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Hercules Likens AMC’s New Six-Hour PRISONER To Punishment!!

I am – Hercules!!
A pokey, unconvincing and lackluster re-imagining of the imagination-firing 1967 series, AMC’s new version of “The Prisoner” proves a colossal disappointment. The brainchild of veteran BBC writer-producer Bill Gallagher (“Conviction,” “Lark Rise To Candleford”), the new version gets nowhere near the angry genius of the Patrick McGoohan original and its first two hours quickly dissipate any hope engendered by the inspired casting of Ian McKellen as the new Number Two – or the original-programming track record of AMC, which gave us the acclaimed 2006 miniseries “Broken Trail” before it moved on to the terrific “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” Quality aside, the biggest differences between the old and new series? The title character, Number Six, is this time led to believe from the get-go that memories of his old life in Manhattan are delusions, and that civilization does not exist beyond the miles of desert surrounding his isolated municipality, known only as The Village. (Six may be delusional, or he may be under the influence of hypnosis and/or hallucinogens, or something else entirely.) Six remembers not being a rogue British superspy, but an American analyst who recently resigned from a cutting-edge security company called Summakor. The 2009 Village (created by producers this time in Southern Africa rather than a seaside resort in Wales) seems considerably larger than the 1967 Village, and has only the one Number Two rather than a rotating series of Twos. The scripting, which favors lengthy, ambiguity-swollen speechmaking over the witty, urgent give-and-take that suited McGoohan and his antagonists so well, is the main culprit. Gallagher's characters aren’t interesting and too often avoid asking simple questions that would occur to any of us in the same circumstances. Intriguing things happen occasionally, but not nearly often enough to sustain interest. Mysteries are presented, but their resolutions are seldom satisfying. (Many viewers may be tempted to sit though the full six hours just to learn what’s doing with those mirage-like crystal twin towers that seem to be situated far outside The Village; I’m here to tell you they’re not worth the wait.) This version also offers little of the original series’ sense of humor. I doubt any actor could make this material work, but the comparatively bland American actor Jim Caviezel makes a particularly disastrous substitute for McGoohan and brings none of his predecessor’s all-important theatrical charisma. McKellen, who seldom does TV, is wasted; he could do wonders with the any of the Village rulers as scripted in the original series, but this 21st century Number Two is the least involving character McKellen’s undertaken in some time.

If you’ve not yet seen McGoohan’s 1967 original, I implore you to at least seek out its first mesmerizing episode, “Arrival.” If by episode’s conclusion you can walk away with no compulsion to follow further the adventures of McGoohan’s Six, I judge your willpower superior to mine. It’s far more likely you’ll follow the series to its strange and fascinating conclusion, and be glad you did. It’s also likely you’ll not get beyond the first night of the Caviezel version, and you should be glad for that as well. Entertainment Weekly says:
… lacks the wit and zip of the original Prisoner. That one, co-created by its star, Patrick McGoohan, is one of the rare pieces of cult television that really holds up. … Gallagher has said that the original's theme is old hat, and he wanted to deal with our current “obsession with self.” Ick. That's exactly what's wrong with the new Prisoner: It's self-absorbed to the point of incoherence.
TV Guide says:
… This reimagined version, which feels a bit old hat in a post-Matrix fantasy landscape, is more leaden, pretentious and solemn, a tone embodied by Caviezel’s brooding Six, who’s more dour than dashing. And as marvelous as McKellen is, I miss the whimsy of a different Two popping up each week, keeping Six even further off balance. …
Time Magazine says:
… This hallucinatory hermeticism makes for an ambitious, sinister narrative, but often a disjointed and pretentious one. If it's not always clear what's dream and what's reality in the Village, it's also not always clear what's complexity and what's affectation in The Prisoner. And it doesn't help that Caviezel's blank, charmless performance gives us no real anchor or connection with his quest. …
USA Today says:
… Obscurity is no longer a novelty — and this thuddingly pretentious adaptation of The Prisoner has little else to offer. … Yet much has changed, and virtually every change writer/producer Bill Gallagher has imposed on the story weakens it. You can forgive him for assigning Number Two, which rotated among actors in the original, to McKellen alone, because without McKellen to watch, there'd be no reason to watch at all. But the essential change in theme and the dampening of the hero (played so stirringly in 1968 by the show's creator, Patrick McGoohan) is pretty much fatal. … That might not matter from hour to hour if Caviezel were able to hold our attention. But he's so lifeless, you begin to wonder whether giving him a number rather than a name wasn't an appropriate choice. It's a joyless, whiny performance that both underscores and undercuts the story's obvious Wizard of Oz parallels.
The New York Times says:
… a clever and engaging reinterpretation … Humor is in the details. Villagers avidly watch a lurid television soap opera titled “Wonkers,” in which the characters also refer to themselves by the numbers. (A blonde whispers huskily to her bedmate, “465, I’m leaving you.” ) Village food is served in wraps, even desserts. A character tells Six that something is “as sweet as a honey nut wrap.” Throughout, homage is paid to Mr. McGoohan’s oeuvre in small hints and humorous asides, as well as catchphrases like “be seeing you.” … It’s unlikely to prove as lasting, but the new series still manages to be thrilling.
The Los Angeles Times says:
… why anyone, on either side of the screen, should be particularly interested in [Six’s] fate, is never made clear nor compelling. Neither as written nor as played does the character ever seem solid enough to root for or worry over. … the payoff is weak, and more than a bit daffy. Little here resonates with this world. …
The Chicago Tribune says:
… frequently too choppy and elliptical to build up much suspense or dramatic impact. … At times, the new “Prisoner” is frustratingly cryptic. But when a character says “No one is without guilt, we just have to find out what it is they’re guilty of,” (in an episode titled “Anvil,” no less), it’s too obvious and melodramatic. …
The Chicago Sun-Times says:
… For art's sake, I tried to stick with the psychological thriller to the end, so that I could at last console myself by saying, "So THAT's it." But, my friends, that moment never came. … Maybe you can appreciate this series without the fear that you will be expected to write a thesis on it. But I urge you to heed my advice: Opt out while you can. …
The Washington Post says:
… McKellen is smooth and cool, with no wasted movements, while Caviezel expends the frenzied energy of a man assigned to swat a thousand flies. He's not interesting as camera subject or as presence, and his three or four expressions grow tiresome by the end of the show's first-of-six hours. What may keep viewers hooked is the promise of McKellen returning, just around the next corner. Caviezel as Six races from confrontation to confrontation, the script being largely a series of foot chases alternating with long conversations that ought to be shorter …
The San Francisco Chronicle says:
… "The Prisoner" is not compelling. It rambles too much. Its vagaries are not interesting, its unorthodox storytelling not special enough. And, in the sixth hour, when viewers do get some kind of definitive resolution to the story (which they didn't get in the original), the first question out of their mouths might be, "I watched six hours for that?" …
The Philadelphia Inquirer says:
… like "V" (so far), it doesn't seem to have as much to say. … turns out to be little more than a grim fairy tale, its ultimate message a bit muddled, but not in a way that makes me want to spend the next few decades trying to figure it out. …
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says:
… Over six hours, "The Prisoner" tests our patience, demands too much of our attention and spends far too many minutes aboard a bus bouncing around the vast sand dunes of Namibia. … The conclusion is that a great cast and a singular location can't carry a scattershot script that goes in and out of focus. The novelty of the original, while it wore off quickly, made 1967 viewers see more than what was really there. The failure of its spawn is that while it gives us so much to look at, there's really nothing to see.
The Newark Star Ledger says:
… six hours is at least four hours too long for me to sit through something this intentionally bizarre, something where plot logic or simple human logic is often accidental at best. Perhaps I'd abide the weirdness if I were more invested in the fate of the surveillance expert known as Six … But Caviezel's range — or, at least, what he's allowed to play here — doesn't extend much past "sweaty and bewildered" …
The San Jose Mercury News says:
… undermined by a ponderous pace and a less-than-charismatic performance by lead actor Jim Caviezel … By the third or fourth hour, "The Prisoner" begins to get so monotonous and repetitive that you might start feeling like an inmate yourself. That's what happens when a concept has promise, but the numbers don't add up. …
The Boston Herald says:
… A tired, listless remake, AMC’s “The Prisoner” is six hours of sand, bleating, pleading and Jim Caviezel’s blank face. … When the answers finally start hitting in hour six Tuesday night, viewers may feel exasperated. Backtrack, slide the pieces together and it’s hard not to feel angry with a production that wasn’t more adventurous with its premise. It’s obvious why AMC decided to burn this series off in three nights. If it had aired it, say, in weekly installments, the audience dropoff might have set records. …
The Boston Globe says:
… Alas, McKellen isn’t alchemist enough to transform such a leaden piece of work into gold. Based on the far more entertaining and whimsical 1967 Patrick McGoohan series, the AMC remake is numbingly paced, heavy-handed, aimless, and humorless. Worst of all, there’s not a single character in the cold, visually cliched world created by director Nick Hurran who evokes sympathy or enduring interest. After three nights (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday) steeped in the gnawing mystery that surrounds these people, you still might not care at all about the climactic What It All Means. … For the characters and for the viewers, the miniseries is a plodding excursion on the road to nowhere.
Variety says:
… features striking images and arresting moments but can't overcome a persistent lack of coherence. Granted, Ian McKellen could hold an audience by reading from a dictionary; it's just that at times he sounds as if he is, for all the good the script does in bringing clarity to the mystery.… the weakest link here is Caviezel, whose perpetually baffled character is deficient in steely resolve. Inasmuch as we see the Village through his eyes, it's a major drawback -- though the jumpiness of the script does leave the "Passion of the Christ" star with another kind of cross to bear. …
8 p.m. Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. AMC.
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