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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

984: Prisoner of the Future - A film brought to you courtesy of the Movie & Music Network

984: Prisoner of the Future (1982)

Director: Tibor Takács

Cast: Stephen Markle, Michèle Chicoine, Don Francks

When it came to my current choice of movie to watch & review from the wonderfully subversive library of the Movie & Music Network, well it is safe to say that I almost stumbled upon the film in question quite by accident. If truth be told I was going to watch something else completely, the name of which shall remain nameless for now as it may well form part of a future article (anything to save me from extra work.....), but I changed my mind at the last moment (one of my many, many bad habits) and decided on something very different after an intriguing little title caught my eye.

I've always been something of a sucker (easy, don't make up your own jokes) for a good old story of 'man (or woman) against a totalitarian system' story. I suppose that the concept of being locked away for crime one not only didn't commit, but also being unaware exactly what that crime is, has long since been one of our deepest sociological and personal fears. In my case, being locked in a room and forced to listen 24/7 to the latest X-factor 'songs' with TV in the corner playing non-stop reality shows, would quite frankly be my actual top of personal list of ultimate dreaded fears.......but the being locked up thing while being innocent etc etc is pretty close.

So these fears very nicely influenced the film that caught my attention. In truth, it was the briefest of synopsis of a film that to be honest I had never heard of before - 984:Prisoner of the Future (1982). Just reading the following meant that the deal was sealed. 

"In a futuristic world, a man is taken prisoner and jailed for alleged crimes against the government.

Imprisoned without true cause, the man is tortured by a sadistic warden."

This theme (the crimes against the state, not X-Factor and reality TV hell) has long since been the staple of dystopic subject matter that has continued to enthral Science Fiction audiences to this day. From the likes of Franz Kafka's stunning book, The Trial, which tells the tale of Josef K, a man who is unexpectedly arrested and sent to trial by unnamed agents from an unnamed authority. The man is never given any indication (as neither are we) at any point during the story as to exactly what the crime is that he is accused of. Then of course we also have George Orwell's dystopian showpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which is arguably the personification in literature and film of the power of an all-powerful authority over a society, and specifically, the individual.

Perhaps my personal favourite along this dystopian strand is the classic 1960's TV series, The Prisoner, which tells the story of an ex-Government agent who is imprisoned and interrogated for information (again, the subject of which he or the audience is never made aware of). The real genius of this series was to transform the 'interrogation facility' from a dark and bleak prison cell to a charmingly beautiful isolated seaside village, complete with a population comprising of strange enigmatic individuals (some of whom are 'enemies' of the state too - possibly) and life-size balloons that chase the Prisoner, who is now simply referred to by the state as 'Number six'.

"Excuse me sir, we have reason to believe you are an enemy of
our Orwellian dystopic dictatorship regime....."
984:Prisoner of the Future was originally a made-for-TV Canadian production. However, before I talk more about it let me say something from the very beginning, this film is no Nineteen Eighty-Four, nor is it close to the perfection of The Prisoner. However, it does have enough merits of his to warrant being regarded as an enjoyable, albeit flawed piece of work. 

It contains some of the familiar themes mentioned in the its illustrious predecessors, namely a man taken against against will by a powerful organisation who know little or nothing about the crimes he is accused of - and just as importantly, we are equally in the dark. That final factor will be more than enough to annoy some viewers who like their 'nice cosy character arcs and fully explained satisfying' endings. 

Indeed, one or two of the reviews I have seen about this move have made that very very criticism, the fact that 984:Prisoner of the Future leaves much of the mystery of the narrative unexplained seems to really, REALLY annoy some people. One particular reviewer's main rant about the film was this distinct lack of transparency in the plot and narrative and took a great deal of offence at the fact the proceedings weren't clearly explained to him. God give me strength! The fact that the irony of him wanting full and frank explanation of what was going on in a film that deals with a protagonist who has little or no idea of what is happening around him was well and truly lost on this one reviewer in particular.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, this was originally made for television production and was slated to be the pilot for the following series. After literally a couple of moments of intense research I gave up trying to find out why the series was never commissioned. Perhaps the main reason was the slightly confusing story narrative that takes place, maybe it was monetary constraints (something which is more than apparent in certain parts of the feature), one day I may find out. 

The rumour that this is me after the Christmas celebrations
are yet to be confirmed......
One thing that I am sure of is that despite a number of glaring negatives (one of them though is incredibly entertaining), which I will mention later, 984:Prisoner of the Future is a surprisingly effective and convincing treatment of a study into how one individual can find himself in a insane nightmare of Kafka-esque proportions as reality becomes nothing more than battle against the madness of the oppressive system.

The performances throughout are generally excellent, with Don Francks obviously having a whale of a time in the meaty role of the sadistic and ever increasingly insane interrogator. The protagonist, Tom Weston, is also nicely played by Stephen Markle as he finds himself on a journey which begins initially with anger and bewilderment at his plight, but which gradually descends into psychological terror and impending madness. Perhaps the most interesting of the performances for me was that of Stan Wilson, who plays the enigmatic assistant to the warden. It's a nicely layered portrayal of a character who is far more complex than the brutish and sadistic officer that he first appears to be. One criticism than cannot be levelled at this film is the quality of acting.

I can imagine that some people would be put off by the often vague structure of plot and narrative that leaves the viewer from the very beginning to end asking far more questions than any answers would be given for. For example, we are never quite sure if Tom Weston is guilty of conspiring against 'The Movement'. The film features constant flashbacks to his 'normal' life when he was first approached by his influential friends to join with them in rebellion. Did he really refuse their advances? Or is he merely trying to convince himself in order to be better able to resist the ever more violent interrogation? I sincerely believe that the intention (just like in The Prisoner) was to leave the viewer with a sense of bewilderment at Weston's plight, in essence, trying to put us in the same shoes as this man who is no longer sure of what he knows or believes. 

This belief comes in part from the track record of 984:Prisoner of the Future's director, Tibor Takacs, who has a fine track record of productions such as; The Gate (1987), I, Madman (1989) plus episodes of Earth: Final Conflict and the rebooted Outer Limits from the 1990's. Believe me, this guy is no mug.

A prison robot guard - & yes, 
it is wearing roller skates....
For all the undoubted strengths of 984:Prisoner of the Future, it is undoubtably a flawed piece of work, particularly in terms of the film's budget, which quite frankly speaks volumes of a 'Please pick up this pilot for a full series and we'll be able to spend much more' approach.

The most obvious consequence of this is that the robot guards who are intended to invoke feelings of terror and instead invoke feelings of humour - but in a 'laughing at them' not 'with them' sort of way. It also doesn't help that the robot guards travel around the facility on skates......yes, my friends..... skates. Seriously people, you need to go to the Movie & Music Network right now if only to watch this version of 'sadistic robot guards on roller skates - it's fun for all the family!!'

However, these are but minor negatives for which is overall a considered and skillful take on man versus the power of authoritarian authority. Yes the production values may be lacking, and yes, the robot guards (on skates) may be a frightening as a cute puppy with a cute playtoy. Yes, the plot may be foggy and confusing in parts - If I was a betting man (which I'm not), I'm betting that the TV execs didn't have a clue what the heck they were looking at when first seeing this film back in 1982 . The men in suits must have wondered just what to make of this vision of dystopia, indeed it may have be just a little too far on the 'wrong' side of an unsettling and downbeat for their mainstream executive tastes.

However, what we have here is a relatively unknown film that deserves to have a much wider audience. I would dearly love to find out just what the makers of 984:Prisoner of the Future planned to to with the series after the events here, I think it may have been special.

But hey - don't just take my word for it. Because thanks to the most wonderful people at the Movie & Music Network, you can watch 984: Prisoner of the Future - FOR FREE!

You don't need to subscribe to view it - but you never know, after having yourself a sneaky little peak the rest go the Library then it may well be a good idea to do so!

Click RIGHT HERE to watch the movie and let me know what you think!

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite low-budget productions. People who like this might also like "The Questor Tapes."