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The Prisoner on Blu-Ray

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Uncompromisingly strange, eerily timeless and periodically disturbing, the 1967 British series The Prisoner has rarely been equaled. It runs for seventeen episodes, and you’ll be checking the woodwork for hidden microphones before you get half way through it.

The nameless protagonist of the tale, presumably a former British spy now resigned, is kidnapped and wakes up in The Village. None of the inhabitants thereof have names, only numbers. He finds himself addressed as number six. He quickly learns that it’s impossible to know which of his neighbors are prisoners, and which are jailers. Sometimes they change sides. Most of them appear to be interested in messing with his head.

By the end of the first episode, number six’s level of paranoia has risen to an order of magnitude best measured on the Richter scale.

For a production with almost half a century on its clock, The Prisoner appears remarkably contemporary. The computers therein have spinning tape drives and there are a disturbing number of lava lamps dotted about its interiors, but its story lines are compelling. Its themes of deception, individuality, identity theft, the inability to trust anyone and the malevolent influence of an overwhelming, omnipresent government could have been written last week.

In addition to its flawless sets and oftentimes chilling performances, The Prisoner was technically well put together. The earlier DVD release of this series – which occupied enough shelf space to house a family of four in relative comfort – offered video of moderate quality and periodic hiccups. The high-definition Blu-Ray release, restored by Network DVD, is laser sharp, and just about flawless. It appears as much better video than the original audiences of these programs would have enjoyed when it was first broadcast. Nobody save for its original film editor has hitherto seen it like this.

One of the noteworthy aspects of The Prisoner is the quality of its sets. Unlike most television drama of the period, it wasn’t filmed on a sound stage. Most of it is set on the grounds of the Hotel Portmeirion in north Wales, albeit with odd camera angles to make it seem somewhat more claustrophobic than it really is. As such, if you find yourself hugely enamored of the show, you can visit The Village to this day. As a rule, the management of the Hotel Portmeirion will not hunt you down with homicidal weather balloons if you stray too far up the beach.

It’s probably worth noting that The Prisoner was remade as a short mini-series which aired on AMC in 2009 – they’re not the same show.

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