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An Intriguing 'Prisoner'

Patrick McGoohan's series still draws fans who ponder No. 2 and the balloon Rover.

November 02, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of the most intriguing and unusual series ever produced for TV, "The Prisoner," continues to baffle as well as inspire discussion among its legions of fans. This week, A&E is unleashing collector's editions of seven episodes of the mystery thriller on video ($30 for the three-volume set) and DVD ($40 for the two-disc set).

Patrick McGoohan stars in this cryptic, intelligent series as a man who, after retiring from some sort of British secret service, is kidnapped from his home and sent to a beautiful but strange village by the sea. Given the name No. 6 by the village's ever-changing second in command, No. 2, he is constantly being tortured for information. Every time No. 6 tries to escape, he is stopped by an evil white balloon named Rover that guards the village.

The arrival of "The Prisoner" on DVD has caused great excitement among the series' followers, according to Bruce Clark, the American coordinator of Six by One: The Prisoner Appreciation Society. Fans, he says, "really like to study the show and freeze frame it and discuss things with other people."

Clark's involvement with the series began in 1968, when he was 15. "I was just fascinated by who was running the village, who was Rover and who was really in charge. When I came into my 20s and 30s, I began to appreciate it on a completely different level as an allegory where things have a symbolic meaning to everyday life."

Rover, says Clark, was a weather balloon filled with various types of gases, plus water to make it weightier. "They pulled it along with fish lines," he says. "In your childhood, a balloon is harmless and a play toy. Here it is this menacing thing that smothers you and appears to have some sort of intelligence because it can be directed to attack and bring people back."

The DVD also includes trailers, a trivia quiz and a map of the village. More episodes are expected to be released next year.

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A&E is also paying homage to the cult British comedy troupe Monty Python's Flying Circus with the enjoyable boxed set "The Life of Python" ($30 for the three-volume video; $40 for the two-disc DVD). The collection features a nifty documentary hosted by Eddie Izzard celebrating the 30th anniversary of the troupe. Pythoner Michael Palin also takes a tour of West London, visiting the locations where the group filmed such famous sketches as "Silly Walks."

Included in the collection is a look at the Python's greatest hit songs from their series and movies, hosted by Meat Loaf, and a recently rediscovered 10-minute segment the Pythons starred in for a 1971 British TV special.

Rounding out the special edition is "Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus #2," one of two programs shot in the early '70s for German TV.

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Released to little fanfare and unspectacular reviews, the 1980 romantic fantasy "Somewhere in Time" has had an amazing afterlife on cable and video, spawning fan clubs and conventions. This week, Universal released a special anniversary edition of the film starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour on video ($20) and DVD ($30).

Reeve, in his first film since "Superman," plays a writer who becomes obsessed with a vintage picture of a beautiful young actress (Seymour) and returns, via hypnosis, to 1912 to be with her.

The DVD includes the wide-screen version of the film, a look at the fan club, the trailer, production notes, biographies and a compelling documentary that features interviews with Reeve, Seymour, co-stars Teresa Wright and Bill Erwin, novelist and screenwriter Richard Matheson and director Jeannot Szwarc. The director also supplies the audio commentary, but a lot of what he discusses is covered in the documentary.

The video features the pan-and-scan version of the film, the documentary, a trailer and the featurette on the fan club.

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Also new from Universal this week is the special restored edition of Orson Welles' terrific 1958 film noir, "Touch of Evil" ($20 for video; $30 for DVD). Welles, Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh star in what is considered the greatest B movie ever made.

Though the film has achieved great acclaim over the years, Universal originally reedited it and released it as the second half of a double bill. After Welles saw the film, he wrote a 58-page memo giving instructions on how to restore the film to his original vision.

It was that memo that editor Walter Murch and producer Rick Schmidlin used to restore and reedit the film. The restored version was released two years ago to glowing reviews.

The DVD includes a crisp wide-screen transfer of the black-and-white film, Welles' memo and a very funny trailer. Sorely missing, though, is an audio commentary track from Murch and Smidlin that would have added to the viewing experience.

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