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Houdini Extended Edition
Blu-ray + Digital
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His ability to escape from handcuffs, straitjackets, and water tanks is legendary breaking the shackles of his past proved more challenging. Academy Award® winner* Adrien Brody and Kristen Connolly star in this 2-part event which follows the world-renowned master of escape s transformation from immigrant into the world s first superstar. Driven, disciplined, and actively chasing the American Dream, Houdini constantly pushed his physical limits to accomplish feats of strength that amazed audiences in an age of spectacle. And though they saw what he wanted them to see, his reality was more elusive than his escapes
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Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with this latest version of the Houdini story, at least not in the first part of this two-part miniseries from HISTORY. When Houdini's real life doesn't fit screenwriter Nicholas Meyer’s fictions, he changes the life. The real story of how Houdini found success -- a key component in the life story of any entertainer -- is completely thrown out in favor of a single "Johnson County" jail break in 1896. Houdini then springs fully formed as the "most famous man in America" by 1900. This is so far from the truth it's shocking.
Meyer's other offenses are more fundamental and just plain sloppy. He misspells Houdini's real name as Erich (it's Ehrich). He presents the Water Torture Cell as Houdini's first major stage escape. Not just horrendously wrong, but it effectively erases the entire progression of Houdini's art and career. He places Houdini's home in Brooklyn instead of Harlem. Houdini was a cinema pioneer. Meyer makes him a cinema holdout. Houdini was a famous teetotaler. Meyer shows him drunk. Superimposed titles are used throughout to locate the action, yet not a single one is accurate. Why use locators if they are not identifying something real? What kills me is Meyer just seems to take the approach that the truth doesn't matter. The truth is what works for him at the moment. The entire thing feels lazy, arrogant, and even amateur.
But it soon becomes clear why Meyer so badly mangles the facts of Houdini's early life. Because at minute 40, Washington sends Houdini off to Europe as a secret agent. Now, this 2004 theory that Houdini did "spy" work is HIGHLY dubious and should never have been included in something that purports to be a biopic. But Hollywood cannot resist a spy movie, and this silliness dominates and, for me at least, ruins Part I.
But then comes Part II, which, finally free of the hackneyed spy elements, is MUCH better. There finally seems to be an effort on Meyer’s part to tell Houdini's real story. The details of Houdini's death, while dramatically time compressed, are largely accurate. Houdini doesn’t die in the Water Torture Cell, and that’s a first for a Houdini biopic. And the actors finally get to play dramatic scenes without the incessant voice over and hyperactive editing effects. I just wish whatever hand guided this second part was present during the first.
In fact, if you make your peace with the inaccuracies and watch this as a tale told by an unreliable narrator -- "with just enough truth to make you believe the lies" -- it can be enjoyable. The production design is magnificant. Adrien Brody, a poor physical match for Houdini, delivers an excellent performance and projects a charisma that he surely shares with The Handcuff King. And the beautiful Kristen Connolly is wonderful as Bess.
One thing I would highly recommend is watching the extended version on this DVD, not the TV version that aired on the History Channel. It's the much better version of HOUDINI.
(I write a blog about Houdini called WILD ABOUT HARRY.)
Brody portrays Houdini as a man who seems to live his life as a series of obsessions,many of which threaten to become obstacles between him and the people in his life.The world of late-nineteenth/early-twentieth stage magic is a wonder to behold here,as the mechanics of many of Houdini's illusions and escapes are shown.It's amazing how much of this foreshadows the tragic circumstances under which Houdini ultimately met his demise.Writer Nicholas Meyer (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution,Star Trek VI:The Undiscovered Country) and director Uli Edel (Last Exit To Brooklyn,The Mists Of Avalon) have certainly created a unique and entertaining depiction of Harry Houdini.