The Prisoner: 35th Anniversary Companion Review
The Prisoner is one of those television series that was poised to become either a spectacular hit or an incredible flop when it was first aired. Set enigmatically 'in the Village', there is intrigue piled upon intrigue, and the audience actually ends up learning very little of its core mysteries throughout the series. That said, it’s completely fascinating cult viewing, and has built up a huge community of fans worldwide in the 35 years since it was first broadcast. This is unashamedly a disc for fans, but without any real in-depth documentary, it’s more of a collection of bits and pieces that should perhaps have been included with the boxset.
The 'companion' DVD was ostensibly brought out to celebrate the 35th anniversary of this phenomenally-enduring television show... and for those of us who bought The Prisoner on Region 2 DVD, the extras here do complement the original discs well, without too much fear of repetition. However, it has to be said that many of these features are in fact already included on the Region 1 DVD boxset of the show – so if you haven’t already bought the series (and want to get all the features possible), it’s worth doing some investigation over which version to purchase.
The menus are lovely, cleverly laid out as a map of the Village with individual buildings marked in red and linked to sometimes-unexpected content. They are also slightly unsettling in that they feature no animation or sound... just silent, static pages. And as there are no elaborate transitions between menu screens, access times are very fast indeed.
The disc includes the original and alternate versions of the first episode of the series, Arrival. There’s also a brief guide to the history of the alternate version, explaining how it was found and preserved so we can be watching it today. The two versions of Arrival differ enough to stand out as alternate views of the first episode, but the changes are not so striking as to really affect the flavour of the show. Specifically, the only major alterations are the introduction of 'Rover' and the way the episode actually ends. The original and alternate versions of The Chimes of Big Ben are already included on the Region 2 boxset, so are not replicated here – even though that would have been a nice addition to this disc.
Interview with Bernard Williams
This 30-minute interview with the production manager for The Prisoner was particularly interesting and one of the highpoints of this companion DVD. Full of fascinating insights, off-hand anecdotes and trivia, this was genuinely enjoyable to watch... even if it was recorded originally for the Region 1 boxset and will therefore only be a new feature for those of us with the Region 2 release.
Textless Intro & Outro
The first time I think I’ve personally seen this kind of thing for anything that isn’t animé, this feature is just what it advertises itself to be – text-free versions of the opening and closing sequences for the show. Interesting, but hardly an insightful or particularly necessary extra here.
I have a particular love of The Prisoner bumpers – those short animated segments that sat between adverts and the show – so for me this was a delight.
Foreign Language Filing Cabinet
Here's an example of when not to get your hopes up. It sounded as if it this section would be so much more interesting than it actually was. (Silly me, I honestly believed that this section would consist of the whole scene surrounding the intro resignation/filing cabinet sequence done in various foreign languages.) In reality, all you get to see is the cut-shot of the filing cabinet itself, but each time with the card changed to read 'Resignations' in a different language. Not only is there no sound during any of these segments, but nor is there any subtitle indicating what language corresponds to each card... though, admittedly, it’s hardly rocket science. I guess I should be glad they don't say, as the sole fun I derived from this extra was in the guessing of each language as it flashed up.
This includes the entire Renault 21 advert produced in homage to The Prisoner. Not really much else to say about it than that, except that it's quite a good advert in case you've never seen it before. However, watching it got me to thinking of all of the other homages and parodies of The Prisoner that are floating about in pop culture, and how it would have been nice if they had been collected and put on this disc as well. (For example, a short clip from that classic episode of The Simpsons... although I suppose that would have been unlikely due to copyright issues.)
For the Love Of…
This 'documentary' really disappointed me. For one thing, it’s incredibly short at about seven minutes total. Worse, though, is the fact that it's primarily about Prisoner memorabilia and the fans that collect/sell it. The interview with Bernard Williams was far more interesting than this vaguely annoying montage of shots from the show interspersed with über-fans rabbiting on about such-and-such collector's item.
A fairly lengthy biography of Patrick McGoohan coupled with a markedly shorter one of George Markstein (co-creator and script editor for The Prisoner). Each includes text page(s) followed by photos. These are interesting, but I missed seeing more biographies of the many other people involved in this cult production – I think it's safe to say that leaving it at two is a bit stingy!
A handful of pictures from each of the episodes of The Prisoner makes for a rather pleasant little photo gallery, with a nice balance between 'artsy' black and white compositions and glossier pics in colour. There are also plenty of stills depicting deleted and unused scenes, each referenced under the episode it would have otherwise appeared in.
The use of the word ‘gallery’ here promises a little too much. We have a tiny bit of information about Prisoner books, audio and memorabilia. For example, we are told that Prisoner tie-in books were published, but their titles remain a mystery as nowhere does the DVD bother to name them. In a similarly slapdash manner, we are presented with random pictures of the sheet music and record of The Prisoner theme music, and finally a picture of the Dinky Toys Mini-Moke, based upon the ones seen in the series. Which is to say, there's hardly a wealth of merchandise shown here. (In fact, it's a little embarrassing for the makers of this companion disc that there's more merchandise pictured in the short documentary (above) than in this gallery dedicated to the subject.)
Collectors Edition Booklet
As the distributor provided us with a screener disc, I can't really comment on the packaging... but apparently there’s some sort of collector’s booklet that comes with this DVD.
The picture is presented in 4:3 aspect ratio throughout, but the actual video quality is unfortunately quite variable. Some sections – like the interview with Bernard Williams – are impeccable, whereas the alternate version of Arrival is pretty murky (despite it being taken from the best video copy available). I’ve included screenshots from both the original and the alternate versions of Arrival so you can get some idea of the difference in quality here. Of course, this kind of variation is only to be expected as some of the extras are pretty old and haven’t been kept well, while others are newly-shot and well-preserved.
Sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 with decent separation. I didn’t really expect anything more from the sound here – it’s not a DVD that stands or falls by its sound quality and many of the extras are static text or photos, rendering sound quality moot. There is an option for English subtitles for all of the spoken segments on this DVD.
To be honest, The Prisoner 35th Anniversary Companion was a bit of a disappointment for me all around. The Prisoner was a remarkable show – enigmatic, surreal, intriguing and intelligent. The fact that it became cult viewing and has remained so very much lies with its inherent sense of deep mysteries and the attempts by viewers to unravel its many plots and machinations.
A 'companion DVD', particularly after all this time, could have been a great opportunity to enlighten this series' loyal audience and fan following by fleshing out some of the larger picture... but unfortunately this disc fails in that regard. Instead we are merely presented – belatedly – with the same special features that purchasers of the Region 1 boxset have already enjoyed. That said, at least we finally have the opportunity to see them on a Region 2 disc... but I honestly think it's very much a DVD only for manic Prisoner fans.