. But I urge you to heed my advice: Opt out while you can.

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15 Comments

A paint by numbers Hieronymus Bosh by Disney. Nice and safe. They just didn't get it.

yuck! I mean, why didn't they get someone like Tim Burton to write and direct a remake? Could you imagine what he could have done? We got instead something so awful that it's not even good-intentions, golden-turkey bad, like Star Wars Holiday Special bad (don't ask!) or Pink Lady And Jeff bad (really don't ask!). Just zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz bad.

I will always love a TV program that makes one think hard about life and existence. However, I believe that the AMC "Prisoner" remake pales in comparison to the 1960s original. Jim Cavaziel's performance was stiff and nearly inert; he couldn't project the intellectual depth that Patrick McGoohan brought to the role. Ian McKellen was superb as Two, but was a plagued by the perplexing script. I prefer the original's use of multiple Number Twos as they lent it a sense of ambiguity; one could never tell which side led the Village, as some were amiable while others sadistic and paranoid. The remake had a fine use of enigmatic symbolism in the depiction of the towers, as well as old standbys such as the pennyfarthing bicycle and Rover. Portmeirion made a far better locale as the bizarre architecture significantly added to the peculiar ambience of the concept, giving a sense of unconnectedness; a sensation of being simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. This desert village was aesthetically unappealing as all the buildings looked alike for the most part except Two's residence. The Village in the original was an interrogation center/prison camp for wayward spies, where the AMC one struck me as being a dreamworld where the giant sinkholes formed when reality began to intrude upon the illusion. Overall, I did enjoy the program despite its being confusing and I enjoyed reading some of the posts on this board as it definitely inspired some innovative thinking. Still, I don't think this remake will have the lasting impact that the original did. Be seeing you.....

Aw, someone beat me to the punch with a PalmPre joke ! I'll tell my joke anyway :

--What is my impression of the 2009 Prisoner remake ? Well ...

The commercials were good. The PalmPre girl. The Geico gecko. I don't know what that other stuff was all about. Something about a man running round aimlessly.

Some of the things Christian Kurti said made since, but if The Village was a healing place, then why were people killed like the waitress. If the people exist in the real world and in The Village, then if they die in the Village do they die in the real world? If the Ball was a way out, then why was Michael/6 still in the village even after encountering it but the guy who played his brother never came back from it? I also don't get the whole Lucy thing.

6 wasted hours -- the writing was amateurish, the editing was pretentious, a lot of the acting was sophomoric, the direction was incompetent, the plot was transparent (2's wife is dreaming it all with the aid of 2's magic pills!) and dragged across the floor for 60 hours, (I mean, 6 hours), the characters are mostly disposable and a bomb going off can take care of them (or they can just jump into a sand hole if the writer becomes bored with yet another meaningless, desultory side story). What a mess!

Yes, Christian Kurti, we DO get it! Yes, the pseudoscientific subconscious twaddle, the catatonic state, the so-called inner conflict resolution tripe, the creation of the village via dream land,
all of that.

We get it. The problem is that all of this pseudoscientific poppycock lacks credibility. Perhaps the members of certain cults would enjoy it, but not people with intelligence, and not people living in the real world.

If handled properly, this might have been a tolerable two hour movie. At most. But it wasn't handled properly. It's a pretentious, condescending bore. It's an insult to the memory of Patrick McGoohan.

I can't believe how many of you just could not understand this remake...
Let me break it down as simple as I can...

The Village exists subconsciously... It's all part of Number 2's wife's mind. She can reach out to the subconscious of damaged people who cannot deal with their emotional scars and allow these people to play out their issues and deal with them in the village while functioning normally in real life. One down side is Number 2's wife cannot stay conscious in The Village because it will begin to fall apart because she is no longer "dreaming" her Catatonic state was bringing order and balance since the Village is part of her mind which she is sharing with the others when she is "Dreaming" and if she isn't, holes begin to form because the Village deteriorates and people's emotions and inner conflicts are not in check and thus Doubles began to appear which is why Two had become UnTwo. Two's Son is really an extension of his wife's Psyche in the since that she always wanted a son but could not have one and thats why he was part of the Village and was able to experience things through him. The Village exists to help with inner conflicts. The floating white balls are exits, you get caught in one you leave the Village.

Number 6 is the One because he always wants to do the right thing and help people. He rejected the Village because he had a strong mind and accepted himself as a flawed human being and therefore didn't have any major conflicts other than perhaps the loss of his brother when he was a child which played out in the village, and he got over that, and his inability to be in love because of how suspicious and untrusting he was of people due to his job of monitoring and surveying people at Symacore. The Village is a product of Symacore and in his job he picked out all the people who ultimately ended up in the village. He resigned from his job because he became suspicious of Symacore's intents with the people he observed and how their behaviors had changed (presumably from the healing therapy the Village provided).

The people that exist in the Village exist in the real world simultaneously, the Village simply houses their subconscious.
Number six/Michael exists in both worlds and because of his strong will he was able to Escape the Village and meet Number 2 in person in the real world and things in the Village paralleled it, such as the taxi cab ride with 147 which makes it very clear that the Loss of his child in court was a very tragic thing for him which he could not deal with and was reflected in the Village when his child fell in the hole.

Number 2 was simply training and preparing Number 6 to take over the Village/Symacore once he was ready. Near the end Number 6 realizes that the Village isn't a prison for the mind but a place of refuge for people's subconscious and it would be detrimental to its inhabitants to destroy it.

This is all painfully obvious after watching the Final episode.

agreed my father and I are a huge fan of the original,watching the commercial I knew I was going to be somewhat disappointed,my mother tried to tell me change could be good,after watching this thing that dared called itself the prisoner for TEN MINUTES we had to change the channel,we couldn't take it any more it was seriously dummed down,“I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own.” this is what the prisoner number six sets out to prove this,he is always watching them back an lets them know it "he told [those kids] a . . . a blessed fairy tale. That one wouldn't drop his guard with his own GRANDMOTHER!”
--No.2 [concerning No.6]; The Girl Who Was Death
all i got was confusion number six seems to do alot of panicking
the village also seemed to lose some of its intelligence
Questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself.”
--A sign from the Labour Exchange; Arrival

“Honour is the natural expression of a democratic society.”
--A sign from the Labour Exchange; Arrival

“Of the People, by the people, for the people.”
--A sign; Arrival, It's Your Funeral

“A still tongue makes a happy life”
--Village Maxim

these are some of the quotes of the village,people in the village know whats going on they just give up,this is not what appears to happen in the new series and doesn't the bubble come out of the ocean?,also another fun fact to poke at it seems you can get pretty far without code orange,a mountain of other things i was disappointed in was number twos office and from what i saw not alot of technical aspects,in the original the people running the village had a tight hold on the people living there the vehicles are specifically designed to be slower than a person can run,missed,the retro feel to it and the uniforms would've been soo cool Ian McKellen was a great number two just felt kinda soft personally i think Patrick Stewart would have been an awesome number two,

You're being too kind; it sucked. Hugely. Loved your first paragraph, though.

Ah. It was an "Absurdist art," "alternative type of narrative." And here I thought it was a six-hour commercial for the PalmPre with random bits of filmed acting fitted in.

Be seeing you.

The crime here is that the new series is written by, and for, people who already live in a world closer to The Village than anyone wants to admit. The show is less a remake of the original conflict than a disturbing piece of Village propaganda.

The story, dramatically, is not actully 6's. The dramatic action is in fact all about 313, as she is caught between 2 and 6(maybe she should've been 4?).

In the end, 6 fails on all levels, not even evidencing McGoohan's wit or spark in his battle- failing to salvage even the phyrric victory of not having crumbled to his jailer's scheme while unable to leave.

The real prisoner, it turns out, is (also ostensibly all of us, as in the original) 2, who gets (almost) everything he wants, including an exit from The Village. Leaving us to cry with 313 at the end.

If viewed by someone with no previous awareness of the original, this version of The Prisoner is beyond cryptic... it's mind numbingly boring.

If viewed by someone who was a real fan of the 60's series like I was (with the exception of the last episode which proved that everyone involved in the writing had run out of ideas), it's boring, it's ridiculous and it hardly provides any answers to many of the questions it raises.

I agree whole-heartedly with the Sun-Times reviewer. Save yourself before it's too late and don't waste your time.

I think the reviewer nailed it pretty well. What's the point? It's a shame, too, because I think they could have done so much better with this. The next remake won't be until about 2050, by my calculation.

Ian McKellen is so wasted here!

reading this review is like asking a nun for advice on multiple orgasms. if you cant enjoy the ride, darlin', dont pretend to critique the roller coaster. I for one (or UnOne) cant wait to revisit the good old bad old Village. the reason Absurdist art is so compelling is that it penetrates the secret that all our "normal" lives are actually cosmic and mysterious and bizarre. there is no "ordinary", not anywhere, not really, and if your brain seems to be imploding, it is usually because you are refusing to let it expand. the big Bubble is coming for all of us, sooner or later, and if you think for a minute that you are not indeed a prisoner, just try to leave.

You don't have to be so disconcerted by absurdity and mysteries that can't be solved. These elements are not uncommon in theater, film and literature; logical linear storytelling is only one way to go. The reviewer might try taking pleasure in experiencing other forms, instead of resisting them. But if you don't want to explore alternative types of narrative, at least have the grace not to warn your readers away from watching this before it even begins.

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This page contains a single entry by Paige Wiser published on November 14, 2009 4:53 AM.

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