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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