Thursday, December 11, 2008

Return to the Village

Have any of you heard about the remake of the Prisoner which is coming out next year? The original British television show from the '60s was about a spy who, after he resigns, is kidnapped and finds himself in the Village: a hi-tech prison disguised as a sleepy, seaside community. For a little more background info about the original Prisoner, you might want to look at this item I posted many moons ago when our blog was still in its infancy.

AMC and ITV are currently working on a new miniseries of 6 one-hour episodes which is slated to air on both sides of the Atlantic sometime next year. Here in the US, the miniseries will be shown on AMC (the channel that brings us Mad Men). Below is some news I've uncovered about the new Prisoner, and my thoughts on how it might stack up to the original.


Rather than a remake, the producers are calling this a "reimagining" of the original series. In a communication about the new series, ITV states:

While the original series, which debuted in 1967, was a riff on Cold War politics, ITV’s remake will reflect 21st century concerns and anxieties, such as liberty, security and surveillance, yet also showcase the same key elements of paranoia, tense action and socio-political commentary seen in McGoohan’s enigmatic original.
I think its a little unfair to say that the original Prisoner was "a riff Cold War politics." There were hardly any references to the Soviets in the series beyond maybe the occassional village resident speaking some Slavic language, and, indeed, one of the more interesting aspects of the show is that it was never clear who was running the Village (whether it was "Us" or "Them"). But, I guess maybe the whole spy-rock, intelligence/counter-intelligence vibe was born out of the Cold War. Much like how the Village was a prison in disguise, I do think that underneath its thin spy adventure veneer the original series was really interested in exploring modern man's relationship with society and the interplay between personal freedom and the authority of the State. So these "21st century concerns" they mention were really already present in the old series. Nevertheless, I think it will be interesting (if the miniseries goes there) to see how our ideas about "liberty, security, and surveillance" have changed between the Cold War and the War on terrorism.

Likewise, I'm curious to see how they will update the Prisoner: some aspects of the old series really do seem dated (let's hope for less kooky brainwashing devices, for example), and its clear from some of the props that they were working with a limited British TV series budget (think of classic Doctor Who). So I'm looking forward to seeing the series reimagined with modern special effects and movie production values.

The press release also describes the original Prisoner as "enigmatic" and "the 60s thiller that no-one could work out." Fair enough, I guess, based on the finale alone (in that post, I referred to it as "kind of an unwatchable mindfuck"), but I just hope that this isn't an indication that they're planning on eschewing the original's air of surrealism and mystery and dumbing things down.


One of the elements that most stood out in the Prisoner was its setting: location work was filmed in the Welsh resort town of Portmeirion whose postmodern jumble of architecturally diverse buildings added to the surreal aesthetic of the Village. The producers of Prisoner 2.0 decided to make a decisive departure from the original here and to film on location in South Africa and Namibia. At first I thought this smacked of blasphemy, but – you know – I understand how they wanted to reenvision the Prisoner, and thus it was probably a good move to escape from the shadow of the original back in Portmeirion.

The ITV/AMC team are creating their new version of the Village in the seaside resort of Swakopmund, Namibia which dates back to the German colonial era. This is the same town where baby Shiloh Nouvelle was born. You can find some cool photos and information about production and location shoots on the AMC Prisoner website, although I must say that they're pretty stingy about giving you any clue about what the series is going to look like. They do mention how #2's home in the Village is called "Palais Two" which I think is kind of groovy. The production designer says the Village will be an eclectic mix of influences, and the costume designer promises an ethereal mix of retro and contemporary fashion for the characters. Also, there will be sand dunes. I half remember seeing a "what's coming up on AMC" promo on TV which featured some shots from the upcoming Prisoner. I want to say the most interesting part featured the Prisoner running among identical little pink beach houses, but don't quote me on this.


In Prisoner 2.0, the protagonist ("the prisoner", aka #6) will be played by Jim Caveizel. Caveizel is probably most famous for his turn as Jesus in Mel Gibson's Passion of The Christ which I still haven't seen even though Monica Belluci is in it. But I have seen him in The Thin Red Line and this movie Frequency with Dennis Quaid where they can communicate across time using a ham radio (that might sound stupid, but it was actually a pretty decent flick). From what I remember he was pretty good in those pictures, and let us remember that just because he was Mel's Jesus doesn't mean he shares in Mel's crazy. Oh wow, he was also in that J Lo movie Angel Eyes (when will we get some more stupid J Lo movies??).

Caveizel is American, but an interesting fact is that he's of Romansh heritage. Romansh is one of the four official languages of the Swiss Confederation, a Rhaeto-Romance language (and thus related to other Neolatin languages like Italian, French and Spanish) which is probably spoken by less than 70,000 people.

The single most exciting piece of news about this miniseries, however, is the Sir Ian McKellen is going to play #2! #2 is the man who ostensibly controls the Village on behalf of the shadowy Powers that Be (the fact that he is called #2 of course begs the question "Who is #1?"). He is the eternal antagonist who can either be paternal or cruel and who often locks #6 in a battle of wits. Ian McKellen is of course an awesome actor (has anyone else scene the movie version of Richard III where he plays Shakespeare's king as a fascist leader in 1930s England?) so the chance to see him play the villainous #2 is really reason enough to tune in.

Will I Watch?

Like I said, they had me as soon as I heard Ian McKellen was signed on. I'm also intrigued by the African locations, and I find the assurances that it will be surreal to be promising. I just hope that they don't dumb down the series and that they retain its philosophical themes. We'll have to tune in to see if the story is as good as the casting, and until then you can check out this website for news on the status of the remake.

Images (c) American Movie Classics LLC


Kevin said...

Dang, I didn't realize Monica Bellucci was in 'Passion of the Christ'. I might actually have to watch it now. In 'Malena' I think she was as hot as is humanly possible. I don't think anything tops that, not even my dreamgirl Salma, and that's going a ways.

I think Caviezel (or however you spell it) may be a bit kooky as well. As I recall, he's uber-religious and had some objections to having to kiss his co-star in 'Count of Monte Cristo' because he's married and didn't want to commit adultery, or something like that.

I've never seen 'The Prisoner' but I've heard about it, so now I'm pretty curious to see what it's like.

Meeg said...

I know! Monica Belluci plays Mary Magdalen but I think her part is pretty small.

I didn't know about Caveizel, but apparently he is a devout Catholic and publicly opposes stem cell research. But he and his wife also adopted two children so that is good I guess.