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A&E Home Video presents
The Prisoner: Set 2—Vol. 3& 4 (1967)

Number Six: What do you want?
Number Two: Information.
Number Six: You won't get it.
Number Two: We will. By hook or by crook, we will.

- Patrick McGoohan, Peter Wyngarde

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: October 21, 2000

Stars: Patrick McGoohan, Peter Wyngarde, Leo McKern
Other Stars: Angelo Muscat, Peter Swanick
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (psychological drama)
Run Time: 03h:21m:06s
Release Date: October 31, 2000
UPC: 733961701388
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A+B+B B+

DVD Review

Many consider the 1967 television series The Prisoner as one of the greatest achievements seen on the small screen. Though only 17 episodes were produced, each one shows a meticulous care in crafting and storytelling virtually unseen on television since. I first encountered The Prisoner, like many, through one of its many late-night re-showings on some local station when I was very young. While it might not be for everyone, the series is a brilliant combination of many concepts around a single, paranoid fantasy. It's been almost too long a wait, but now that the series is headed back out on DVD, hopefully more and more people will experience this amazing effort in storytelling.

Patrick McGoohan portrays 'Number Six', a mystery man whose real name isn't known to us. When we are introduced to him (through the first episode and the intro sequence to each successive installment), it is implied that he is some kind of super spy or covert agent for the British government. He resigns from his job, but before he can move on with his life, he's gassed and wakes to find himself in a strange but peaceful place, known only as "The Village." In The Village, everyone is numbered: Number Two is the person in charge, and is responsible for rehabilitating and interrogating the other members of The Village. For what exact purpose is the ultimate mystery of the series, as is the identity of the final master, Number One. In the case of The Prisoner, Number One wants to know why Number Six resigned from his job and what secrets he may be hiding. Number Six must continually use his cunning to not only avoid having his secrets exposed, but also to escape—regardless how beautiful and organized The Village is, it's still a prison where you are constantly watched and forced to conform to certain personality styles. Should anyone try to escape, their efforts are almost immediately foiled by a system of surreal, balloon-like devices that emerge from the sea surrounding and take the escapee back.

So, where is This Village? Who are the captors? What is their motivation? Who are the other "Villagers"? These are but a few of the questions that this daring and radical series leads us to ask, but may not always deliver the answers we want. The core of the series has Number Six fending off attempts at revealing why he resigned and constantly coming up with elaborate plans to escape, or at the very least gain more understanding as to what forces control and lead The Village. The Village itself is an amazing, picturesque locale filled with a sense of joy and holiday fun that belittles its actual, dark purpose. Bicycle taxis are covered with colorful canvases; most residents wear bright, happy clothing. Restful, unstoppable music is blared everywhere, even in private apartments. Residents are often encouraged (i.e. forced) to participate in artistic endeavors or local elections, all of which are, of course, simply fake events in order to give the illusion of normalcy. One would consider this an ideal spot for vacation; unfortunately it's the kind of vacation that might be, unhappily, permanent.

The second box set of The Prisoner contains 4 episodes:
In Checkmate, Number Six discovers a bizarre connection between a game of live chess played on The Village grounds and one of Number Two's rehabilitation programs. If Number Six pretends to be a Village Guardian, could he perhaps dominate the rehabilitated pawns?
The Chimes of Big Ben (often hailed as one of the series' hallmark episodes) presents Number Six with an interesting quandary: If he could find out where The Village was on Earth, would it assist his escape? A mysterious new prisoners may actually know the answer....
In A, B, and C, Number Two decides to secretly use a bizarre drug treatment to force Number Six to reveal information about 3 key figures in his past life, the figures known as "A", "B", and "C". Number Six eventually realizes what's going on and tries to figure out a way to resist, but will he be able to...?
Finally, The General finds Number Six involved in a strange. new Village-wide experiment called "Speedlearn", a subliminal education process that allows you to take years of courses in a few minutes. Of course, its ultimate purpose is questionable and Number Six wants the answers.

For years there has been debate over which order the episodes should be shown. The original broadcast order of 1-17 is in question, since some elements of the series don't make sense in this order. In an attempt to please the fans, A&E seems to have relied on popular input to rearrange the episodes into a "fan approved" sequence. However, people who have never seen The Prisoner should be assured that once you know the basic plot details of the series, every episode is entirely self-contained. The only recurring characters are, essentially, Number Six and Number Two—but Number Two is played by different actors, because as each one fails, he is replaced. This makes the entire series very accessible, even when viewed out of preferred order. And with that, I leave you, the readers, to go out and experience The Prisoner yourselves. As Number Six would say, "Be seeing you."

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: All four episodes show some obvious aging, but the transfer itself is highest quality. There is excellent restoration in the color balance and black level is surprisingly sharp and deep. No artifacts, pixelization, or movement are detectable at any point. This will easily please any fan's scrutinizing eye.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The most noticeable part of the audio is, unfortunately, what seems to be something of a minor glitch. The episodes Chimes of Big Ben and The General seem to have a strange, flattening, filter effect applied to them, unintentionally I assume. A "flanging" effect makes the clarity and timbre of the audio constantly go up and down. This isn't really noticeable when a scene is just dialogue, but any music or lengthy sound effect obviously shows the problem. The best way to explain it (without one hearing it) would be like placing a cardboard tube over your front channel speakers, and then removing it at various intervals. How much this will effect the viewing will pretty much depend on the person, but in my opinion it's certainly a noteworthy flaw, and I don't remember the audio problem on the VHS versions of these episodes. The problem effects the entirety of Chimes of Big Ben and begins about 10 minutes into The General. Otherwise, the other two episodes sound fine and have a surprisingly clear and pristine audio transfer in 2 channel Mono. The audio problem isn't drastic, but some fans might find it more of an annoyance than others.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 6 cues and remote access
4 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Trivia Game
  2. Map of "Your Village"
  3. Promotional stills
Extras Review: Each disc contains the original broadcast trailers for the episodes, a trivia game, photo stills, and a scrolling map of The Village. The Trivia Game is a pretty average, multiple choice sort in which you're asked various questions about the episodes. Whether you get the answers correct or not, not a lot happens and it's not particularly exciting.

The Village map is a nice addition, and seems to have been taken directly from the map created by The Prisoner Appreciation Society, a British fan organization. In fact, The Village is an actual location in Wales—obviously not named the same or used for the nefarious purposes of the series—but a real resort nonetheless.

A series of photo stills from each episode can be found, though very few of them are production-oriented. Most are promotional screenshots from the actual footage. Some of the photos, however, are labeled strangely. While they go numerically for the most part (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), some are numbered 58 or 36, out of order. At first I thought this was a reference to the characters in the photos, but it wasn't. If there is a reference or joke here, I didn't get. Perhaps you'll have better luck.

The packaging, menu design, and presentation are all top notch. The art design could have gone much further, but instead is wisely conservative, establishing a distinctly accurate theme for the rest of the discs to follow. There are even a few behind-the-scenes tidbits and trivia about the episodes written on the back of the keepcases. Perhaps the final tribute to The Prisoner is how the classic "Village font" is used for just about everything textual.

Each episode has 6 chapter stops, which works out fine. Fans will also be pleased to note that the episodes are complete, rather than A&E taking the opening text and closing text and bookending them all together—they are all complete in broadcast form. Also, don't worry: the alternate, pilot version of Chimes of Big Ben (part of the old VHS set) is available as a "bonus" in the first box set.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

I will freely admit that I'm highly critical of the fact that A&E is milking this franchise out onto multiple discs. Considering the technology available, such as DVD-18, ONE set of 3-4 discs could have packaged the entire series easily. As it is, the entire Prisoner series will cost FAR more to own now than it realistically should and fans who've already payed top dollar for the now ultra-rare VHS set may think twice about this upgrade. This complaint aside, A&E is not shoving garbage out the door. The discs look to be, so far, very well made and certainly up to standards that the obsessed fans can appreciate. Hopefully someday the Prisoner movie project that Patrick McGoohan has been planning for years might actually happen, especially with new attention payed to the DVDs. Highly recommended.

 


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