Monday, May 28, 2007

One Trick Too Many

I have to admit to being disturbed by The Prestige on some basic levels. Chief among them is that nowhere in the trailer was there any mention of going beyond real world physics. Nor did we get an accurate view of the characters because some really important details were left out.

When the trailer first started playing in the theaters, I was really looking forward to it. I saw Edward Norton’s The Illusionist first and really enjoyed it, though it too had a bit of a meandering problem due to the nature of the conflict. Both films are really small in some ways, microcosms in the world that depend largely on interior story and suffering on part of the characters. Those are good aspects of story, but these were magicians. I simply wanted more and bigger magic. I really wanted more explanation of the tricks period magicians did at the time in The Prestige.

The movie is based on the book by Christopher Priest. Priest is a horror/SF novelist. I have to admit to being pretty much pulled along by the story and the dark natures of the characters as well as the rivalry they followed until the final frames of the movie. Unfortunately, I'd figured most of them out and generally ended up asking myself, why?

When Angier’s wife was dropped into the water tank, I knew things were going to end badly. Even prepared for it, though, the gritty realism of the scene was hard to take. Jackman, Bale, Caine, and Johansson delivered standup work in their roles, but they were empty of some real resolution to a degree. Overall, the characters were paper-thin in the finished product and lacked enough flesh and bones to make me care about them much. I was more concerned with how the illusion was being done and what Angier was doing in Colorado trying to talk to Nikolai Tesla. Once I had that figured out, I was done with the film to a large extent. Without true character development, all that was left to see was the trick.

The sets and the period piece work were all extremely well done. I felt like I was in Victorian England and in Colorado Springs during those parts of the movie. I watched the movie on Blu-ray and the scenes were gorgeous. They were so clear and vivid I felt like I was standing on the street corner or had a seat in the theater where the shows were playing. The high-def format is absolutely the way to go for the discriminating home theater connoisseur.

However, the three storylines that constantly looped and interwove were really much more effort than should have been required for the payoff I received as a viewer. I know that it was necessary to make all the surprises work, but they still made the story more convoluted than it should have been. The Prestige is a good movie. People who haven't seen anything like it will love it. Anyone who loves Christopher Nolan's films (Memento, Batman Begins) will enjoy this one. And there enough historical references to please the armchair historian. Definitely a good film to watch with a group that likes to puzzle things out as they watch a film in the privacy of their own home so they won't disturb other paying viewers who don't like ruminations while watching.


Katie M. said...

I liked this one well enough. I think I liked Norton's film better though.

I wonder if they released these two films so close together on purpose? They are similar... but very different.

Anonymous said...

I belive you nailed it on the head. The movie on a whole was good, but it left me feeling like I needed to know more to fully understand it.