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Thursday, December 07, 2006

'The Illusionist' vs 'The Prestige'

The Illusionist poster

The Prestige poster

My next entry will be rather heavy, so I'm just going to warm up by writing about two movies I've seen recently, The Illusionist and The Prestige, that happen to 'look' fairly similar, both are about 19th century magicians. To me, these two films brought back memories of those years when there were competing volcano films (the crappy Dante's Peak vs that Volcano film starring Tommy Lee Jones, which was kinda bad, but in my opinion, not as bad as the former), and asteroid films (Armageddon vs Deep Impact), or 3D cartoons about insects (Antz vs A Bug's Life, both really good flicks). But obviously, both are really different films.

The Illusionist is an indie film (with great production values that made it look like a studio film) directed by a rather new director Neil Burger (it's his second feature), and stars Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti (... with a Brit accent!) and Rufus Sewell (who seemed to have been playing only baddies since Dark City).

The Prestige is a more expensive film directed by Christopher Nolan fresh after his major success with Batman Begins, and stars Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman (one of the seven films he appeared in this year), Scarlett Johansson (in a flower vase role) and Michael Caine. Andy Serkis and David Bowie were in it too.

The former's about a magician, Eisenhower (Norton), attempting to win the love of his childhood sweetheart (Biel) who was engaged to the assholish Crown Prince of Vienna, Prince Leopold (Sewell). The latter's about the rivalry between two magicians, Angier (Jackman) and Borden (Bale) that got increasingly ugly.

Both are really compelling films, and yes, very different from each other, The Illusionist is more a romance while The Prestige is a drama mystery typical of Christopher Nolan (it's not in chronological order... again). The Illusionist is built around a twist towards the end, The Prestige unravels gradually with numerous twists, so yeah, both films are filled are pretty smart. Most attentive viewers can probably figure out the twists.

The Illusionist is much smaller in scale (obviously), it's a star-crossed romance, two lovers separated because of their social status differences. And it's also great to watch the conflict between a middle-class person (the magician) and royalty (the evil prince), and the magician rallying the public against the evil prince. Surprisingly, it might even be more accessible due to its simplicity. Sure, some parts might be slow, but it has good acting (come on, it's Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti!), it's pretty romantic (Jessica Biel pulled off a pretty good performance here... definitely more than just a flower vase role that, ah, Scarlett had in The Prestige), beautiful cinematography and damn, the stage magic here, contrary to the stunning flashiness of The Prestige, was genuinely impressive (long takes were used for the film, and instead of using CGI, they actually hired a real magician as a consultant, so the tricks mostly performed by Eisenheim were really how they were performed onstage by magicians).

The Prestige can be quite confusing if you are unprepared for the numerous puzzles thrown at you. Voiceover narrations from both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale's characters (from their diary entries) push the storyline. Angier and Borden managed to acquire each other's diaries, attempting to know the minds of their rivals. But then, both already knew that their diaries would be stolen, so some entries were directed towards the other person reading it. Pretty mind twisting. Not your typical popcorn fare. It's Wolverine vs Batman, but it's really a battle of wits and mind. Shame to see Scarlett Johansson in a flower vase role that anyone else could play.

Won't go that much into their plots because it might ruin things.

Both are fun. Different enough that watching both won't really be a waste of time. The Illusionist is an easier, pleasant watch, The Prestige is darker, more challenging and can hit you in the face with its numerous twists.

The Illusionist trailer

The Prestige trailer

Other The Illusionist Reviews:

Blogcritics.org: Movie Review: The Illusionist
"... slow pacing and lack of character development give The Illusionist its most impressive magic trick: somehow, an Edward Norton movie is boring." Says Don. Ouch.

Other The Prestige Reviews:

the bLeaGh zone: MuveeMe: the prestige
"despite all the wise cracks about the movie, it's a pretty good movie. like i said in the beginning, the cinematography, amazing. the actors, top class. the story-line, misleading in a good way. the conclusion, must watch." says NaDs.

Not Your Typical Monster: The Prestige(2006): Review

"The movie is great in such a way that throughout the film, i started making my own conclusions on how the tricks are performed." says Alex (Jienster).

Shaolintiger.net: Movie Review - The Prestige - Awesome!
"The cinematography, set design, production and direction are top notch, the pacing of the movie is excellent and has multiple narrators, so you see the same things from various views. It's a dark brooding movie showing the nasty side of human nature." says Shaolintiger.

(UPDATE 8/12: Coincidentally Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical also posted about these two films on the same day I put up this entry. He's less impressed by The Illusionist though. Read it here.)