HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Houdini: 2 Disc Extended Cut
HTS Overall Score:75
When we think of the great magicians of the world we have a plethora to choose from. We’ve got David Copperfield, Andre Kole, Harry Blackstone, but the one that everyone knows is Harry Houdini. Stage magic has dazzled and entrances the human race for 100s of years, going back to the olden days when people would believe the charlatans practicing stage magic WERE in fact real life practitioners in the black arts. We right books about them, we see them perform in public and toss our money to them for the privilege. Nowadays we recognize (for the most part) that these magicians are entertainers, giving us a show for our coin, and it has created a lucrative career for many (my best friend is an illusionist traveling the world), but still humans are amazed and perplexed by sleight of hand and the incredible power of illusion. Nicholas Meyers tried to do a Freudian take on Sherlock Holmes in “The Seven Per-cent Solution” and now it appears that he’s done the same thing with Harry Houdini, giving a bit of an analytical approach to his life.
The film takes a rather by the numbers take on Harry Houdini’s (Erich Weiss being his real name) life, chronicling his rise to fame and his inevitable end. Young Harry (Adrian Brody) was brought up in a strict family as the eldest son of a pair of German speaking Jews from Budapest. Having some serious daddy and mommy issues (definitely can tell Meyer’s Freudian influence here), young Harry tries to make something of himself and decides to take up the trade of magic and apprentices himself out to a traveling carnie magician. As with every young man, he meets a young girl and the two fall in love. In his case he meets a young singer at the circus that peaks his interest and bends the heart of the young magician. Teaming up, he and his wife Bess (Kristen Connolly) go on the road, where plies his trade as a two bit magician wherever he can make a buck. After a random encounter at a brothel show he finds out that the audience craves escapes, thus giving birth to his most famous of all tricks, the ability to escape from anything.
Teaming up with an inventor by the name of Jim Collins (Evan Jones) he, Bess and Jim go on the road to become the most famous escape artist ever. The movie pounds into your head that Harry is trying to escape not only from his self-imposed bonds, but his psychological bonds as well. Dealing with daddy issues that plague him from beginning to end, in the form of his father emblazoned into his mind as the shooter in the famous “catch the bullet” trick. That’s not to say that the man doesn’t have enough mommy issues either, as she is the apple of his eye from beginning to end, and the devastating affect that her death has on him in the final episode. The show picks up once Houdini is conscripted by the CIA to do some espionage across the see on the Kaiser in a Pre WWI world. There he gets to visit Russia, and Germany to play for dignitaries and gather information (as well as come up with new ideas for tricks and escapes.
The final act tends to focus on his older life, after he meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his medium wife only to be tricked by her later on after his mother’s death. Turning bitter and angry, Houdini spends the rest of his days trying to track down and disprove any and all spiritualists who dare say they speak to the dead. In many ways it appears that he loathes them, but in reality he’s desperately trying to seek one out who can actually do what they say so that he might commune with his dead mother. This fascination with the dead and his blatant skepticism with the mediums and such only lead him so much closer to that escape from life that he so desperately wants.
“Houdini” is a pleasant miniseries that is marred a bit by the overabundance of psycho-babble and prattling one with Freudian undertones rippling throughout the series. It’s fairly paint by the numbers as far as The History Channel goes, with plenty of quick cuts to other scenes that runs well for a documentary where you are constantly cutting away from the dramatization to a commentary or what not, but in a straight out dramatic retelling it feels a bit awkward at times. Adrian Brody is a fantastic actor and I really think he knocked the portrayal that he was given out of the park (except of course for him being a tall man when Houdini was actually a 5’4 man). Connolly was very well cast as his loving/bitter wife, and my only complaint regarding her was that they did a VERY poor job at making her age. Between them being newlyweds and being married 20+ yeas she looks identical, as no facial makeup or digital trickery was used to show her age. Even Houdini suffered this effect till after his mother’s death when he started to show some aging signs. It’s a nitpick, but one that slightly bugged me the whole time.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=28937[/img]“Houdini” is given a near flawless transfer to Blu-ray in its native 1.78:1 TV aspect ratio with only a few minor flaws. The miniseries is shot digitally and besides some rather soft looking CGI elements, the show looks incredible. The director loved to shoot up close and personal, with some really tight close shots which allow for tons of fine facial detail to come through with much aplomb. Colors are bright and saturated well, giving us plenty of blues, greens, yellows and reds in incredibly accurate textures and color levels. Contrasts are well done, but sometimes boosted in order to replicate that sort of dreamy feel that we associate with the early 20th century. Black levels are never in doubt, as there is plenty of inky depth to them with no lack of shadow detail. There was some mild banding in one or two scenes, mostly so brief that I had to rewind and peer closer to make sure I was seeing it, and other than that small flaw I didn’t see any encoding or compression artifacts whatsoever.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=28945[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track given to us on the disc is a well done audio experience that really has very little downsides. The audio is immersive enough, for the most part, with lots of surround activity during many of the stage showings, or when a tense dramatic moment is upon us, but then can fade into the background with much more limited surround usage at other times. There is a surprising amount of LFE for a history channel film, and it adds a nice heavy low end to the more dramatic scenes, although sometimes a bit too much fanfare and overly dramatic downbeats than was necessary. I never once had a problem with the dialogue, as it all comes through crystal clear through the front channel and the panning effects of the mains was quite pleasing, giving a nice directional effect with Houdini’s many tricks. Overall a very well done track, that is excellent given its TV miniseries roots.
• The Great Escapes
• The Real Houdine
• Cheating Death
• Houdini the Great
“Houdini” is a little different than the normal docu-dramas that the History Channel has been doing lately, with much more emphasis on drama than documentary. The show has its ups and downs, with some of the downers being a little too much focus on Houdini being “trapped” inside himself and the constant references to his mother. The dramatic moments between himself and Bess were quite well done, adding a bit of flavor to what we know of the great escape artist, and I really really enjoyed the revelations of his many escapes. Stage magic itself is a fascinating subject and the deconstruction of these awe inspiring feats is exceptionally titillating. It’s a bit uneven, but still, quite a fun experience for the majority of its runtime. Audio and video are excellent and the only real downside to the physical package is the poor showing of extras. If you’re at all fascinated with stage magic, I’d give it a recommendation as a watch.
Starring: Adrian Brody, Kristen Connolly, Evan Jones
Directed by: William Lau, Sylvian Blais
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 150 Minutes Theatrical / 174 Minutes Extended
Blu-ray Release Date: October 7th 2014
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