Yes, yes, I know that everyone else who was planning on seeing The Prestige during its theatrical run did so a week before Halloween, but you must understand: I had planned not one, but two dates to see it (both cancelled), and then the plans I made to see it with lord_alucard got hosed when he ended up seeing it the night before -- on a date, no less.
Anyway, anyone in Madison who's seen a movie at a Marcus theater in the last few weeks got one o' them coupons for a $4 ticket, good this Monday through Thursday only. I generally am not free on weeknights until 10:00 or so, and I didn't think I'd be able to use the ticket, but I was wide awake after practicing with offBeat and decided to catch the last showing of The Prestige.
I will pay for this when I wake up. You don't understand that. You don't understand the 45 minutes to an hour and a half that it's going to take for me to wind down after writing this post. Whatever. I'll try to make it quick so I can be in bed by two.
I really enjoyed The Prestige. It's engaging, it's gripping, it's visually stimulating, and if you took away the special effects you'd still have a good movie. The plot centers around rival magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). Angier is a real showman, but he finds himself constantly confounded by the innovation of Borden's act. Oh, and it doesn't help that Borden may have killed Angier's wife. It's complicated, but suffice to say that Borden doesn't know, either.
The rivalry is ugly (read: potentially murderous) to begin with, and things are already interesting before Nikola Tesla (David Bowie, yes, David Bowie) and his assistance Alley (Andy Serkis, yes, A-- oh, never mind) show up.
Christopher Nolan is turning out to be a really fine director. Hollywood is unsettlingly full of really fine directors right now, which temporarily diminishes Nolan's strengths a little, but assuming that the human race lasts long enough, anthropologists will have a huge number of arty popcorn films to mull over. I wouldn't want to be the expert of ancient cinema who has to keep Nolan, Gondry, Fincher, and Jonez separate ("Lynch is distinguished by his musical scores, in which (for example) the sound of a car crash is slowed down to accompany a scene of passionate lovemaking. Also, he likes backwards-talking midgets.").
The casting in this movie is impressive, though I'm generally indifferent to most of the actors. I don't care for Jackman or Bale terribly, but they're great here, and Scarlett Johansson makes a good corner for the love triangle. Andy Serkis makes a surprisingly good American, Ricky Jay plays another magician because Ricky Jay only ever seems to play magicians, and Michael Caine (as the engineer behind Angier's tricks) is becoming increasingly a better actor as he gets older. David Bowie does a wonderful job as Tesla, and I found myself wishing that he'd star in a Tesla biopic, which won't happen. It's a shame because Tesla led a really interesting life, and his legitimate contributions to science are sadly overshadowed by the fact that he was almost as much of a friggin' nutjob as Thomas Edison. The difference? Edison's lightbulb was so useful that everybody looked the other way when he started trying to contact ghosts by telephone. All Tesla got was to inspire my favorite H.P. Lovecraft story.
But I digress. Quite seriously, I might add -- it's 1:30 AM. I'm tired. I should be in bed. Possibly using fewer italics.
Like The Illusionist, the ending of The Prestige becomes obvious about two thirds of the way through the movie, but unlike The Illusionist, the obvious ending turns out to be a temporary misdirection for a much bigger surprise. Oh, did you want to be surprised? Oh, well. Sorry.
Anyway, it's difficult not to compare The Prestige to The Illusionist because -- at least at a quick glance -- it seems just as fishy that they would come out so close together as it did when A Bug's Life came out on the heels of Antz. But in this case it probably is a coincidence, more or less. Which one is the better film? I'm going to go out on a limb and pick The Illusionist, simply because I found it more attractive and more stylistically original. Which one would I rather watch? That's a tough call and would depend on my mood. I think The Prestige is to The Illusionist what Armageddon was to Deep Impact. That might be a lousy comparison because neither one of those movies was very good. A better (but less accessible) one might Citizen Kane vs. The Seventh Seal, where both films deserve equally high praise for entirely different reasons. The Prestige is probably more fun, has more action, and more David Bowie being Nikola Tesla, but The Illusionist is more subtly beautiful.