No New Sci-Fi Part 2: “The Prisoner” Remake

Posted: November 24, 2009 in Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

I tried, with AMC’s “The Prisoner.” I really, really tried.

But if, after two hours of viewing, the only rational response to the material is, “My god, there’s four MORE hours of this?!” then, well…don’t be a hero, right?

I may have been more determined to like it, or at least appreciate it on some level, because to be perfectly honest, the entire internet ganging up on a six-episode miniseries actually evoked sympathy from me, in the same way as an abused puppy or a socially-awkward teenager might. I wanted to show “The Prisoner” that not everyone is Like That.

But no. No, it’s nearly impossible to struggle through. It is, as Matt Fraction put it, “Like watching paint dry, without the satisfaction of having painted anything.”

I had no problem with the changes – the series is forty years old, the world is different, Patrick McGoohan’s dead and can’t murder you in your sleep, go ahead. Make it your own thing. The original is still there, incorruptible, inviolate. Go nuts, miniseries.

So Number Six resigning from a corporation, rather than an intelligence agency? Sure, okay. Trying to humanize Number Two? Errr…okay, sure, if the story has some reason for it, sure. Desert location rather than a scenic oceanside hamlet? Simply a cosmetic change, and yes, everything does look very pretty in its isolation.

“There’s nowhere outside the Village”? ….Well, now we’re kinda venturing into Dark City territory, and I’m not sure what anyone would have to gain by brainwashing these people to the point where they think there is no outside world really helps anything. But okay. I’m sure that has some relevance later on…no? It doesn’t?

Goddamn it, show.

All these changes are likely meant to update the original’s psychedelic quirkiness. But the show mistakes “quirky” for “confusing,” which the original never was – the premise was laid out at the very beginning of every episode. It explains why Six is a prisoner, what his captors want, and what the basic stakes are. The new series explains NOTHING outright. Which is why two hours can feel considerably longer.

But ultimately, the biggest problem with changing it – to such an extent that you could call it something completely different and nobody would ever accuse it of “ripping off” The Prisoner – is the loss of McGoohan in spirit and attitude.

To put it another way: Jim Caviezel is an incredible pussy.

The energy infusing the original series begins and ends with Patrick McGoohan’s rage. His Number Six Will Not Suffer This Shabby Crap. Escaping the Village is really a point of pride for him – after all, he could probably tell his interrogators what they want to know – in fact, they probably already do know, they just want to hear it from him – but that’s beside the point. The point is it’s HIS life, and he’ll be damned if he answers to anyone.

When McGoohan shouts, “I am NOT a number, I AM A FREE MAN!” it is defiant and savage – and it’s a rallying cry. It comes from the simple human desire to live one’s life the way you want, and to resist anything that would impede that in the name of “order” or “security.” It is an absolute rejection of any form of oppression. And that is why we cheer McGoohan on, despite the clear futility of his escape efforts.

When Jim Caviezel shouts “I am a free man,” he sounds like he’s trying very hard to convince himself of this fact, and is not exactly succeeding. In fact, Caviezel starts to lose his sense of self at the midway point of episode 2, after being told that a complete stranger is his long-suffering brother. And when the truth is re-revealed to him, he just seems mildly irritated and bemused by the situation.

This is the guy we’re supposed to get behind?

Now, as I understand it – because like any sane person, I saw a recap of the finale and thought “Well that’s an easy way to save four hours” – the ending is…well, “baffling” and “missing the point” seem like the best ways to describe it, as well as “reminiscent of the end of St. Elsewhere.” “It was all a dream” has never won over a single viewer ever, no matter how you dress it up.

So, sorry, Prisoner remake – sometimes the weird antisocial kid doesn’t just need some love and attention, like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Sometimes the weird antisocial kid NEEDS TO BE LEFT ALONE.

  1. Moor Larkin says:

    It was all a dream? Bobby has been in the shower all this time? Pass the soap Pammy.

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    “It was all a dream” – and I am really oversimplifying here, but yes – still beats out “Sold my marriage to the devil,” as far as Ill-Conceived Ways to Get Out of a Story go.

  3. Dave says:

    I’ll stick with Patrick and Portmeirion, thanks.

    The Village still looks exactly the same, as well.

  4. Jeff Holland says:

    The one benefit of AMC doing this? AMC onDemand also offers the entire run of the original series.

    It’s almost as if they kinda knew the response would be poor, and said, “No, don’t worry! We were just kidding! Here, here’s what you wanted to watch, enjoy, with no commercial interruptions. Just don’t hurt us!”

  5. My god that is a travesty if that is the supposed ending.

    The original ending, “Fallout,” worked in it’s own baffling way because it managed to understand that it was an allegory for the human condition. As you accurately pointed out, Patrick McGoohan made him the vengeful, ruthless embodiment of the DOWN WITH THE MAN mentality that we so desperately need more of in this age of the Patriot Act.

    Yet “Fallout” put a beautiful spin on his message: that the struggle for freedom of mind and spirit is perpetual. As anyone who has seen it knows, the series ends on a cyclical note, with a mirror of the exact same shot that opens every episode and with the doors of the land of his supposed escape opening automatically – just like the ones in The Village.

    By contrast, watching the first episode of the remake, I couldn’t quite figure out what the overarching message is supposed to be. The editing and cinematography do their damnedest to get the mood of paranoia and surrealism right but the writing and performances by and large miss the heart of the original.

  6. braak says:

    If I may suggest–as someone whose seen neither the original, nor the remake–what the problem may, in fact be:

    The Verisimilitude Problem.

    This is the thing that happens when, because something resembles reality, we tend to assume that it actually is real, in its way, and not a metaphor for something. The original The Prisoner was an extended, surrealist metaphor, in which it didn’t matter whether or not any of the things happening on screen were real. In a sense, of course, it’s only sensible to conclude that everything happening onscreen wasn’t real, because of course it wasn’t real–it was a TV show.

    Except, television has a high verisimilitude factor, and so watching it, we consciously or unconsciously demand that it operate according to the real living rules of the world with which we are familiar.

    So, AMC decides on the remake, and in order to do it they say, “What’s actually happening here?” instead of “What does this mean?” Leaving them with an overly-literalized version of a surrealist piece that, consequently, doesn’t make any sense.

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