DVD SPECIAL FEATURES REVIEW: The Prestige

Prestige poster.jpg

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale,  Michael Caine, Scarlet Johansson and Rebecca Hall.

Directed by Christopher Nolan

130 mins 

The Prestige is a visually striking and psychologically interesting movie with a kind of sly narrative trickery up its sleeve. Like its two rival protagonists, it doles out its red herrings the same way a magician unspools his trick for an audience. And I mean to the very end. The story pits rival stage magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) against one another stemming from a tragedy to the former. As they try to one up each other in a game to uncover each other’s secrets, their obsession to unseat the other becomes deadly for both men.  

Adapted from a novel by Christopher Priest which was written in journal entries, the resulting screenplay is a layered piece of dual point views and sleight of hand. The direction by Christopher Nolan is stout and the film is above all else visually dense but understated. There are winning supporting performances by Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson while the imagining of the period doesn’t feel stale but rather alive. 

Special Feature #1: The Director’s Notebook: The Cinematic Sleight of Hand of Christopher Nolan  

19 minutes 5 seconds 

Nolan narrates this piece which is divided into chapters about the many aspects and people that brought about the film’s vision to fruition. In particular, he discusses the challenge of making a period movie timeless and non-genre specific. He also delves into the power of the Victorian era and the relationship between scientists and magicians, specifically how the latter held sway over a public with secret séances. Nolan syas:

I didn’t want the film to feel too much as if it were set in the past. I really want to try and emphasize the aspects of that world that are exciting to a modern audience

In the section titled Conjuring the Past, the design and the look of the film is discussed where the synergy between production designer Nathan Crowley and cinematographer Wally Pfister (who worked with Nolan on Batman Begins) work to hold up a unifying mood. Crowley gives us a tour through the set on the Universal backlot, which was converted into a scummy Victorian London street. What’s unique here is the challenge of pulling out the modern aspects in a period film. In a little aside, Scarlet Johansson spends some time pointing the unique features on design of her costume. 

In The Visual Maze, the filmmakers explain using natural light to get a sense of immediacy and shooting everything handheld for shifting points of view. The Prestige is a film rich in its visual design right from the opening image of top hats and in Metaphors of Deception, Nolan delineates the movie’s internal rhythms and how employing visual metaphors reinforce the intricacies of the storytelling. Nolan’s brother, Jonathan Nolan, steps in to shed some light on the screenplay. 

One of the inspirations of the story is Nolan’s interest in Nikola Tesla and in Tesla: The Man who Invented the Twentieth Century, the mystery and aura of this scientist is explored and David Bowie was Nolan’s one and only choice to play Tesla. Throughout this special feature, there are also interviews with Christopher Priest, Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Rebecca Hall and others.  

Special Feature #2: The Art of The Prestige 

This is a quick and fast little section of still images divided into:

  • Film (26 images)

  • Behind The Scenes (23 images)

  • Costumes And Sets (27 images)

  • Poster Art (10 images)

All in all, this is a commendable disc but it’s sorely missing a few needed extras to make The Prestige indeed prestigious like:

  1. A feature length commentary by Nolan (with his brother Jonathan)
  2. An extensive look into the magicians of the Victorian era
  3. The contrasting approaches of both Jackman and Bale in creating their characters
  4. A documentary on some aspect of post-production


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