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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 that later...

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 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'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 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 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 Gordon_D@theshrubbe It'll be more fun than watching Pauly Shore movies.

As they say in the Village, "Be Seeing You!"


(Out of five)

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