This is a special edition of Look! It Moves! by screenplay reader Adi Tantimedh, one day early, as AMC’s The Prisoner is airing in the USA tonight.And he wanted to warn you…
The Prisoner… of Crappy Remakes
Let’s get this out of the way: THE PRISONER remake is shit. Pointless, generic shit.
Yes, it’s pretty-looking and expensive and shot in Sunny South Africa with decent actors, but it is shit. It’s shit because it either completely fails to understand what the original Sixties version was really about or it just violently disagreed enough with it to use the superficial elements to repute what the Sixties version wanted to say.
Which kind of defeats the whole point of the story in the first place. Why remake a popular story if you’re going to toss everything that people liked about the original under the bus? The catchphrase and key theme of the original show was Number Six’ weekly decree, “I am not a number, I am a free man!” In an interview in last week’s New York Times, the writer of the remake said he felt the need to modify that sentiment into something more, moderate, less individualist, more… community-minded.
So the credo of the remake is, “I am not a number, but I want to be a member of a nice community that gets along with each other!”
Is it just me or is this the most mush-brained load of touchy-feely Hollywood liberal bollocks we’ve heard this month? It completely misses the point the original made that the “community” in the Village was a construct created to control the people, and would need to be destroyed in order to achieve freedom not just for the hero, but everyone.
From a pure business point of view, it makes sense to want to remake an old TV show or movie that was popular, but it’s not good business sense to remake it in a way that’s duller and less visually interesting than the original. The original version was distinguished by the surreal Welsh resort location and the English university fashions the prisoners were forced to wear. The new version is set in a dull-looking gated suburban community in sun-bleached South Africa and everyone is forced to wear bland J. Crew-type fashions and the whole thing looks about two steps away from one of those incredibly dull and forgettable Calvin Klein adverts from the 90s. The original Prisoner was also distinguished by Patrick McGoohan’s barely-suppressed rage as he refuses to suffer any of the indignities inflicted upon him. The remake has the earnest Jim Caviezel looking wide-eyed and panicked like a guy who’s freaking out that his car has been unfairly towed. It seems to be the current Hollywood way, to have a hero looking wide-eyed and open-mouthed, as if he doesn’t understand why all this shit is happening to him and wishes it would just stop. McGoohan’s Number Six knew exactly why they were doing shit to him and wasn’t going to just sit down and take it. His plan was to escape and then return to bring down the whole Village so they couldn’t oppress anyone else again. I really don’t understand this need by Hollywood – and now Britain drama – to present “vulnerability” like a badge of honour, a shift from “fuck you” to “save me”, in heroes. I was so bored I tried to imagine this as a kind of afterlife sequel to THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST where Number Jeezus is trapped in a kind of yuppy Purgatory. Even that didn’t make it any less boring.
One big difference between British and American genre dramas is a cultural one: the British have a serious distrust and irreverence for authority and conformity while Hollywood is obsessed with conformity. The best British dramas are often prickly, deliberately rough and not shy about their politics, which is a problem when Hollywood wants to remake them, since Hollywood feels compelled to iron out the prickliness and water down the politics into totally innocuous and bland, which robs the story of what made it interesting in the first place. The original BBC version of STATE OF PLAY, for instance, was concerned with journalistic ethics, culpability, realpolitik and sly underdog rebellion while the Hollywood remake reduced it to just another whodunit. Hollywood liberalism is at heart more conservative than British or European liberalism and is often deathly afraid of ideas that support overthrowing the status quo, since there’s an underlying belief that this Is the best of all worlds and there are only a few flaws that need to be worked out. You’re not going to find a US network show expressing the kind of naked rage and anti-government sentiment that was in TORCHWOOD: CHILDREN OF EARTH.
I remember reading the surprisingly candid accounts about the development of the JUDGE DREDD movie in the out of-print making-of book published by Titan years ago. Virtually every writer brought on to script the adaptation were disturbed by the fact that Judge Dredd was an outright fascist upholding a fascist future system, and tried their damnedest to water it down or temper him, that maybe he’s a nice guy after all, or he could learn to be a nicer guy by the movie’s end. They didn’t want to portray Dredd as uncompromisingly as he was in the comics for fear of being accused of being fascists themselves. They didn’t seem able to deal with the fact that Dredd was a satire with all comforting safety nets removed, lacking in mercy and reassurance. Hollywood writing needs its safety nets to reassure everyone that things really aren’t that bad. DREDD was satire that insisted that yes, things were well and truly fucked and weren’t going to get better, and the enduring hero of the series was the bad guy who happened to fight even worse bad guys. The best UK satire takes pride in pushing things not only up to the edge but right over it, whereas Hollywood fears that doing so would offend and alienate audiences, which is bad for business.
That’s what happened to the PRISONER remake. McGoohan was making a parable about one man’s struggle to assert his individuality in a world that’s trying to pin him down and break him, but the individuality he fought tooth-and-nail for might be an illusion after all, and the fight might be part of the system after all, but it still needed to be fought, for everyone. The remake feels like a piece of fanfic at best where the writer decided to rewrite the story to accommodate their own theme of the need to be part of a community in order to be of worth, which is about a million miles from what the original show was getting at. While the makers can go around trumpeting that they’re tackling contemporary issues like the oppressiveness of the Surveillance Society, that theme was already dealt with at length and with more wit and finesse in the original series. Romantic subplots were disposable then as the show followed a villain/crisis/trap-of-the-week format while the remake tries hard to be SIGNIFICANT in its clumsy groping for emotion and the zeitgeist. What McGoohan and his writers did was try to reflect the strange, heady times they were experiencing, and the fuck-it-everything’s-going-potty finale could be said to have unconsciously captured the impending end of the Sixties, with its chaos, collapse and cyclical return to the beginning and the same traps all over again. The remake is a redundant and much duller trap, rather than attempt to express a real point, it’s hamstrung by caution and stays steadfastly in the middle. The original series posits that the world is the Village. The remake seems to say that maybe the Village isn’t so bad after all, if it was only run by nice people.
Sticking to the British originals at firstname.lastname@example.org