December 3, 2009

Justify My Netflix: The Prisoner (2009)

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Prisoner (2009)

Today's movie: The Prisoner, 2009 (Official site | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this is the latest high-profile project by the AMC cable channel (the people who bring us the the best show currently on television, Mad Men), a new six-part "rethinking" of the classic '60s British trippy sci-fi series (or in layman's terms, "We held onto the central premise and dumped everything else"), starring Ian "Gandalf" McKellen and with the producers promising an ending this time that actually makes sense, unlike the infamously headscratching original. And I'm a fan of AMC, the original Prisoner, and Ian McKellen, so why wouldn't I want to watch this?

The reality: Surprisingly fantastic, but only if you accept it on its own terms. In fact, when this mini-series originally aired last month, it sparked a huge debate among my friends and I over at Facebook, which made me come to realize that I've always appreciated the original Prisoner for different reasons it turns out than a lot of people I know; because, see, when I was first introduced to this show as a teenager by my dad in the early '80s, the reason I became so obsessed with it was for the quality of the writing on display, maybe not the actual dialogue but for sure the sheer spectacle of deep ideas being carted out and paraded around on what was otherwise an obscure low-budget weekly TV show. So to see so many fellow fans of the original complain so passionately about this modern remake, when in my opinion it is absolutely no better or worse than the former, makes me realize that these people must be enjoying the original not for the concepts being bandied about but instead mostly for simple camp value, to gawk at the lava-lamp-lit Batmanesque countercultural Technicolor surrealism on display, making this remake far inferior in their eyes despite its equal quality simply because it updated the visuals to a contemporary, non-campy look.

Or at least, this is all I can think of, because like I said I think writer Bill Gallagher did a fine job with this six-part script, retaining the main conceit driving the original (important corporate secret-keeper suddenly resigns from his job for no stated reason; shadowy unidentified organization kidnaps him to find out why, placing him in a bizarre inescapable village and plying him with mindgames), but this time playing up the post-9/11 world we live in, where we have gotten used now to ideas like constant surveillance, Matrix-like alternative realities, quantum-based time travel and more. As a result, then, although the series does definitely reach an understandable conclusion, it's still a wonderfully screwy mess anyway, a Lost-like long-form meditation on identity, psychology and society, and you have to sort of just take it for granted that all the unexplainable weirdness seen in the first half will eventually be explained in the second. Maybe people just weren't patient enough? Maybe because it's hard for many to embrace "big idea" shows that deliver more questions by the end than answers? Maybe simply the lack of purple hallways and Mod bubble furniture? Whatever the case, it was hard for me to understand the almost violently bad reaction this remake received within so many circles, when I myself found it a great way to fill six hours of my life, a highly satisfying project I would recommend to anyone who reads science-fiction primarily for the flights of fancy in the imagination they inspire. All this should be kept in mind before renting it yourself.

Strangest piece of trivia: The strange desert compound where this series takes place was not specifically created for the show but was an actual Modernist resort that already existed in southern Africa, created in the '50s for German tourists taking summer holidays.

Worth your time? For a certain type of sci-fi fan, yes; for the general public, no

Filed by Jason Pettus at 1:56 PM, December 3, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |