A&E // 1968 // 885 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // November 11th, 2009
No man is just a number.
Just in time for the AMC network's remake/reimagining of The Prisoner starring Jim Caviezel and Sir Ian McKellan, the '60s cult classic TV show gets the hi-def treatment.
Here are the 17 episodes that make up The Prisoner: The Complete Series, spread out over five discs:
"Arrival" After resigning from his job as a government spy, Number Six (Patrick McGoohan, Braveheart) arrives at The Village, a bizarre sort of prison for individuals with highly classified knowledge. The man in charge is known only as Number Two, who lays down the new law for Number Six and demonstrates one of The Village's security systems -- a huge, floating white balloon that picks up and traps anyone trying to make a getaway.
"The Chimes of Big Ben"
Number Six befriends a woman named Nadia, a new resident of The Village who is able to provide him with a few more clues as to where he's actually being held. Together, the two conspire to make an escape -- an escape that involves Number Six entering an art show to please Number Two.
"A, B, and C"
The new Number Two begins using an experimental drug on Number Six to get information, leading to a series of dream sequences in which we learn some of Number Six's back story -- namely, how he came to meet the three people who go by the names A, B and C.
"Free for All"
Up for consideration as the new Number Two, Number Six embarks on an campaign to be elected built on empty promises in the hopes that he'll be able to find out more about the current Number Two and, more importantly, just who Number One is after all.
"The Schizoid Man"
Number Two wakes up to some major changes in The Village: his apartment is gone, he's no longer left-handed and is no longer Number Six but Number Twelve. The only clue to the puzzle is a mysterious bruise on his finger.
Number Six teams with a professor charged with developing a new speed-learning process for The Village General, but their plans to team against Number Two and The General go awry.
"Many Happy Returns"
Number Six awakens to find The Village empty and attempts an oceanic escape, only to be thwarted by pirates who rob him of his supplies. He's able to make it back to London, only to discover his apartment is now occupied by an old woman who's hiding more than she lets on.
"Dance of the Dead"
Number Six finds the body of a dead man and, hoping for rescue, attaches a note to the body and sends it out to sea. Meanwhile, another resident of The Village is spying on Number Six and reporting back his findings to Number Two.
Number Six is forced to play a human chess game in which rule breaking has dangerous consequences; Number Two assigns a woman to fall in love with Number Six so that he can be spied upon with a hidden listening device.
"Hammer Into Anvil"
Number Six swears revenge on Number Two after a woman is pushed to suicide, resulting in a series of elaborate mind games played by both parties on one another.
"It's Your Funeral"
Number Six sets out to foil an assassination plot, but the target isn't exactly who he thought; a new Number Two takes over.
"A Change of Mind"
Number Six is forced to endure a series of tests and mind games after an altercation who two men in The Village; Number Six tries to enlist a doctor into helping him take down Number Two.
"Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling"
Number Six's brain is transferred into the body of another man and let off the island to track down a scientist who has gone missing.
"Living in Harmony"
Number Six wakes up as a town sheriff in the Old West and is forced to fight back when the townspeople begin killing one another.
"The Girl Who Was Death"
Number Six is charged with infiltrating the hideout of a scientist and his daughter (Justine Lord), who have both gone crazy and possibly killed an army colonel.
"Once Upon a Time"
A frustrated Number Two has finally had enough and challenges Number Six to "Degree Absolute," a contest in which the loser forfeits his life.
In the final episode of the series, Number Six is finally brought to see Number One -- but things aren't exactly as they would seem (if you can believe it).
I had never seen an episode of The Prisoner prior to sitting down to watch the entire series on Blu-ray for the purposes of this review. All I knew was that it was a very '60s, very cultish, very unique and very beloved series. Having now seen the entire show, I can say with some confidence that it is all those things -- and that it's all kinds of cool. It's the original TV mindbender, a show light years ahead of its time in the ways in which it twists its narrative, bucks convention and raises questions it may never be interested in answering. Shows like Twin Peaks and particularly Lost owe a tremendous debt to The Prisoner.
However, it's difficult to really talk about the merits of The Prisoner while avoiding specifics, and I'd like to avoid discussing specifics because the element of surprise is one of the series' strongest suits. To be totally honest (for once in my life; typically, my reviews are filled with outright lies), I'm not sure how well I'd be able to discuss the specifics of The Prisoner even if I wanted to, largely because I'm not one hundred percent sure of how well I understand the show. I've got my own reading of it, sure, but immediately after finishing it I knew that it's the kind of series that requires a second and possibly third viewing before I'd be comfortable with my understanding of it. I mean this all as a compliment; while there are plenty of films and TV series that seek to disorient as a distraction from their own meandering hollowness, The Prisoner is the "good" kind of confusing -- the kind where you feel comfortable and safe in the hands of the creators because you know that there is some thought (and, even better, an endgame) behind all the mystery.
Not every episode of the series works, of course. For a show that's already pretty out-there, there are a few instances where The Prisoner actually goes too far: "Living in Harmony" (in which Number Six is transported to the Old West) and "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" are examples of individual episodes that feel out of place. Though there is an attempt to work them into the overall arc of the series, they feel a bit too much like one-offs -- diversions that are too fantastic for a show that's already deeply entrenched in the fantastic. If the series had run longer (like, say, for several seasons -- which I'm not necessarily advocating), individual flights of fancy like this might be more tolerable. But when you've only got 17 episodes in which to tell your story, you can hardly devote the time to shows that ultimately don't pay off. Thankfully, these are the exception and not the rule.
Whether you're a long-time fan or are brand new to The Prisoner, you're likely to be pretty knocked out by The Prisoner: The Complete Series on Blu-ray. The 17 original episodes are presented in an AVC-encoded, 1080p 1.33:1 full frame transfer that looks terrific. Sure, there are some flaws and defects as a result of the show's age (it's 40 years old), but colors are bright and bold and brilliant and detail is well-rendered for the most part. There are many shots that look like they could have been filmed last week -- the transfer is more often than not able to overcome the age of the source. A 5.1 surround track is the only audio option, which may disappoint some fans looking either for a lossless track or the show's original mono track. As someone new to the series, I was fine with the 5.1 track; it delivers the dialogue clearly and gives a nice boost to the show's score (particularly that opening theme, which I failed to get sick of even after 17 episodes).
The Prisoner: The Complete Series comes well-stacked with extras, too. There are commentary tracks for seven shows from a number of the original creative crew; while I wasn't able to listen to all seven in their entirety, I sampled each and found them to be interesting and detail-oriented -- probably for the most hardcore fans only. The original cuts for both "The Chimes of Big Ben" and "The Arrival" (with an alternate score) are included, allowing patient viewers to spot the differences between the original cuts and the ones that eventually aired. A short featurette on the restoration of "The Arrival" can also be viewed.
The best extra of the set appears on the fifth disc (which is actually a Standard-def DVD and not Blu-ray): it's a feature-length retrospective documentary on The Prisoner called "Don't Knock Yourself Out." While many of the extra features on the set are very specific and tailored more to the die-hard fan, "Don't Knock Yourself Out" can be enjoyed by just about anyone with an interest not just in The Prisoner, but in any kind of serialized television. The documentary provides an even greater appreciation for the show and the impact it would eventually have. Even if you skip every other bonus feature, you owe it to yourself to watch this one.
Also on the fifth disc are two more featurettes: a jokey piece called "The Pink Prisoner" and "You Make Sure it Fits," a piece covering the series' excellent music. Keeping with that theme, the disc includes an option to listen to three different versions of the theme song; it's a neat experiment (and a bit of history), though I have to say I like the one they went with best. A short piece advertising the new AMC remake of The Prisoner can be found on this disc, too. I've got a hard time believing it will be anywhere near as good as the original, but I liked the show enough to consider giving it a shot.
Appearing on each of the discs in the set are a collection of trailers for episodes and some original commercial break bumpers.
As someone who also just recently fell in love with that other landmark sci-fi series of the 1960s (the one with the Vulcans and Tribbles), I was blown away by The Prisoner; it's working on another level. I'm not saying it's a better show, just a very, very different one (so different that I'd say we've yet to see another one like it, though Lost does try to come close). It's so unique and ahead of its time that it doesn't just hold up, but rather achieves timelessness. Fans of challenging, compelling TV series (the kind we've gotten spoiled by in the 2000s) ought to check The Prisoner: The Complete Series out, and this Blu-ray release provides a gorgeous, comprehensive way to do so. This is a great presentation of a great show.
Not guilty. Let Number Six go.
Review content copyright © 2009 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 885 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Archival Material
* Music-only Track
* Photo Galleries
* Official AMC site
* Official AMC Remake site