The Prisoner remake: a load of number 2

Title for The Prisoner remake
When the title screen tells you to give up, you know you’re in trouble.

The short version: don’t waste your time watching last year’s remake of The Prisoner. Stick with the original.

Considered on its own merits, the remake isn’t terrible, but it never rises above mediocre either. There’s an over-reliance on camera trickery to create confusion on the part of the viewer, with lots of disjointed cuts between scenes that, at it worst, makes some episodes (particular the fifth one) simply difficult to follow. It can be hard to tell whether something is happening concurrently with another scene, or is a flashback, or a dream, or or an hallucination, or something else. Given that each of those happen with quite a bit of regularity, trying to disentangle the editing while making sense of the plot is a nontrivial task.

6 carries 93, wearing a dark shirt 6 seconds later, 6 is wearing a light shirt
Hey, no one noticed when John McClane’s shirt changed color, right?

It would have been nice if the editors had remembered to check for continuity between successive shots, though. Let’s get the basics before we start getting all fancy with the cuts, OK?

The remake does do a couple interesting things with the premise, and it certainly takes things in a very different direction than the original, but it does neither well enough to really stand on its own. And as a fan of the original, it’s impossible for me to evaluate the remake without constantly comparing it against the 1960s version. And there, it comes up far, far short of the mark.

Obviously, a remake is going to change some things. I understand that. Heck, the last time I wrote about a remake of something here, my major complaint was that it changed so little for most of the running time, except for the effects budget. But the The Prisoner remake makes the mistake of changing absolutely fundamental aspects of the original without providing a satisfying payoff for those changes.

The most grating is the issue of 6′s identity. In the original, Number 6 refuses to ever refer to himself as Number 6, the identity imposed upon him in The Village. He never calls himself by any number. He never wears the numbered identity badge that everyone else wears. There’s even an episode where Number 2 struggles to get him to even say the number six in any context.

Contrast the remake, where at the end of the second episode we see 6 screaming at 2 “I am 6, you bastard!” In the following episodes 6 shows no resistance to being identified as 6. The real Number 6 would die sooner than accepting that.

The Village
The remake’s Village is no Portmeirion.

The remake’s version of The Village and the people living there defies suspension of disbelief. The Village is surrounded by desert, and allegedly there is nowhere else. That’s right, the majority of people there accept The Village as being the entirety of human civilization, despite it obviously not having the industrial base needed to manufacture the cars and buses and everything else within it. This is taken to the extreme in the last episode, where we see people arriving by bus to The Village; not only can the new arrivals not explain where they arrived from, but no one besides 6 considers people arriving from allegedly nowhere as something worth questioning.

OK, maybe this isn’t entirely inexplicable, since it’s pretty obvious that the people in The Village live in abject fear of 2, and it would make sense that they would be terrified of voicing any opposition to what he tells them. Even though 2′s weapon of choice is sadistic psychological manipulation, he isn’t above orchestrating acts of terrorism to keep people in line, such as having a diner full of people blown up in the first episode in order to silence 554, where “silence” in this context means “put into a coma.” Although, given 2′s fondness of hand grenades, he may have simply done it himself.

2 holding a grenade
2′s the kind of guy who will throw a grenade at you and ask if you’ve had sex with your mother. I am not making this up.

In the original, most of the Number 2s didn’t sink to that level of obvious evil, and there was some ambiguity as to whether at least some of them were prisoners themselves who capitulated to The Village’s unseen masters. No, the remake’s 2 is pretty clearly evil. Nor is there any question in the remake as to 2 being in charge. This time around, when 6 asks “Who is number one?” — a recurring question in the original — the answer simply comes back that 2 is called 2 instead of 1 as a show of humility. Period.

I’m reluctant to call the remake The Prisoner In Name Only, but then there’s the issue of the episode titles. Each title is a one-word version of an episode of the original, but in only two of the six episodes is the plot even remotely related to the plot in the original. What’s the point, other than trying to slip in a shout-out?

It’s fitting how in the opening of the first episode we see 6 bury 93 in a shallow grave in the desert. 93 is wearing the same distinctive outfit that the original’s Number 6 wore. According to the commentary, the creators of the remake had even tried to get Patrick McGoohan to play the role of 93. I think that pretty much sums up symbolically what the remake does to the original.

Spoiler warning: If you don’t want me to spoil the endings of both the original and the remake, you better stop reading here.

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I am now a true American

I now have a mortgage. And a home to go along with it. But by dollar amounts, mostly a mortgage.

The Voltman Cometh

When Renee and I had the idea to do a double date with Ryan and Jenny, Renee thought we should do something extremely weird or extremely clichéd. I managed to come up with an idea that was both: going on a clichéd dinner date with them within a role playing game.

Renee recruited Peace to run things for us, without whose help that night wouldn’t have been possible. He prepared a one-shot Minimus campaign. The player’s handbook for Minimus is a mere two pages long, and character generation can be done in five minutes, allowing us to surprise Ryan and Jenny with our plan when we showed up at their door.

Well, character generation can theoretically be done in five minutes. We spent a good hour and a half on it.

The first step of character generation is picking a name, a role that fits the setting, and five major life events. Since the game was in a modern, non-fantasy setting, magic and the like were right out. Peace revealed that time travel would be involved, so I wanted a character whose skills would be useful in that world.

Thus was born Stan “The Voltman” Voltronski, rogue electrician. The initial inspiration came from Harry Tuttle in Brazil, although as his character was fleshed out he became more of a mad scientist than a hero, using his unlicensed electrical work in pursuit of his goals of developing an over-unity circuit.

The Voltman’s major life events, taken from his character sheet:

  1. Childhood train set shorted out city’s power supply. Through him.
  2. After getting no date to prom, electrified the dance floor and got thrown out of high school.
  3. Put on UL‘s lifetime blacklist after successfully using a soda can to replace a little league stadium’s fuse box.
  4. After The Man shut off Chalice’s [Chamberman, Renee's character, a Harvard-educated slumlordess] power supply, was hired to tap into the grid on the down low.
  5. After Chalice tried to chain him down, told her no one can keep The Voltman grounded.

The Voltman didn’t want to get tied down in a relationship, on account of being on the run from his nemesis, Reg Phillips, the chief enforcer of the American Society of Electrical Engineers [because I apparently forgot about the IEEE and thus came up with a fictitious organization]. After all, The Voltman’s big secret was his home address (and the fact that his previous residences all burned down in mysterious electrical fires).

Minimus’s character generation involves passing character sheets around to have other players assign things to your character. Renee came up with The Voltman’s set of skills, again quoted from the character sheet:

  1. Electrician
  2. Sneaking
  3. Knowledge (lovemaking)
  4. Climbing
  5. Shopping (specifically for clothes, but overall good too)
  6. That Hebrew fighting style that is badass
  7. Steampunk

I’m not sure how steampunk abilities fit in with being a rogue electrician, since it’s all about steam-powered technology rather than electricity-powered technology, but I gave The Voltman ranks in it anyway, because it’s still awesome.

For their part, Ryan’s character was Steve Montana, a pro football player whose solution to everything appeared to involve donning his uniform. Jenny’s character was Joanna I-didn’t-write-it-down-in-my-notes, Chalice’s sister and a cheerleader-turned-sideline-reporter trying to keep her nascent relationship with Steve secret to avoid scandal and eventually get promoted into the press box.

Once we finally got into the game itself, things began with our four characters on a double date, when Steve got his drink drugged by a former football player he knew and Chalice got her car stolen. While leaving the back way, they got attacked by a group of taser-armed thugs who easily wiped the floor with them. Joanna and The Voltman both got knocked out in the first round before they could attack — I’m still not entirely sure how The Voltman fell to a mere taser. Chalice lasted a bit longer before being overpowered.

They woke up strapped to tables and got sent back in time to the year 2000, in what would turn out to be the villain’s plan to dissociate them from the timeline and turn them into his team of chrononauts.

Villain
You’re going to be my chrononauts.
Chalice
I’m sorry? What? What was that?
The Voltman
It means “time-nauts.”

They had two hours to do whatever they wanted in the past before returning to the present and, from there, into the future.

I found it interesting that Renee and Jenny used the opportunity to have their characters seek revenge, whereas Ryan and I tried to make a profit. Steve tried to put together some convoluted scheme involving sports betting and memorabilia that I’m pretty sure Peace accepted because he didn’t want to try to figure out just what was going on with that. “OK, fine, you have a poster with the wrong person’s autograph.”

The Voltman helped Chalice get revenge on her abusive father by booby-trapping a remote control with one of The Voltman’s experimental super batteries, powerful and dangerous enough to electrify plastic. (One battery to injure, two to kill.) With that done, it was The Voltman’s time to shine.

In 2000, Stan Voltonski hadn’t yet been booted from the electricians’ community, so he was still operating legitimately as an apprentice under his real name. The Voltman looked up his number in a phone book and hot-wired a pay phone to make the call. This despite that:

  • Pay phones only cost 25 cents
  • Chalice had lockpicking skills and could’ve opened the pay phone’s coin box
  • Chalice had grabbed a fistful of change when leaving her father’s house anyway

Anyway, The Voltman called past Stan Voltronski and gave him the instructions for building the experimental super battery. The idea was for The Voltman to give Stan the outcome of his previous ten years’ work, letting Stan Voltrinski get a jump on things and making advances more quickly. Once The Voltman would suddenly remember the new advancements built upon the super battery thanks to how he hoped the rules for time travel worked, he would then give that information to Stan too, and so on until running out of time in the past. Had the loop worked, The Voltman could have abused time travel to accomplish decades worth of research and experiments in mere minutes.

Of course, The Voltman kind of came off a little crazy, what with not wanting to try to explain the whole time travel thing to past Stan. The Voltman’s warning to Stan to keep his experiments secret to avoid losing his legitimate job didn’t help much either:

The Voltman
You have to separate Stan Voltronski from The Voltman!
Stan
Who is this?
The Voltman
I know what you’re doing! If they find out, they’ll be after you!
*click*
dial tone

Yeah, it didn’t work. In the end, Stan’s was the only past that hardly changed, since The Voltman wasn’t able to hurt Stan in any way that Stan wasn’t already going to do to himself. Besides, all that traveling back from the past accomplished was to bring them back to an alternate present where they didn’t belong. Not that that mattered too much to The Voltman; he was more interested in the chips that had been implanted into each of their brains that let the villain immobilize them and send them through time. The Voltman wanted to figure out how it worked so he could hack it; had we not called it a night before getting that far, the first thing he would’ve done in the future was get a brain scan done so he could start reverse engineering the chip.

Also, given that time travel was accompanied by an immobilizing sense of euphoria, one not entirely dissimilar to the train set incident from The Voltman’s childhood, apparently the chips operated based on Buddhist time travel, sending people through Nirvana into the past or future.

Apparently the broader plan for the campaign was for our characters to be send through time to find and hide historic artifacts like the Q document so they could be “discovered” in the future and used to fund development of time travel, which itself happened in the future. (Obviously you couldn’t just bring the artifacts with you into the future, since then they wouldn’t carbon-date correctly and would be considered frauds.) On account of us spending an hour and a half on the five-minute character generation, though, we never got past the prelude of the campaign.

One might question the wisdom in role playing a dysfunctional relationship with the person you’re in an actual relationship with. Or in coming up with a double date idea that involves the introduction of a fifth person. Or in coming up with such a ridiculously nerdy idea for a double date to begin with.

Well, it seemed to work out pretty well anyway.

xkcd’d

I can’t help but note the similarity between today’s xkcd and a ghost story told in Chapter 20 of Homunculus….

Not so Humble

Does the fact that Linux users are contributing almost twice as much for the Humble Indie Bundle as Windows users prove that we’re twice as generous as they are?

Yes. Yes it does.

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