At the least, we can be grateful for AMC’s “reimagining” of “The Prisoner” because it hastened the arrival of the classic cult series on Blu-ray.
“The Prisoner,” of course, was in no need of a remake. The ’60s spy series feels more relevant than ever … and yet remains very much a product of its time — 1966-1967, the glory days of psychedelia and paranoia.
The new “Prisoner,” however, knows better than to go toe-to-toe with Patrick McGoohan’s original. Its many knowing nods to the ’60s series aside, the six-episode miniseries goes its own way, beginning with its casting of Ian McKellen as the sole “No. 2” character (where the original had many).
McKellen proves the definitive No. 2 — a puppet master with the intelligence, charm, casual cruelty and wit the likes of which the original never had. Jim Caviezel falls short as No. 6, predictably and inevitably, but at least he has the smarts to play the part without McGoohan riffs.
I have no idea how this miniseries plays for someone unfamiliar with McGoohan’s “Prisoner,” but for open-minded fans of the original there is much to ponder, chuckle over and appreciate. Good show (at least based on the first two hours).
Back to the main event: A&E’s latest packaging of “The Prisoner” brings the U.S. video release into sync with the excellent 40th anniversary release from Britain (2007) — with the addition of stunning high definition video.
(A&E also had a 40th anniversary DVD collection in 2006, but it mostly recycled the five individual multi-episode sets released in 2001.)
On Blu-ray, the op art/pop art imagery of “The Prisoner” leaps from the screen. Colors are bold and vivid, yet not oversaturated. The clarity is remarkable, almost too good — the actors’ perspiration and skin blemishes are borderline distracting (the kind of thing industry folks fretted about in the early days of HD).
Can’t recall a better-looking presentation of a ’60s television show, even considering the minor grain, speckling and miscellaneous artifacts.
Audio is OK, whether you choose the 5.1 track (with its once-over-lightly mix) or the 2.0 mono. The audio does have bouts of that tinniness associated with pop soundtracks of the day.
The feature-length documentary comes from 2007 and the U.K. box, a welcome upgrade from the so-so docu on A&E’s last effort.
“Don’t Knock Yourself Out” starts off with a fan-boy tone, but eventually digs deep into the show’s history, including a lengthy look at star/exec producer Patrick McGoohan’s sometimes weird and abusive behavior on the set.
McGoohan, who was in his final years, did not participate, but is quoted thusly:
If whatever we wanted to say is not already contained within the episodes of the series then I failed in the production of them and any amount of chit-chat now will not make good that omission.
There were whispers about a McGoohan nervous breakdown on the set, and he apparently caused one for No. 2 actor Leo McKern, who shows up in the docu to bash his old boss as a “loathsome bully.”
McGoohan kept it chilly with his leading actresses, refusing to even kiss one when the script called for it.
“I just loathed Patrick,” one actress tells the filmmakers. “I hated the whole thing.” Another actor recalls McGoohan strangling him when he was supposed to be faking it: “I could see those mad eyes looking down on me.”
Karma being a bitch, the story goes that actor McGoohan was attacked by viewers on the streets of London after the ambiguous series finale aired.
But mostly the documentary brings together the show’s old cast, crew and executives to sing its praises. This is a film made for fans, by fans. If you have 10 minutes or so to spare for the history of “Rover” — the series’ famous white bouncing mochi ball of an enforcer — step right up.
Several of the key witnesses show up on episode commentaries, for those who can’t get enough of The Village.
A&E’s “The Prisoner: The Complete Series” on Blu-ray should prove definitive, given its outstanding images and the wealth of extras, most swept up by various video versions over the years.
This is the fifth or sixth post about “The Prisoner” series on this DVD blog, and probably the last. Looks like case closed. Be seeing you, No. 6.