tonight, we went & checked out ‘the prestige‘, at the same theater that Kris & I watched ‘the illusionist‘ in a few months ago when she was up visiting. i’d been really giddy about both of them, and assumed that they just had the unfortunate coincidince of both being period movies about stage magicians, but wow, they’re basically the same movie at the core. (btw, minor spoilers ahead…ok, major spoilers for the ‘illusionist’ paragraph, so skip that one if ya need to.)
both of them have actors we really love in the leads, pretty women who do surprisingly solid turns as love interests, stalwart sidekicks, major legal entanglements, and both plots are wrapped around mysterious deaths.
‘the illusionist’ is basically about a kiddo who’s into little magic tricks and has a thing for the girl next door, a young countess. after they get all separated by her family, he goes off into the world to learn some grand magic. he comes back into her life when they’re both adults, and she’s engaged to some asshole of a prince, and he comes up with a master plan to fake her death so they can escape together. the problem is that the movie uses the mysterious circumstances of her death for the whole lynchpin of the thing: apparently, they’re assuming that ‘romeo and juliet’ is no longer tought in every high school curriculum known to man, otherwise we’d recognize that star-cross’d lovers & faux poison thingy in no time. which is to say, there’s a big breathless REVEAL of this “huge twist” at the end for something that stopped being a surprize about an hour into it all. the movie is amazingly pretty (parts of it done in very subtle siepa-tone with darkened corners with a very very subtle ticking rattle to mimic old-tyme movie reels), with phenomenal special effects (the cgi is smooth and soft on the edges, and looks very real), and some of the best costumes i’ve seen in a long time (it’s **obvious** that all the central characters have precisely tailor-made costumes. while it’s not clear in this pic, trust me, his jackets were all marvellous). it’s very much a case of style over substance, and while you’re not pissed off wanting your 2 hrs back (seriously, really pretty), it doesn’t stick with ya afterwards.
contrast ‘the prestige’, which has every bit as much style (plus David Bowie as Nikola Tesla!), but still kicks as in the story department. a pair of stage magicians spend a good chunk of their lives in an endless battle to damage the other, culminating in one of them killing the other (no spoiler there, they tell ya in the first 5 minutes that’s why one of this pair is in jail at the time). most of the movie is then told as flashbacks, each one a chapter in the retribution one-upmanship story as well as a clue as to what’s going on. in this one, the twisty bit at the end succeeds very well, because all the clues are handed to you up front, and the curve balls are integrated through the whole story, not with a big “ta-DA!” moment in the end. in a very similar way, it’s all about a mysterious magic-induced murder, with love & loss thereof all wrapped up in it, but damn if it isn’t a whole ‘nuther ballgame. this one’s equally pretty, but far less gimicky…it’s all about the interactions between the people, the stage magician angle is just an interesting way to move these interactions along. post-‘6th sense‘, it’s really f’ing hard to work a flick with a twist-ending. point of fact, after making twists so splashy there, shyamalan has never topped his own debut. ‘the illusionist’ goes for that classic (?) drum-roll-and-cymbal ta-DA, and fails for being too obvious. ‘the prestige’ has a plotline almost as obvious: all the clues really are handed to you right up front, all three of us knew what was going on by halfway through or so, but it completely manages to avoid the unsatisfying let-down. apparently, now we have the post-modern twist-ending, where we watch the pledge/turn/prestige as the mechanics for both the magic in the movie and the plot itself.