The Prestige review by Mike Long

Call it synergy. Call it lack of imagination. Call it ripping off ideas. Whatever you call it, Hollywood has a recent history of releasing more than one film with the same general theme in a reasonably short amount of time. The two (or more) films are released and while they are judged independently, usually they are also compared. And, typically, I've preferred one film over the other. I liked A Bug's Life much more than Antz. I liked Armageddon more than Deep Impact. But, with the recent duo of films about magicians, I have to say that I was left cold by both. I didn't really care for The Illusionist , and I was similarly disappointed by The Prestige.

The Prestige is set in the late 19th century/early 20th century. As the film opens, we meet two magician's assistants, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). They perform in an act with Angier's wife, Julia (Piper Perabo). When Julia is involved in an accident, Angier blames Borden, and thus a life-long feud begins. The two magicians create their own acts and find varying degrees of fame. But, just when one has achieved a small success, the other will sabotage it. Borden marries Sarah (Rebecca Hall) and they have a child. Angier becomes involved with his assistant, Olivia (Scarlett Johansson). Desperate to defeat Borden, Angier abandons his mentor Cutter (Michael Caine), the man who has helped create all of his illusions, and turns to the world of science to find the ultimate trick. This leads Angier down a path of destruction which will effect the lives of everyone involved.

That synopsis makes The Prestige sound like a very straightforward film, and at it's core, it sort of is. But, director Christopher Nolan has attempted to re-create the magic he cast with Memento by giving The Prestige a very deliberate and twisty narrative structure. The movie actually begins near the ending of the story, as it opens with (and I'm not giving anything away here, as it's the first scene of the movie) Angier's death. Borden is charged with the murder and placed on trial. From here, Nolan travels backwards in time and begins to examine the story from two different temporal locations. We go back to where Angier and Borden were assistants, and we also journey to the point in Angier's career where he travels to America to seek out the inventor, Nikola Tesla (David Bowie). Thus, the film alternates between three different time periods, weaving together a very detailed story which is overlaid onto the surprisingly simple plot. This never gets (too) confusing, and Nolan (along with editor Lee Smith) do a fine job of differentiating each period.

The problem with The Prestige is that over the course of two-plus-hours, this intertwining story is never very engaging. From the outset, Borden is made to look like the villain of the piece, but as the story progresses, we soon learn that Angier is equally capable of going to dastardly lengths to ruin his rival's career. Thus, neither of the main characters is particularly likable. This is going to sound like a silly statement, as The Prestige comes from the director of Batman Begins and Memento, but the film is much darker than I expected it to be (or than the previews lead me to believe). This is no friendly rivalry between Angier and Borden. The two men hate each other and will seemingly go to any lengths, even murder, to prove who is the superior magician. Along with Angier and Borden, none of the supporting characters are very appealing either. Borden's wife is too meek and Olivia is very one-dimensional. Honestly, the only person in the movie that I cared about was Cutter.

These loathsome characters are placed into a story that, while complex and well-told, is ultimately not very interesting -- or should I say, not as interesting as it could be. The story gets bogged down in the rivalry and misses some opportunities to explore ideas which could have been equally (or moreso) intriguing. The film's structure lets us know early on that there's going to be a twist ending -- in fact, the last few minutes features three major twists. The first one I saw coming from a mile away (and I never figure things out). The second was semi-predictable, but comes off as very corny. And the final shot...well, I'm not sure that it makes a lot of sense once you go back and think about it.

When The Prestige was first announced, I was very excited about the film, as I admire Nolan's work and I can tolerate most of the cast. Thus, it was quite a let-down to experience such a flat film. The movie is gorgeously shot, well edited and well acted, but I didn't feel a single emotion from the story. The lives of competing magicians could be a compelling and exciting one, but here we have only a dark story with no happy endings.

The Prestige prestidigitates onto DVD courtesy of Buena Vista Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as the image is quite sharp and clear. The transfer is free from distracting grain and there are no defects from the source material. The picture is highly detailed and the colors, most of which are very dark tones, look great. Showing a nice amount of depth, this transfer is very good. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track also performs well. The dialogue is clear and audible, as are the sound effects. Stereo effects abound, as do surround sound effects, especially during the electrical scenes. There is a nice amount of subwoofer as well.

As with the film, the DVD extras for The Prestige are disappointing as well. The Directors Notebook: The Cinematic Sleight of Hand of Christopher Nolan is divided into several chapters and gives the illusion that its going to be quite lengthy, but in actuality, its only 20 minutes long. This turns out to be a well-made, but fairly standard making-of featurette which focuses on the characters, the sets, the costumes, the construction of the story, the cinematic process, and the real Tesla. Nolan adds many comments, as do the main cast. The only other extra is a series of STILL GALLERIES entitled The Art of The Prestige. These consist of Film, Costumes and Sets, Behind the Scenes, and Poster Art.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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