f you like magic and impossible odds you’ve probably heard of the master magician Harry Houdini. He escaped all kinds of chains and traps and has a biography full of fascinating facts. History Channel made mini-series about his life. In it Adrian Brody plays the great magician. His “Houdini” is well made in terms of production and his acting is satisfying. I saw this as an opportunity to revive Brody’s stale career but unfortunately the story in the series was less fascinating than the life of Houdini himself.
I think that screenwriters will never learn: When you have a real life story bigger than life then you mustn’t sugarcoat it. You can’t make something greater if it’s already great. Unfortunately, that’s not the only, but it is the biggest mistake of “Houdini” miniseries.
Harry Houdini was born in Budapest in 1874. His father was a rabbi, and they came into United States looking for a better life (after his father participated in a duel). Houdini’s real name was Erik Weisz and after he started performing he decided to change it for Harry Houdini. There are many available sources if you’re working on a story about this extraordinary man. Problem with the History Channel adaptation is that it uses them all and few of them accurately. I felt as I’m watching fictional depiction of every available conspiracy theory about Houdini. During the series Houdini was: spy for the government, magician, spiritualist and politician. Most of these things in the same time. He even managed to cheat on his wife.
I wouldn’t blame the writers of the series, Houdini’s escaped death dozens of times but they haven’t realized that he has escaped them too. They tried to make historical fiction, but they made a series that is neither historical neither it’s good fiction.
References and the fact checking of the series are available HERE. As you can see on the attached link Houdini in the series is loosely connected to the real man. Historical elements are almost complete fantasy and extraordinary man as Houdini deserves better. Fiction in the series doesn’t work because of the cliches and bad dialogues. They made the series unwatchable. I enjoyed “Houdini” when I stopped being nervous about all inaccuracies and false characterizations. Problem is that Houdini still has an army of fans despite of being dead for ninety years. It’s always dangerous to adapt sensitive material like that.
Another problem with the series is the concept of the “History Channel I’m aware that in nineties it was called WW2 channel since it played WW2 documentaries 24/7. But WW2 documentaries were history. All “Ancient Aliens “Pawn Shops” and “Swamp People” aren’t history. They are something else and I thought more often than ever: “History Channel should change its name because the program is an insult to the history and the meaning of the word.
“Hatfields and McCoys” were the dawn, with the Vikings as the rays of hope in the otherwise bleak History Channel’s panorama. My hopes for “Houdini” and “Sons of Liberty” were high, but they both failed to deliver. When people see historical fiction on a History channel they want more. They want more accurate product than the inaccurate historical and romantic representations of the periods and the important people in history. Next thing we’ll be “learning” on that God forsaken channel will be historical soap opera about Columbus? In it we’ll find out something shocking and disturbing that nobody but the screenwriters knew?
Discrepancies between my expectations and what the show delivers are the reasons for my disappointment. However, “Houdini” is still a lot of fun. It can be enjoyed for a time if you don’t concern yourself with all the fails it has. It was nice for the magicians to preform, it was nice how the movies and theaters competed. The first real depiction of Houdini’s work as a silent movie star was done in here.
If you want an homage to Houdini go see “Prestige” or “Illusionist”. Surf the web and look for the real thing. Here, somebody took the story about a remarkable man to make an unremarkable series.
Adrien Brody and some production values are the only positives of this series. Everything else should’ve been much better.