The Island (2005) / Sci Fi-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, language, and some sexuality
Running Time: 127 min.
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi, Djimon Hounsou, Kim Coates, Ethan Phillips, Michael Clarke Duncan
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
Review published July 23, 2005
An interesting science fiction premise (possibly lifted from the awful 1979 MST3k lampooned flick, Parts: The Clonus Horror) gets dumbed way down for mass consumption in The Island, the latest film that Michael Bay (Bad Boys II, Pearl Harbor) ruins by trying to blow us away with ridiculous, logic-defying special effects sequences where things crash hard, burn long, and blow up big. Amazing, he actually manages to restrain his inclinations for a little over a half hour in order to allow for the high concept backbone of the plot, but after this, he tears the lid off and lets it rip for all its worth. Admittedly, this kind of high-gloss, eye-candy filmmaking does look awfully good, and a few of the action pieces are very impressively created. Still, heady science fiction concepts and fantastic action need to be equally balanced, not only in screen time, but also in intelligence, and this is where Bay finally falters. The science fiction set-up should never be even dumber than the chase scenes.
The not-too-distant future provides the setting, where the Earth is purported to have been contaminated to the point where the only living beings are humans living in well-encased, scientifically advanced underground structures. There is one spot on Earth that isn't contaminated, and where humans can go to live in the outside world in the form of an island paradise, and only those chosen by lottery (or by giving birth) can go there. Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor, Revenge of the Sith) is one of these human inhabitants, but lately, he has been suffering from recurring dreams that are perplexing to his very stable existence, making him a curious sort of fellow. When the day comes that he encounters an insect that his mentors have told him no longer existed, he begins to believe that all is not what it appears. After some snooping into the matter, Lincoln discovers their existence is even worse than he could ever imagine, and when his best friend Jordan Two Delta (Johansson, In Good Company) is slated to be next to go to the Island, he realizes it is time to make their great escape.
With the advancements if cloning in the science community over the last few years, The Island could have been a very bleak and harrowing statement about a future where it might be possible to demean cloned human life to the point where we don't consider manufactured humans as human, despite being every bit as human as we are, and the dangers that harvesting for profit represents. I use the word "could" because it isn't a very political or socially-conscious film at all. The creators of this movie couldn't care less about such issues, merely utilizing these concepts for the purpose of creating a high-octane action vehicle to traverse some very familiar chase/thriller pathways leading to a suspenseful, nail-biting finale. Given the fact that nearly all of the creative effort comes into blowing us away with the action, I suppose it's ironic that the film seems its dullest as it begins to approach the point where we should all be completely riveted, our minds numbed by far too liberal usage of pyrotechnics and CGI-laden car crashes to care whether or not more destructive mayhem will occur for the final showdown.
Other than the realistic and impressive special effects, the casting of McGregor and Johansson would seem like a decent enough safety net to allow us to buy the simplistically presented theoretical concepts. Alas, it doesn't quite work that way, as our intelligent actors are required to think, act and talk as though they are no more intelligent than your average 10th grader. Here, McGregor actually does as fine a performance as he can given the limitations of the script, as he has played less-than-genius characters in the past. Johansson doesn't fare as well, not because she isn't a fine actress in her own right, but because she is too intelligent and intuitive to really buy in the hot ditzy blonde role -- this is one case where a lesser actress could have probably done a better job.
While I'm personally glad to see that the Bay/Bruckheimer combo has come to an end (at least for now), I do wish that another more influential producer could take Michael Bay and focus his efforts into character development and story pacing. For all of the insults I throw his way, Bay has a very defined and sometimes visually beautiful approach to filmmaking that could actually amount to something if he could only concentrate more on the fundamentals of plotting, and less on the need to constantly blow us away with ever-escalating grandiose action extravaganzas. However, like the man behind the cloning corporation known as Merrick (Sean Bean, National Treasure), Bay is more prideful of the art of his technical artifice than he is in the humanity of the characters and consciousness of his story. I can see where Bay would be attracted to a project involving people than can be reproduced and replaced by replicas possessing limited, adolescent mentalities. If the entire world were to be inhabited by such people, Michael Bay would be a god among men as a storyteller.
©2005 Vince Leo