Sunday, 25 April 2010

Be Seeing You? No Thanks or The Prisoner: (Re)Making Money

There's a lot of remakes doing the rounds at the moment. Films, TV programmes and even computer games are all getting the remake treatment, for better or worse. I just started watching the new version of The Prisoner on ITV. I've now seen the first two episodes, and I have to say, I'm distinctly unimpressed.

The original version of The Prisoner is one of those TV programmes to which the word "seminal" can easily be applied. What started as a vaguely offbeat show about Patrick McGhooan's Number Six resigning from his job as a secret agent, and subsequently being held in a strange Village, run by the mysterious and never seen (until the end anyway) Number One, and One's rotating group of Number Two's (stop sniggering). Each episode would deal with Six trying to find a way to escape the Village, which was guarded by Rover, the infamous giant inflatable ball, while at the same time, Two would try and trick Six into revealing why he resigned from his job in the first place. Strange enough to being with, instead of answering any the many questions the series posed, over the course of its seventeen episodes, The Prisoner slowly developed into one of the trippiest, but also most intriguing shows around. The fact that at the end, we still didn't even know Six's true identity (though rumours persist he was supposed to be John Drake, the secret agen McGoohan played from 1964 to 1967 on "Danger Man") didn't matter. McGoohan (who also produced, directed and wrote for the show) had fucked with all of our heads, and we liked it. Lost could learn a lot from The Prisoner, a show which dared not to answer the very questions it posed in the first place and knew when it should come to a close.

The new version of The Prisoner is shorter, only six episodes in total. This is a good thing, because it's really not very good. To be fair, it is a beautifully shot show, with the desert locale being put to excellent use and the Village, while no Portmeirion, is realised very well. The whole thing has a dreamlike quality about it which, while pretty to look at, actually ends up working against the show. You don't really believe any of this is happening, other than maybe in Six's head, which really makes it hard to care.

Jim Caviezel plays Six (given the name Michael from the off here), and while he does the best he can with what he's given, but unfortunately, what he's given doesn't match up to his talents. In the original, McGoohan played a Six with a level of self confidence about himself which meant that you always felt like he was going to end up turning the tables on his captors. Caviezel's Six doesn't have that. He plays a man who seems close to madness already, which only adds to the feeling that maybe none of this is actually happening. Caviezel plays it very well, but the way the character is written just doesn't quite work.

Another mistake is made with Number Two. Again, the part is cast wonderfully in the shape of Ian McKellan, but not only does he play Two in every episode, they actually give us a subplot about his own family issues. This a really bad idea. McKellan is excellent (the man doesn't know how to be anything but) but, using a different Two every week on the original (okay, some of them repeated, but never consecutively) added to the feeling that there was a major player behind the scenes pulling everyone's strings. Using the same Two every episode, and then giving him a family and even making him a minor celebrity in the Village, takes away from both the mystery and the sense of danger surrounding the character. Bizarrely enough, while much of the rest of the show is too dream like and unreal, this makes Number Two seem more real and grounded in reality, possibly moreso than Six himself.

There are many other problems with the show, not least of which is a massive plot hole from the off. If they want to find out why Six resigned his job, then why send him to a village where everyone loses their memories from the off? He can't tell you if he doesn't remember himself! The residents of the Village are also a problem. In the original, they had an air of menace about them, with their constant cheery disposition, they actually seemed creepy and only added to the overally feeling that the Village was not a nice place. The people in the Village this time around? They're just people, all wondering what's wrong with Six, something which again, just doesn't work.

But the biggest problem with the new Prisoner? It's not just nonsensical, but it's boring. Both episodes I've watched have been incredibly dull. You get the feeling no one know what to do with it, which is no surprise when you watch the original. With that in mind, why did they even bother trying to put out this shit in the first place?

Oh, yeah, money.

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