In Defense of a Modern "Prisoner"
I am a big fan of Patrick McGoohan's 1967 cult classic, The Prisoner. In fact, next year it will have been 20 year since I first saw the iconic show on CBC right here in Saskatchewan. (though I was living in the southern part of the province) When the final episode was played I was the only one at the school I was attending watching it and I recall trying to explain what had happened. (I started off as the only one at episode one and the crowds picked up as it progressed until the final episode) Trent and I began quoting it to one another. When I came home to British Columbia I was trying to explain to my friends about this odd, surreal, enigmatic show that had something to say but was less than forthcoming with the message.
It was in 1992 that I introduced the show to my friend Geo and my other friends followed. The Prisoner is the sort of show you can direct anti-television people to and show them that television is capable of producing artistically, socially and culturally worthwhile contributions to society. It remains relevant today, despite the Cold War backdrop. The Prisoner is one of those shows a person would think shouldn't be remade: and yet it has been. Sort of.
When I first heard that a Prisoner mini-series starring Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ, The Thin Red Line and The Count of Monte Cristo) and Ian McKellen was being made, I had my reservations. However, I decided to reserve judgement asidefrom asserting that it was really not a show that needed to be remade. Unlike a show such as Battlestar Galactica, I couldn't see how someone could "re-imagine" The Prisoner. The original Battlestar was a bad show so remaking it, or "re-imagining" it actually made for a better series in terms of concept, writing, casting, acting and even the music.
Remaking or "re-imagining" The Prisoner is a trickier proposition. First, you are dealing with a how that is considered a classic of the medium, of science fiction and even spy fiction. The Prisoner wasn't a slapped together program to run between adveristments, it was apersonal work with one direction and one agenda. Regardles of how receive the message of the series, it has one and it tries to force to the viewer to think about it. People discuss it, hash it out, puzzle over it with one another. The original Battlestar Galactica was what it was and that was extremely straight forward. In this respect, writer Brian Gallagher and director Nick Hurran should be commended for tackling a much more ambitious and challenging project.
2009's The Prisoner will not have the staying power of the original, it will be a footnote, a sidebar in the history of the original but that doesn't make it entirely unworthy. It doesn't attempt to readdress the theme of the original the way the original did - to reassert the same conclusion - but seems (to me) to look at what the nature of freedom and imprisonment is under certain circumstances. This new Prisoner is much more concerned with madness itself, rather than madness as a by product of imprisonment, or as a tool to keep ones imprisonment. I won't say much more, you should see it for yourself and come to your own conclusions.
Not that it isn't expected, but the reviews of the new Prisoner neglect to see if it stands on its own merits. I believe it does.