Saturday, February 24, 2007

Sound and vision

Hmm. Well, finally watched "The Prestige." I dunno, kittens. Maybe it's just sort of the inherent goofiness of seeing the action onscreen, as opposed to imagining it in a book; maybe it's being asked to accept Hugh Jackman as a more personable stage presence than Christian Bale (what is with his accent? Every time he opened his mouth I wanted to toss a tomato. Why is he American while Christian's character is some sort of Cockney?); maybe it was the loss of the multigenerational flashback element of the book that I enjoyed so well. (Southern girls love a good multigenerational epic. We'll settle for a framing device.) Maybe it was just having "Batman Begins" flashbacks. It was fine. It could have been much worse. It could also have been much better.

I very much like the mood of this film. The sense of dread builds very nicely: dead birds lead to a dead, well, bird (we are in England), and the rival magicians' one-upmanship gets gradually nastier and nastier. I love when one of them finally meets Tesla, and gets to stand around in a series of impressive set pieces, realizing he's dealing with something authentic, not just for show, and very potentially unpleasant. David Bowie is awfully cute; his accent is great; but somehow Andy Serkis gets to have all the most fun with the Tesla scenes. How did that happen? Who let Andy in here thinking he wouldn't run off with a scene?

The final twist ends up, to my mind, making a great deal less sense than it does in the novel. A bizarre turn has been added that makes it much more unpleasant on a great many levels. The marvelous goth creepshow sequence that crowned the novel has been turned into a sort of shocker final shot. Also, Michael Caine is all well and good, but I'm not sure why he has to narrate events. Obviously the two magicians are unreliable, but introducing a third character only complicates events. Does his character have a big secret too? No, I suppose not: here are the end credits. And poor Scarlett Johanssen. I love her, but anyone would've done in this role.

Still, it gets three stars out of five from me: one for the marvelous, Edward Gorey-ish image of a pile of black top hats in a snowy forest; one for Christian Bale; and one for Mr. Bowie, who, it goes without saying, may carry me off if he ever wishes to visit L.A.

Salon has a nice review here. I'm sorry if you have to watch an ad.

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