It is not the purpose of this article
to dissect and analyse AMC's NEW PRISONER
for its merits or damn it for its flaws but, rather, to delineate
why this artifact comes with an entirely inappropriate title
and cannot possibly be based on McGoohan's
You won't find real spoilers here. But those wanting to enjoy the show with a free mind should watch it first, then get back and read the following text afterwards.
highly original PRISONER.
people may find this an okay entry, even great. If only because
it's a modern day thing, nothing that those old geezers always keep
talking about. But also, this is my advice: go see it!
OVER THE BOWL, AND THEN TAKE A DIVE
ALL OF YOU ARE DEAD. I AM ALIVE"
able to stand for itself is a quintessential thing for any work
of art, not to be identified as the copy, the successor of... or,
still worse, the rip-off of... It is very hard for THE PRISONER
(2009) as there is THE PRISONER (1967) hanging at it
like a millstone around its neck.
DIESER TEXT AUF DEUTSCH
PRISONER'S PORTMEIRION (German language) -
EPISODES & SPOILERS (German) - more...
THE PROBLEM IS IN BILL GALLAGER'S MIND (ENGLISH
one ever called for a remake. Those in charge with the production
rather use the term "reinterpretation". As if they knew.
THE PRISONER (1967) is the product of its time and of a personal
vision, rather an obsession, that is. This is what makes it irreproducible
at all. But if so there has to be something of a surplus value for
modern-day viewers, something matching the current TV and viewing
habits to make people watching in order to keep up with the precursor.
Sadly, this isn't what THE PRISONER (2009) does. It is lacking
the formal and esthetic innovative vigour of a show like 24,
let alone the verve of that manic and charismatic character Jack
Bauer in a prototypical PRISONER role. Instead, no real dramatization
is evident throughout. The action is leaden-paced at times and kind
of somnambulant. Little wonder if we look at the series from behind.
to be honest, this six parts series isn't all too bad, on the other
hand. Allowing some distance in time its positive aspects will certainly
become more clearly visible. Thus, by now the rating it gets is
only less than stellar. And, yes, it's got its own qualities, first-rate
production qualities: there is Florian Hoffmeister's cinematography;
the first look of the Village situated in the middle of the desert
is welcoming in warm colours, that twilight image is really magic.
It's different from the true Welsh Village but it's also distinctive.
Then there is Michael Pickwoad's harmonious colourful retro design
of cars and busses and the soundtrack which we must neglect here.
in McGoohan's 1967 original surrealism kept seeping in between the
24 film frames per second and through the mere superficial spy kidnapping
story the plots nonetheless were sticking largely to a familiar
pattern of what everybody knew from TV series, except for the very
last episode "Fall Out", of course. One pretty well knew
who, one knew where and one knew what. And we're not necessarily
talking about "making sense".
Now, in 2009, writer Bill Gallagher comes up with what he regards
as surrealism in order to entertain his audience. But that's a relative
thing, entertainment. The source of influence here is what became
known as the mystery genre in the past decades since the THE
PRISONER in 1967. This is popular culture, thriving on ever
recurring and varying themes and subjects.
(2009): episodes & spoilers (German) -
author Gallagher is never giving us a hint as for his own very special
interest in the matter, just what it was that made him select the
McGoohan archetype to work with. And with AMC, presumably it's been
the balance department that had cast an eye on the surrealism-meets-paranoia
classic in order to extract a little reputation and, of course,
audience figures. What do we make of this? What's all that fuss
about if this reworking is lacking exactly the impetus and the perspective
that made McGoohan's work distinctive from all the other TV productions
of the time and ever since?
sets up his extremely erratic narrative mode shortly after a promising
start in the "Arrival" episode including a due nod towards
the original (the old man himself in former Village garb, his appartment
is a near 100 percent replica of the original). He parallels the
action in the New Village and that in New York in a way more than
his framework can bear. It's to and fro, everything looking slick
like in a TV ad.
Any plot summary (which isn't given here) is likely to convey a
more coherent image of the episode action than is eventually executed.
Most elements of the New York and Village action, sequences interspersed
randomly, spacially and temporally fall prey to the use of non-stop
As a viewer, of course, you don't want to be duller than the script.
So, eventually you are trying to make sense out of what hasn't become
more intelligible by the end of almost six hours. Could be, could
be not. Any younger audience may appreciate such snippet story telling
more easily. Those who like straight action-adventure drama more
will be repelled by this kind of volatility. Even those with a penchant
towards a more unconventional narrative will probably say no thanks.
Just a reminder, McGoohan's original itself is fragmentary yet its
narrative is essentially evident even where "hallucinatory"
or "psychedelic" facets of the action come to the fore,
e.g. "Free For All". Remarkably, this specific episode
wasn't given "rebirth", not even by title.
Red herrings is the best thing said, supposed to leave the viewer
with the notion of a much deeper meaning of it all.
herrings and wasted possibilities:
What was it that incited 6 to get a spray can and
write "Resign" on the Summakor building windows?
A McGuffin? Because such a title sequence is looking better than
an envelope with a letter of resignation in it thrown on a desk?
Anger? Not that we were able to relate to it.
What physically happens to those people having been "observed"
by Summakor and considered good enough for the Village community
- incinerated, dumped, deep frozen, replicated (sure, this isn't
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS)?
The desert "twin towers" (supposed to be the Summakor
building, isn't it?) are but a mere fata morgana considering the
story just as much as they appear on screen from time to time.
6 works as a busdriver and a school teacher. But we
never find out about how it happened and what happend afterwards.
It just gets lost.
Raising pigs is obligatory for the Village residents. It's
as irritating as it is amusing and reminding of Bunuel. But this
subplot remains the subject for some three or four minutes only.
The Namibian Village is a very beautiful place, indeed. But
unlike Portmeirion it is never made a supporting actor.
The female doctor 313 is brought into a tunnel for
"treatment" (called "aversion therapy" in the
real Village). But the entire story of her and some others down
there, what kind of treatment it is, her being - quite easily -
rescued by 6, where and what the tunnels are, it all is buried in
the desert sand.
Worst of all and simply inexcusable: 2's offer to
6 to accept a spy job for him. 6 suspects a trap.
"Of course it is a trap", says 2. Here again, naught
and nothing is developed dramatically out of the antagonism between
the two characters, no thrill whatsoever. The 9 minute trailer version
was much more promising than the final result we got to see. Simply
wasted by an inept script.
because the NEW PRISONER's mode of story telling isn't allegory
as with McGoohan's work (something that George Markstein rejected
resolutely) 6 cannot possibly be characterised as a superhuman hero
and narrative metaphors have to be neglected. One should have expected
the plots to be resolved in a more familiar and accurate way.
YOU'RE A SUSPECT YOU'RE GUILTY"
be sure, also inherent in Bill Gallagher's script there are a lot
of worthwile issues like in the original:
- individual and community
- coerced happiness
- truth and lie
- faith and suspicion
- dream and reality
- the "Village inside the mind"
than THE PRISONER the narrative focus of a good portion of
episode 3, "Anvil", is Francis Ford Coppola's underrated
1972 film THE CONVERSATION. Gene Hackman plays an observation specialist
getting more and more entangled in the results of his own delicate
work. Alas, this thread, too, is never properly explored in-depth.
- JOHN CARPENTERS "THEY LIVE" (1988) AND AMC'S
"THE PRISONER" (2009)
a good cause the private life of 2 is high-lighted in this
PRISONER outing, compared to the many anonymous Number Twos of 1967.
He is married, his wife lying, or he may as well keep her, in a
coma. He has an adolescent and gay son who suffers from his circumstances.
Repeat, nothing is done by the script to elaborate on that matter.
Both protagonists, 2 as well a 6, aren't characters
who we can care for or identify with. Instead we care at least for
the doctor 313 (Ruth Wilson). But her oppressive fate remains
only a side aspect at end of the installation.
definitely isn't Everyman. Not being very particularly identified
the McGoohan character Number Six is a high-rank government agent
with information in his head that "is priceless to an enemy".
He acts with visible superiority and irony in an existentialistic
battle against various Number Twos for sovereignty of interpretation,
and that's not just in the Village. He could easily have
told his captors what they wanted to know from him - but he refused
to do so. His reasons aren't just recalcitrance or a bad job. Not
AND 6: IT'S A GOOD LIFE, WELL, IS ISN'T?
has hardly more to say to us than, "I wanna go back to New
York." Michael, as he is called in everyday life, works for
a dubious data retrieval and observation company (for the Summakor
Corporation an entire realistically looking website was built specifically
for this series). The message to us: that's what's going on! Michael
must have hit upon something that made him leave. But as with many
instances in this show his work with Summakor remains arbitrary
and is in no way essential for the unfolding action.
THIS USED TO BE THE SUMMAKOR WEBSITE WHICH IS NOW OFFLINE
Jim Caviezel's 6 isn't more than a clerk, neither recalcitrant
nor angry (only the press flyers are telling us this) and by no
means with a sense of humour. He sprays "Resign" on the
Summakor window yet there is no comparison to the more mythical
than mystical Number Six whose resignation from his job, by slamming
his letter on the desk, is a matter of principle. His cry of the
famous Number Six credo, "I am not a number, I am a free man!"
is plain declamatory.
He even keeps traits of the suffering Christ who he had played in
Mel Gibson's fundamentalist botch. Probably script author Gallagher
would be trying to convince us that he didn't want a superhuman
hero for the title character. So what! Why then are there any references
at all to THE PRISONER if everything one sees or happens is by chance
(the shopkeeper with the map, the pennyfarthing hanging from the
bar ceiling, the white balloon)?
(2009): EPISODES & SPOILERS - more...
THE PROBLEM IS IN BILL GALLAGER'S MIND (ENGLISH
McKellen as 2 is far superior to Jim Caviezel regarding his
acting talent. In his extremely gently spoken reply to 6's
claim he wanted to get back to New York, "Oh, that's not
possible. There is no New York." for once an original PRISONER
episode is echoed: "This is your world. I am your world"
spoken by Mary Morris as Number Two in one of the most "prisoneresque"
episodes "Dance Of The Dead". If only for this specific
shifting of the focus to this particular Number Two the series'
title THE PRISONER was chosen inadequately.
his theoretical works "Summa Technologiae" (1964) and
then again in "Fantasy and Futurology. Critiques on science
fiction" (1970) Polish novelist Stanislaw Lem created the term
"the phantomatic machine" by which he designates a narrative
mode or else a fictitious (?) technology capable of radically abolishing
the "unicalism" (Lem) of what is commonly known as reality.
Once you have entered the realm of the phantomatic machine by means
of some psychologically or technologically induced incident there
is no way left of postulating "the"- mostly our - reality
as the "real" or "genuine" or even only one.
Years on Lem's coining became common knowledge as "cyberpunk",
later as the "virtual reality". Paving the way were, among
others, the novels "Simulacron 3" by Daniel F. Galouye
(1964) and much of Philip K. Dick's work, although uncredited in
German filmmaker R.W. Fassbinder's TV production WELT AM DRAHT ("World
by Wire") of 1973, Cronenberg's VIDEODROME
IT REAL OR IMAGINARY? NO MATTER, AS LONG AS IT TASTES...
BRAINSTORM and that certain blockbuster hit THE MATRIX (1999) they
all and many more are indebt to this kind of technique.
Taking and considering AMC's sixpack according to this premise,
the mini-PRISONER now gains new momentum. Are we going to
meet LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD? - No, deconstructing the narrative
continuum or the subject isn't what Gallagher is apt to do. Although
he succeeds in getting viewers desoriented as best as it gets. One
American review of the show suggested watching the series from behind,
so the volatile storytelling wouldn't be too hard to follow. It's
not bad an idea. But to first-time viewers it might not be too helpful
likely, thus, that we all, 6, 2, M2, 313
will be joining Glen Runciter and his wife Ella in the "Beloved
Brethren Moratorium", one of the locations in Philip K. Dick's perhaps greatest novel "Ubik" (1969); Glen Runciter may find himself with a
spray can in his hand and maybe on his small change he will see
6/Michael's head, too. But if this turns out to be true this
whole thing's got even less to do with THE PRISONER and then
this "was only the beginning..."