The Prisoner Blu-ray Review

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by AVForums Oct 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    The Prisoner Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £59.99


    Presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 using the MPEG-4 codec and encoded at 1080p I will wager that the majority of people viewing these discs have never seen them with this level of quality. I will go so far to say that due to television technology and reception at the time that the majority of people who first viewed these episodes in the 60s never saw them like this. In a word all of the episodes are stunning.

    Originally watched by myself in 1984 then purchased in the early 90s these episodes are head and shoulders over anything I have ever seen before. From the opening frames of McGoohan speeding through London in his open top car, these images will simply blow your deck shoes off. The level of detail is astonishing: the individual cars on the city roads, the structure of Houses of Parliament, the grass in The Village, the foliage. Number 6's apartment has much more depth to it than earlier versions, with the copper based pans on the wall now standing out a little on their hooks and the screen near the door of his apartment having some incredible detail on it; you can now see the subtle shades of the images and patterns within the woodwork. This detail permeates all scenes, the hospital, the supervisor's control room and especially the local grocers shop. That shop now reveals a wealth of detail... the aged sprouts on the left of the door, the flowers or tins behind the counter. Quite simply in every single episode you'll continually be pulling your jaw up off the floor. I have seen a few of the episodes on numerous occasions and I am still amazed by what has now been uncovered from the murky images I was used to watching.

    The same goes for the colours. On disc 4 there is a comparison between the original images and these new remastered ones. What appears flat and washed out now absolutely bursts from your screens. Again look at the scene where Number 6 enters the grocer's shop looking for a map. The colours in the flowers in the foreground are absolutely lush. Deep and fully saturated, but restrained in their borders they look almost real, as if you can go over and smell their scent. Those colours, like the detail mentioned earlier, do not waver throughout the entire series. They are bold and beautiful, the multi coloured 'smocks' some of the inhabitants wear, the absolutely lush greens of the lawns and trees are unbelievably pristine in nature. Never over saturated but some of the best, deepest colours I have seen on Blu-ray in some time. Skin tones still retain their natural glow, light pinkish in nature never reddening no matter what they might be adjacent to.

    The print is in fine shape for its age. It exhibits no real damage although there is the odd speckle of dirt here and there, and I mean an odd speckle, it's not excessive by any means. You will also notice very slight brightness fluctuations as well but like the speckles they are faint and at times not even worth mentioning. Some very slight grain is apparent. Care has been taken with this transfer too because I could identify no errors in any of the processing. There is some slight noise in the opening scenes just before Number 6 drives his car down the airstrip and there is some very minor haloing against one or two objects when set against a bright background. This haloing is so brief it's almost never there and for the majority of the time isn't. There's no gradient banding in the shades which encompass Number 2's control area, no blocking and no smearing.

    Sorry for fawning on but grey scale is simply wonderful. Blacks are rich and deep, look at the different shades on The Prisoner's original costume for instance, the black suit with blacker polo shirt and finally even blacker buttons. Nigel Tuffnel would have been proud of this because really The Prisoner has never looked more black. At the other end of the scale whites are pristine and not the murky grey or blue grey I am used to. This is a video transfer that Prisoner fans have waited for, absolutely gorgeous.

    The Prisoner Picture


    For purists there is the original mono English track, it's clear enough, has all the appropriate elements, but is a little weak in nature so if you're going for this then I recommend you boost the volume a little to get the best from it. There is no lossless HD audio on these discs though and that could be considered somewhat of a let down. We've been gifted a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and it never once lets the side down. Some have said we should have been offered TrueHD or DTS-HD MA but really those who do should sit back and listen to the audio detail which has finally been extracted from the original recordings.

    First up is the all important dialogue... McGoohan stamping out his famous "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.", McGoohan shouting "Now!" in asking Number 36 to second guess the card he is looking at, or indeed McGoohan whispering sweet nothings into Nadia's ear outside his apartment... all of the dialogue is razor sharp, nothing ever lost in the mix. Said dialogue is rooted firmly up front in the centre channel.

    And it is in that frontal array that most of the action is set. This, of course, is not surprising being a mono track to begin with; what is a little surprising is the wealth of detail it now holds. Footsteps on the concrete or cobbles have secure clunk to them, tyres occasionally screech and the shrill voice of the camp announcer, Fenella Fielding, rings out beautifully. Rover's haunting melodramatics reverberate from front speaker to front speaker resulting in both a pleasing and sometimes disturbing feeling. It's a wonderful use of audio to heighten the feeling or tension the viewer is experiencing. Rover's antics seep into the surrounds and it is those surrounds that you should pay particular attention to. Their use is quite subtle but they add a depth to the mix that I have never previously encountered. Birds ring out from the surrounds whilst Number 6 is wandering around The Village or out on his daily escapade. On entering his house though in the first episode, Arrival, you can hear the ever so slight tick tock of a clock in his new abode. I was looking around his apartment for this timepiece but have yet to see it, but it's most definitely there and once I first heard it I was amazed. Perhaps the audio has been refined a little too much though; in some of the later episodes you really can hear the automated doors to Number 2's domain squeak more than a little.

    The thunderous score by Ron Grainer rings out strong and true, again from the frontal array, adding some depth and width to the proceedings but it is that all important dialogue and the additional use of the surrounds which really made this audio presentation one to revel in. It's no slouch by any stretch of the imagination and everything I could really have wished for. Not quite up there with the video in terms of wow factor but really, not a kick off it.

    The Prisoner Sound


    The extras for this set are spread across the 4 Blu-ray discs and the two accompanying Region 2 encoded DVDs.

    Blu-Ray Disc 1.

    • Arrival commentary with Bernie Williams and Tony Sloman.

      One of the better commentaries on the discs, Bernie and Tony speak well of this episode, its origins and how they came to work on it. It's never a dull chat track and one wishes they had teamed up on some of the other commentaries included here.

    • The Chimes of Big Ben commentary with Vincent Tilsley.

      More or less a scene by scene discussion with Vincent also discussing how he came to work on the script after he was visited by Markstein. He has his issues with McGoohan not sticking to his script, especially the fact that McGoohan wouldn't kiss the leading lady. Patrick McGoohan was infamous for this though.

    • Schizoid Man commentary with Pat Jackson.

      Pat discusses the all important split screen work, his work on earlier television series and movies and also his brief experimentation with LSD. Well it was the Sixties after all.

    • Episodic Image Gallery.

      Still images from the episodes on the disc set to some background music. You have no control other than the pause button as these images speed quickly by.

    • Trailers.

      Trailers for all the episodes on this disc

    Blu-Ray Disc 2.

    • The General commentary with Peter Graham Scott.

      George was brought in after McGoohan fired the first director and had a lot on his hands in trying to finish this particular episode. He discusses the music from the series, his own history, how he finally got the job and how he wonders what happened to ITV and some of the innovative programs they used to make. A somewhat dry track though.

    • Dance of the Dead commentary with Bernie Williams, Tony Sloman and John Smith.

      The opening scenes are discussed as are the music and the tone, production qualities and the script writing. Like Bernie and Tony's earlier commentary this is in depth, informative and generally a good listen. Some of the crew never took the series seriously and that was a little worrying because of the amount of money it was taking to make each episode

    • Episodic Image Gallery.

      As Disc 1 but with images pertaining to the episodes included on this disc.

    • Trailers.

      Trailers for all the episodes on this disc

    Blu-Ray Disc 3.

    • Change of Mind commentary with Roger Parkes

      Like others before him he discusses his own personal history and some of the concepts in this particular episode. He lingers on lobotomy for some time and the royalty payments he never in fact received for years, until Markstein employed a lawyer to wring the cash out of ITC. He also mentions that McGoohan at times was a rather demanding man to work with and for: a theme which is repeated often throughout these extras.

    • Episodic Image Gallery.

      As Disc 1 but with images pertaining to the episodes included on this disc.

    • Trailers.

      Trailers for all the episodes on this disc

    Blu-Ray Disc 4.

    • Fall Out commentary with Eric Mival and Noreen Ackland.

      Another interesting chat track predominantly directed by Mival and in all honesty Noreen does sound more than a little frail. Editors combine on this track to discuss this most iconic of episodes, Noreen freely admitting that she never knew really what was going on and how she too found McGoohan a little too demanding to work for. Eric discusses the music, some individual scenes, the excellent direction and timing.

    • Episodic Image Gallery.

      As Disc 1 but with images pertaining to the episodes included on this disc.

    • Trailers.

      Trailers for all the episodes on this disc

    • Arrival Original Edit. - 0:50:38.

      The original edit of the first episode. The opening is slightly different with music by Wilfred Joseph, and some slight changes as McGoohan wakes up in The Village. The image has been restored and is good but the whites do peak a little obscuring some detail in the higher end.

    • Arrival Original Edit with Music Only. - 0:50:38

      As above but with only the background music, no dialogue or Foley effects.

    • Arrival Original Edit Restoration. - 0:03:59

      The opening titles shown in split screen, the left image showing the original version, the right the restored one. If you want to know how much The Prisoner has improved on disc then this is the place to start. The difference is incredible.

    • Textless Material. - 0:10.35

      An odd title for the extra but it shows some test shots through Portmerion, aerial shots and the same opening sequence in different guises. There is no audio on this extra.

    DVD Disc 5.

    • Don't Knock Yourself Out - 1:34:53

      Neil Pearson narrates this incredible documentary and anyone who was anyone in The Prisoner universe back in the late sixties is heard from here. Directors, producers, editors, multiple Number 2s, they are all here. It's a candid affair with no punch pulling when people say that McGoohan was a difficult man to work with; the conflicts which arose between him and Markstein and the dismay they felt when seeing the original Rover unveiled on set for the first time. There have been a number of television documentaries on this series before now but not one has come close to matching what we now have. An incredible, informative watch and a must for all fans of The Prisoner or even those people who wish to see an insight into this most iconic of productions.

    • You Make Sure It Fits - 0:09.05

      Eric Mival discussing the work he put into editing the music for this series. He complains that these days too much music is used whereas in this series it is used to good effect when needed.

    • The Pink Prisoner - 0:09.15

      Another odd one with Peter Wyngarde answering some questions directed to him by an unseen questioner. These questions make no sense whatsoever because they're only ever mumbled. His responses though are interesting, regarding the MGM studios the series was filmed on, some of his other work and how The Prisoner was a defining moment in television history. Rather amusing at times.

    • Exposure Strip Gallery.

      Another extra with no audio this time showing an incredible amount of images in just over ten minutes. The only control you have is to pause as these flash by your screen. Blipverts anyone?

    • Ad Bumpers - 0:00:17

      The closing titles with the penny farthing being de-constructed then reconstructed, set to music.

    • Textless Titles With Ron Grainer's Theme. - 0:03:09

      The opening music we have come to know and absolutely love. By far the best of the bunch presented here. We also get the closing music.

    • Textless Title With Wilfred Joseph's Theme. - 0:03:07

      This time the opening music only kicks in after the resignation letter is thrown on the desk. It's very Sixties in nature but really totally unsuited to the images; at times I was sure I heard some Tom & Jerry effects. It's a little weak.

    • Textless Titles With Robert Farnon's Theme - 0:03:05

      This time the music starting as Number 6 drives down the ramp into the underground garage. Certainly better than Wilfred's theme music but it did remind me of The Big Country somewhat.

    • Filing Cabinet Footage. - 0:02:29

      Ever wanted to see that filing cabinet at the start with the word “resignation” in different languages, then here's your chance. No audio on this particular extra.

    • Rover Footage. - 0:00:26

      Silent screen tests of the Rover balloon wobbling about on the beach.

    • McGoohan Montage From Arrival. - 0:00:50

      The black and white shots used in the first episode showing Number 6's life. Silent.

    • Behind the Scenes Footage.- 0:45:43

      Unfortunately another silent venture, this time showing some original 16 and 8mm shots of Portmerion and the cast and crew. Predominately taken by tourists visiting The Village it's an interesting montage but would have been a little more interesting with a commentary. One of the best is the famous shots of the original poorly designed comic rover. Thank heavens it was never used.

    DVD Disc 6.

    • Chimes of Big Ben - Alternative Edit. - 0.50.47.

      The alternative edit of this episode with Wilfred Joseph opening score. Interesting but weaker than the alternative Arrival version. This episode has not been remastered and does look rather poor.

    • Promotional Image Gallery. - 0:02:18.

      Some colour but mainly black and white promotional shots of McGoohan, other cast members and Portmerion.

    • 1967 Press Conference Gallery. - 0:02.33

      Stills from the final episode with McGoohan dressed up as some kind of Russian peasant. Ours is not to judge why, just accept it.

    • Production Designs Gallery. - 0:00:51.

      Some pre-production drawings of certain scenes, you'll be able to identify the episodes they come from.

    • Lava Lamp Footage. - 0:07:43.

      Want your own virtual lava lamp, then this is for you. Seven minutes of watching hot wax rise and fall. Oh if only this has been in HD!

    • Television's Greatest Hits Interview. - 0:02.56

      Oh this one is bad, Mike Smith asking the most inane questions of Patrick and boy does our Number 6 look a little more than uncomfortable answering.

    • Audio Interview Between Roger Goodman and Patrick McGoohan. - 0:47:47

      One of the founding fathers of the Six of One Appreciation Society being given the opportunity to interview Patrick McGoohan whilst he was filming in Dublin. This is a must listen but is a strain at times because it's a rather scratchy, non professional recording. That said it's interesting, informative and gives some insights that have not been covered in the other extensive extras included here.

    • Informational PDFs.

      83 PDFs of original scripts, call sheets, promotional materials and TVTimes covers. Invaluable.

    On top of all of this there is a 288 page book by Andrew Pixley. Now I can tell you I'm only just now starting to trawl though this, having spent my previous week and a half watching the episodes and extras for this review. Initial impressions though are excellent. It has a complete breakdown of all the episodes, everything you would every want to read about this series. It is unfortunate that Patrick McGoohan, David Tomblin, George Markstein or my favourite Number 2, Leo McKern are no longer with us. I would have loved to have heard any one of their takes on any one of these episodes as a commentary. Alas it was never to be. That being said though this package doesn't come any better for a fan of this series. A set probably only ever bettered by The Godfather recent release.
    The Prisoner Extras


    Oh you just know that I am gong to recommend this one. Produced during an experimental period in British and American television, this has to be the grand-daddy of them all when it comes to pushing that all important envelope. Its premise of a society turning towards Orwellian attitudes, restricting and constricting a person's natural desires is one which all forms of media often return to. That concept though has never once been bettered on television. This is the one to watch. These days we're having a slight resurgence in quality television shows; The Sopranos, 24, Lost and BSG, all good stuff depending, of course, on your point of view.

    A series that started off as a handful of episodes eventually turned into a bakers dozen and more and was perhaps the worse for it. Diluted for the needs of television executives it still holds its place as one of the best moments in television history. It's become part of that history and it's difficult to see when, if ever, it will ever lose its hallowed place amongst the greats. Such a series was deserving of a top shelf release package and after years of waiting we've now been granted one which will be difficult to beat. Excellent video and audio riding on the back of an almost definitive selection of extras essentially mean that all fans of this series should, and most likely will, buy this on Blu-ray either now or at some future point. I cannot see how this set can be improved upon. Sure there are some additional McGoohan interviews out there and it could be argued they should have been included but really, I don't see anyone complaining.

    This locked Region B release is about as good as it gets, and if the Region A set released later in October is anything as good as this, and from an audio and video point of view there is nothing to say it won't be exactly the same, then you're in for a treat; that treat has come early though to the UK shores being released a month earlier. This is an absolute must buy for fans of the original series and fans of quality television. I can easily recommend this as a blind buy to anyone who hasn't see it. To those of you who have, and were not put off by some of the weird and wonderful story lines, concepts or images then all I can say is... Be Seeing You...

    The Prisoner Verdict

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £59.99

    The Rundown



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