Follow us on

Featured TV on DVD Review: Houdini

October 6th, 2014

Houdini - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Houdini is a two-part TV mini-series that first aired at the beginning of last month. This week, it hits the home market on DVD or Blu-ray. Is it worth checking out for those who are interesting in the life of Harry Houdini? Is it worth checking out for those who know little about Harry Houdini?

The Show

The mini-series begins with a title card daring us to tell where they made stuff up. They don't exactly put it that way, but that's the gist of what they said. We then see Harry Houdini about to perform a death-defying escape. We also hear in a voice-over about how most people try to escape life, but he escapes death. When the stunt begins to go poorly, we see flashbacks throughout his life, which lead into the opening credits.

After the credits, we flash back 17 years before the opening to when Houdini and his wife, Bess, would travel the back roads performing their magic act in small venues. This particular venue was a brothel. Harry wants to leave, but Bess forces him to stay by introducing him to the crowd. When he describes his magic act, which includes breaking out of handcuffs, someone in the crowd scoffs at him saying his handcuffs are fake. He says he would use another set, if there were one on the premises. It turns out the heckler was a cop, so he hands Houdini his handcuffs. Breaking out of those are almost as easy as breaking out of his own, which wows the crowd. It is there that he decides to become an escape artist.

For much of the movie, we bounce around in time to important points in Houdini's life from his childhood, meeting Bess, getting involved in World War I as a spy, and more. The third act focuses more on Harry Houdini's debunking mystics. After his mother passed away, he wanted to talk to her one last time, but every medium he encountered turned out to be a fraud. He eventually starts an all out war against mystics, which causes him to make enemies, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Sherlock Holmes, he was beloved and many people thought he was a genius. However, he also believed his wife was a medium.

Parts of the movie are really interesting. I especially liked when he went after the psychic frauds. However, the high points were few and far between and the low points were plentiful. Also on the positive side, Adrien Brody is good, for the most part, and Kristen Connolly does as much as possible with a poorly written role. She has little to do besides act as the worried wife. The writing and the directing is ham-fisted and repetitive. The voice-over narration is poorly written and is delivered without the energy needed to sell it. The mini-series tries way too hard to be stylistic, but this backfires time and time again. I lost count how many times we say an x-ray vision look at Harry Houdini being hit. You see, he died when someone punched him in the stomach, so if it is foreshadowing when they do it once, it must be even better when they do it over and over and over again. Some of this style was used to help illustrate how Houdini's tricks worked, but even here it started to feel like a bad CSI episode.

I really wanted to like the show and I remain convinced that there is a great movie to be made about his life. This is not it.

The Extras

There are four featurettes on the Blu-ray, but the total running time is under 15 minutes. If each of them were 15 minutes, then there would be enough extras on the two-disc set to be a selling point.

While I didn't like the movie and the extras are too short to be substantial, I don't have much to complain about with the technical presentation. The level of detail is excellent, while the colors are strong. It's not up to the level of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it is certainly better than most TV on DVD releases. The audio has clear dialogue, but like the video, it is not as dynamic an audio track when compared to theatrical releases.

The Blu-ray costs $20, which is $5 or 33% more than the DVD. That's fine for this type of release.

The Verdict

I really want to see an Award-Worthy biopic about Harry Houdini. I certainly think his life is fascinating enough to carry that. Unfortunately, instead we are stuck with Houdini, which is ham-fisted, repetitive, and poorly written. There are not enough extras on the DVD or Blu-ray, so even if you liked the TV mini-series, a rental is more than enough.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review, Adrien Brody, David Calder, Kristen Connolly