Friday, 6 July 2012

Review: DYNAMO – MAGICIAN IMPOSSIBLE (Watch)


Last summer Watch scored an unexpected hit with Dynamo: Magician Impossible, a street magic series owing much to the pioneering work of US illusionist David Blaine in the late-'90s; insofar as it's a near-exact replica. Like Blaine, Bradford-born magician Dynamo (aka Steve Frayne) travels the world performing magic to ordinary folk in the great outdoors—with no stages, dry ice machines, assistants, or expensive props to hand—and the results speak for themselves. It's a style of magic that's a zillion miles away from David Copperfield or Paul Daniels' brand of magic, and Dynamo's success perhaps hinges on the fact he's a very ordinary man doing extraordinary things.

See, Blaine's act was predicated on the audience being unsure if he was a freak of nature, or the second coming of Christ. Some of the hicks he performed to didn't know whether to applaud or offer a virginal sacrifice. Dynamo steals a great many things from Blaine's act, including the occasional trick, but he doesn't present himself as anyone terrible mysterious—even when he's doing God-like things like levitating or walking on water. Indeed, Magician Impossible's format is a quasi-biography charting the life of Dynamo; from amateur illusionist impressing friends/family, through to semi-pro local hero of Bradford, to his current status as a globetrotting celebrity. When Snoop Dogg likes your work, you know you've made it.

The only problem with the show's format is that, frankly, Dynamo's rise to eminence comes across as less remarkable than the filmmakers want you to believe. Blaine's quiet enigma kept audiences gripped and confused, whereas Dynamo presents his ordinary life on a platter and loses all sense of mystery. This makes him less pretentious and more accessible as a performer (especially for fellow Brits), but it causes the TV show some narrative hiccups.

I also don't get the feeling Dynamo's entirely cut-out for fame. He seems rather shy and geeky at times (floating around the sidelines of L.A pool parties, UK clubs and French casinos), which I suppose is a personality type conducive to mastering hundreds of tricks in your bedroom as a teenager. (No wand jokes, please.) There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I get a feeling Dynamo would prefer the show to be less of a chronicle and more about the magic. There was a moment in the premiere of series 2 when the show touched on the recent death of Dynamo's grandad, who was instrumental in his achievements, and it was telling that Dynamo's input was kept to a rather scripted voice-over. Instead, friends of his were put on camera to comment on how Dynamo coped with grief.


Anyway, the important thing for any magic show is the magic. Fortunately, this is where Dynamo excels. There were some very impressive feats and displays of skills here; not to mention clever editing and technological wizardry. I don't mean camera tricks of special effects (which is blatant cheating and an abuse of trust with viewers), but there have been exposés of street magic in the recent past, so I'm aware of how much planning can go into a seemingly impromptu trick, or how deviously clever a street magician's hidden equipment can be. So much fishing wire, magnets, and specially rigged "everyday objects".

But even knowing that doesn't spoil things. There were some very enjoyable and baffling moments in this opener (shrinking an iPhone into a bottle, then returning it to normal size; burning a coin into glass to leave an impression; or the moment when Dynamo flew over a nightclub audience's heads), but nothing came close to the many highlights of series 1. Maybe that's a downside with magic shows of this nature: they tend to come in cycles because new tricks worth televising take years to create and perfect, and few tricks can be done more than once by the same magician on camera. If Dynamo walked across the Thames again, people would quite rightly complain, so everything has to be brand new. And I worry that street magic burns itself out quickly once new tricks and effects have been created—perhaps explaining why, after some truly amazing specials, David Blaine moved into divisive physical endurance events (buried alive, standing on a podium for days, sitting inside a plastic box for a month, etc.) Whereas the likes of Copperfield can be performing a stage shows for years without the necessity to change things that often.

Overall, Magician Impossible is still a fantastic series and the biggest reason to try and locate Watch on your EPG. I'm not entirely convinced the format suits Dynamo's personality, and it shamelessly steals from David Blaine, but there are usually three or four very memorable tricks in each episode—and, if this series rises to the quality of the first run, hopefully a handful of tricks that lodge in your head and make you question your own sanity.

Watch – Thursdays @9PM
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