DVD Review: The Prestige
Release Date: February 20, 2007
Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
· Christopher Nolan
· Hugh Jackman
· Christian Bale
· Michael Caine
· Scarlett Johansson
· David Bowie
· IMDb: The Prestige
by R.J. Carter
Published: February 20, 2007
I love period piece films. I love films about the world of magicians. And I love films with either Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman or Michael Caine in them. So I had the highest of expectations to see "The Prestige".
So why do I feel cheated? Perhaps for the same reason I felt cheated when I reached the end of "The Village" and "The Forgotten". Because after committing so much time and faith to the plot, I find out that the story is one of science fiction. Don't get me wrong -- I love a good science fiction story; just tell me in advance.
Hugh Jackman plays Robert Angier, a magician who, along with another player, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) played their part as audience plants, as volunteers for a magic act that involved an escape from a locked water tank. The trick goes wrong, however, when Borden wants to make it more difficult by tying a different knot around the wrists of the captive girl -- secretly Angier's wife, Julia (Piper Perabo) -- to escape the trap. In fact, it made it impossible, and she drowns on stage, beginning a deadly game of one-upmanship between the two rivals. Borden's best trick is the bullet catch, a trick that Angier's sabotages when he infiltrates the audience and puts a real bullet in the gun, shooting off two of Borden's fingers.
Needing a special trick of his own, Angiers hires Cutter (Michael Caine) as an engineer to create new devices -- the best of which is a special birdcage for the disappearing dove trick, one that won't kill the doves (as the current trick requires.) The cage seems to disappear without the need of a covering as well, thanks to special spring-loaded devices inside Angier's coat. But this time it is Borden's turn to infiltrate, ruining the trick so that it not only kills the bird in front of everyone, it also breaks the fingers of the other audience volunteer.
As time goes on, Borden meets a girl, Sarah (Rebecca Hall), whom he marries, and Angiers takes on a new assistant, Olivia (Scarlett Johansson), who falls in love with him. But when Angier sees Borden's latest trick, "The Transported Man", he becomes obsessed with learning its secret. He sends Olivia away to seek employment with Borden. She does so, turning against Angier in resentment, and begins an affair with Borden.
To settle scores with Angier, Borden lets Olivia "steal" his notebook of secrets, written in cipher, to be delivered to Angier. Angier kidnaps Borden's engineer, Fallon, to extort the key and the method for "The Transported Man" from Borden, which turns out to be a man's name -- which is when things truly begin to turn weird. The name, Tesla, sends Angier on a trip to America, to seek out the eccentric inventor of such things like alternating current, to have him build a "Transported Man" device like the one he believes was built for Borden.
Secrets of the Trade. Angier extorts the secret of "The
Transported Man" from Borden in "The Prestige".
(L-R: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman)
Now, if there's one thing I love more than all the things I listed at the onset of this review, it's all things involving Nikola Tesla (played exceedingly well in this film by David Bowie). He invented a number of things that still seem like science fiction today, including the wireless transmission of electricity. And I could buy that the character of Angier might believe that Tesla was capable of building a transporter device akin to the ones seen on Star Trek, as he certainly attempts to do in "The Prestige". But the multiple experiments conducted by Tesla and his associate, Alley (Andy Serkis), all appear to end in failure: the hat and the cat never disappear from the chamber. But when Angier finds out what is really happening, he buys the device, sets up his improved "Transported Man" trick, and uses the stunt to frame Borden for murder -- his!
I'm sure director Christopher Nolan and his brother, screenwriter Jonathan Nolan stuck close to the plot of the novel by Christopher Priest, so I can't truly fault them for the story. And, in fact, as a character study in rivalry and revenge, the story has done quite well. Bale, Jackman, Caine and Johansson all turn in masterful performances, and the turn of the century settings are top notch. But...
I just can't get over the sense of feeling cheated by the insertion of science/fantasy as the pivotal plot point -- an alien invasion would have seemed just as out of place.
The bonus features on this disc include a set of five featurettes, collected under the "The Director's Notebook: The Cinematic Sleight of Hand of Christopher Nolan". These include a five minute documentary, "Conjuring the Past", which focuses on the set and costuming; a three minute feature, "The Visual Maze", with Bale, Caine and others commenting on the lighting and effects; "Metaphors of Deception", a three and a half minute feature with Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Priest talking about getting the literary metaphors from the page to the screen; a completely short-shrifting two and a half minute documentary on Nikola Tesla, "Tesla: The Man Who Invented the Twentieth Century"; and a somewhat useless "Resonances", which is Chris Nolan saying farewell and the credits for the featurettes rolling.
The second main bonus feature, "The Art of the Prestige", is a set of four still galleries -- Film, Costumes and Sets, Behind the Scenes, and Poster Art -- navigable via the arrow keys of your remote.
There is also an easter egg of sorts on the main menu -- four buttons below the main menu listing -- that allows for a change of menu animation.
Audio for this disc is in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and is available in English, French or Spanish with subtitles in all three languages.
Previews on this disc include "Ratatouille", "The Queen", and "Deja Vu". Additionally selectable sneak peeks include "Renaissance" and a montage of Roger Corman films.