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Can't escape it - 'The Prisoner' can be grim, hard work


WHEN | WHERE Sunday, Monday and Tuesday from 8-10 p.m. on AMC

REASON TO WATCH Six-hour "reinterpretation" of 1968 cult classic starring Patrick McGoohan

WHAT IT'S ABOUT A man you will know as Six wakes up suddenly amid sand dunes in a vast desert wilderness (it was filmed in Namibia) to witness a chase. Men are running down an old man whom Six (Jim Caviezel, "Passion of the Christ") then rescues.

Who is this man and why is he running and - even more to the point - what is Six doing in the middle of nowhere? The old man dies, or appears to, and Six sets off in search of civilization. He finds The Village. Composed largely of mauve-colored A-frames, this is a pleasant place where everyone seems - seems - to be happy.

Except, of course, Six, who tries to escape while trying to figure out who he is - a task confounded by the Village's boss and chief malefactor, Two (Ian McKellen), or by a giant white beach ball. Yes, "Prisoner" fans, Rover is back, and on the attack! Six desperately wants to be free and to know who he is - or, as Two scoffs, "he adores the bright, shiny smell of his own consciousness."

MY TAKE This "Prisoner," much like the original, tugs on all sorts of intellectual threads, most notably that old standby, free will versus determinism, which is more like a gnarled rope than a thread. It's filled with deep thoughts, deep meaning, cultural allusions and comparisons galore.

They'll occur to you instantly - "The Truman Show" or "Lost" or "Dollhouse" or even "The Simpsons Movie." (And yes, "The Prisoner" does have a sly sense of humor.) Me? I couldn't get "Hotel California" out of my head: Six can check out of the Village anytime he wants, but he can never leave. It's smart and ambitious, but . . . but . . . it's also hard to love. There's a near-constant shifting focus between Six's current reality and his past, between his one level of consciousness and another, between what he remembers and what he does not.

That narrative knot is further jumbled by all the head games Two plays on him and everyone else. Six is on shifting sand, literally, and so, too, will you be.

BOTTOM LINE Sumptuous production, and McKellen is brilliant as always, but "The Prisoner" can be grim, hard work.


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