Movie Review -- The Prisoner sets one & two
by Gordon Dymowski
This past Christmas, I received the greatest gift of all...a new DVD player.
Of course, with it, I needed some DVDs. My mom - being the cool arbiter of
gift selection - gave me two DVD boxed sets, which comprise what A&E
Home Video (who rereleased The Avengers as well as The Complete
Monty Python) consider "Television's First Masterpiece." That show, ladies
and gentlemen, was The Prisoner.
Recently spoofed on the "Mr. X" episode of The Simpsons, The
Prisoner was initially shown in 1968, and has lived on in syndication
and public television ever since. Starring Patrick McGoohan, it was part spy
series, part Kafka novel, part action-adventure, part logic puzzle, part
actor's ego project, part allegory...let's face it, kids, there's never been
a series like it before. Or since. McGoohan plays Number 6, a former secret
agent who resigns, and the series consists of a number of second-in-commands
(called "Number 2") trying to get the information he has, as well as the
reasons why he resigned. (Oh, did I mention he's kidnapped and taken
to a mysterious "Village"? And giant white bubbles named Rover chase people?
I didn't think so) Over 17 episodes, this was arguably the first "television
novel". Even now, 32 years after its initial showing, people are
still asking "what does it all mean?"
DVD Set One (and these are available on VHS as well)
sets things off with "Arrival", in which the world of the Village, the major
players, are all introduced. (Think of this as a Kafka novel starring Austin
Power's more serious, intense older brother, and that should help you link
into the series). "Free For All" is a scathing look at elections and the
democratic process, and seems eerily prescient of this past year's election.
"Dance of the Dead" is a slightly surrealistic turn featuring several
ladies, a costume party, a body washed up on shore, and a transistor radio.
This set also includes "The Alternate 'Chimes of Big Ben'" - a slightly
longer, muddier sounding version than we'll find in Set Two...but more of
DVD Set Two begins with "Checkmate", in which a living chess
game serves as a metaphor for a slightly larger game of strategy. "The
Chimes of Big Ben" features a new arrival to the Village, and Number 6's
attempt to escape. (That - and avoiding revealing his information - is
Number 6's primary goal). (The Alternate Version in Set One contains an
alternate version of the theme music, some "lost" footage, a slightly
altered end credit, and some snipped dialogue. My only quibble is that,
although this is an "alternate" version, A&E could have ponied up for some
captioning...it was difficult to hear, and having the words in front of me
might have helped somewhat.) "A, B & C" feature a scientist who attempts to
question Number 6 through his dreams, and this set finishes with "The
General", about the insidious motives behind a new way to learn three years
of history in three minutes.
It's hard to really talk about The Prisoner without giving away many
of its secrets...it's not a straightforward,
everything-is-great-at-the-end-of-the-show like many television dramas. At
17 episodes, the show is well paced and comes to a gradual bewildering end,
unlike "Gilligan's Island" or "Star Trek: Voyager", which quickly outstay
their welcome. (Sets Three and Four are to be released in March, and Set 5
in October - why not head down to Amazon.com and preorder them? Give the
Shrub kids some milk money and stuff). This is not a show for just sitting
and watching silently, but encourages debate and discussion. Heck, this is
the kind of stuff term papers are made of, kids.) This is a show that,
except for one aspect of "The General", really has aged well and has a
timeless quality. If you want to just sit back and enjoy it brain dead, you
can do that...but the bigger issues it raises are well worth your time.
Also, the picture quality of the DVD is excellent, except for the
alternate "Chimes of Big Ben." (Granted, it was rotting away in a vault in
Canada, and is only for Prisoner scholars. Yes, that's right, "Prisoner
Scholars" - I'd like to see some other show the Simpsons parody claim to
have scholars). The sound quality is excellent...they look much better than
they have in ages...maybe even better than when they first aired! These are
videos that you'll want to watch repeatedly, because each episode is chock
full of good things.
If you want more information about the show, my advice is to check out the
Prisoner Appreciation Society web site...and buy these sets. Or better
yet, ask someone to buy them for you as gifts. If you want more explanations
and stuff, please feel free to e-mail me at
ry.com. It'll be more fun than watching Pauly Shore movies.
As they say in the Village, "Be Seeing You!"
(Out of five)