Endurance artist tries his hand at magic
The Story So Far...
What made Blaine such an innovator and an instant star was partially his dark, brooding personality (and lets face it, his dark, brooding good looks) and partially his focus on up-close street magic, performing his magic directly to small audiences and the camera, stripping the art of its glitz and flamboyance, giving it an extra coating of gritty authenticity, perfect for an era defined by reality TV and YouTube. Watching a magician in a showy tuxedo on a Vegas-style stage performing a disappearance is easy to explain away as show-biz. Having the magician standing a foot from the audience makes the magic all the more real (even if it depends on the camera even more.) Thus. you get plenty of sleight of hand tricks, along with some mental manipulation and a few odder bits, like exploding glass with his mind, which defy explanation outside of everyone on the special being in on the trick (which, as a magic fan and hopeless optimist about the existence of the supernatural, is not what I want.)
Unfortunately, as Blaine's fame grew, his focus shifted from magic to endurance, as he put himself through a series of physical and mental challenges, which became the core of his TV specials. The main issue for many when it came to these tests where their very static nature. In each, he was basically staying still while combating some sort of obstacle, be it height, water or a bullet. It's not the most exciting experience watching someone focus, even if the act itself, in context, is rather impressive. As a result, the three specials on this DVD, Vertigo, Drowned Alive and What is Magic? fill out their time with up-close magic, preparation and goofy stunts, making Blaine into something of a magic Jackass.
Though his grand-scale feats can be a bit boring to watch and certainly formulaic (you can guarantee the big endurance tests will end with Blaine exhausted, held up by his crew and thanking his fans via a tiny microphone) the specials make each one seem like he's working some sort of messianic miracle, through a combination of man-on-the-street interviews, celebrity endorsements (watch for appearances by Howard Stern, David Arquette and Courtney Cox, Eli Manning and a blink-and-you'll-miss-her Fiona Apple) and Blaine's special brand of voiceover philosophy. It all works together to show how Blaine can be all things to all people, whether you see his stunts as man's ability to overcome his limitations or his magic as a reason to believe in the unknowable. Let's be thankful he seems satisfied with fame rather than leading his own cult.
Delivered with Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, these specials sound like any TV special from the pre-HD days, with straight-forward, center-balanced audio. Don't expect anything impressive, like dynamic mixing, and you won't be disappointed by the presentation.
After his Drowned Alive stunt didn't go as planned, he gave the old holding his breath trick another try, this time on Oprah Winfrey's show. This 2:48 clip shows some of the attempt, which was under different rules, and went much longer. It's also not nearly as interesting, with the camera solidly on Blaine's fishbowl basically the entire time.
It would interesting to know who booked Blaine to speak at the 2009 TedMed talks in San Diego, where he talked about the physical lengths he goes to for his stunts, but they probably should have taken into consideration what his monotone voice would sound like over his 21-minute appearance. He gets off a few crowd-pleasing jokes, but it can be a bit difficult to listen to.
The disc wraps with two short clips, one of Blaine in various costumes, swimming with Great White Sharks, cleverly titled "Dressed for Dinner" (4:18), while the other is a 2:23 bit of Blaine doing card tricks for kids on a Soweto street. That it's not too far off from the reaction he gets in some of the specials, says a lot about the universality of magic,
The Bottom Line