Monday, January 4, 2010

The Prestige, Christopher Priest

The Prestige
Christopher Priest

Netflix is an interesting thing. You view a movie or two and its recommendation engine gets going. The next thing you know you've got fifteen movies in a row all starring Raquel Welch, or some such.

In my case, it all started with Batman Begins, which lead to a string of movies staring Christian Bale. Among the things I wound up watching eventually was The Prestige, a movie about a pair of feuding magicians in the late 1800s. The movie is pretty dark, and there are some very interesting twists in it as well. David Bowie as Nikola Tesla was a great surprise.

At some point I learned that the movie was based on the book of the same name by Christopher Priest. I wanted to read the book because the movie is pretty convoluted. I thought I might learn a thing or two I'd missed in the movie. Also - as those who've read my reviews know - I am always curious about the adaptation process. Going from book to movie isn't always straightforward.

And so it turns out in this case. The Prestige isn't quite as distant from its book ancestor as Blade Runner is from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but it's pretty far from the original. And, in all honesty, I'm still trying to decide which one I like more.

The book has additional characters - set in the present - who are looking into their ancestors. Beyond that, though, the book is mostly in the form of long extracts from the diaries of the two main characters: Rupert Angier and Alfred Borden. Nikola Tesla does appear in the book, and performs essentially the same task, but other characters, though present, are different in various ways.

The book is even darker than the movie, and more of a fantasy as well. At times it borders on horror. The cause of the bad blood between the magicians is entirely different, and various details about the apparatus created by Tesla are different as well. The diary extracts are very different in the two versions of the story, and to my mind the movie did a slightly better job there.

If I have a gripe with the book, it's that the diary extracts get a bit long at times, leaving the reader a bit unsure of where things are in time. That, however, is a minor issue. The story definitely still works, and the book won both the World Fantasy Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for best fiction in 1996.

This is one of those cases where the book and the movie are so different that they don't impinge on each other, at least for me. Which one you like more is entirely up to you, of course. I find them both interesting and thought provoking, thus, both are recommended.