Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Island (2005)

When The Island was released back in 2005 it quickly became the excuse that everyone needed to give director Michael Bay a bit of a kicking. It was a big-budget sci-fi action movie that didn't perform half as well as it was expected to, it pretty much led to (or certainly contributed to) the end of the Dreamworks SKG studio as it was established at that time and there were cries of plagiarism from anyone who had seen The Clonus Horror (a film that I've yet to see, but the fact that Robert S. Fiveson was able to bring a copyright infringement suit to court and have Dreamworks settle before the case could go to trial would seem to suggest that there was certainly a fair bit of common ground). There was also the strange idea to show a 45 minute preview of the movie at Cannes, which was almost like slapping numerous film critics in the face with a wet cod. The marketing maching rolled on and on and the movie went out into the wild with two good names in the leads and some interesting ideas but it was all far too late. Every interview seemed to become a minefield for anyone trying to avoid being quoted out of context and the knives were well and truly out.

I like The Island and I think it was unfairly treated when it first came out. In fact, I know a number of people who have since seen it on DVD or TV and grudgingly admitted that they thought it a damn sight better than a number of other Michael Bay movies that made lots more money.

The story is all about clones Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson). They don't realise that they're clones, nor do any of the other clones around them. Every day it's a similiar routine - wake up, eat whatever nutrients are recommended, dress from their unvarying wardrobe, work on a number of tasks and just wait until the lottery announcements are made. The lottery is the highlight for everyone, the winner gets to head off to The Island. But does the island even exist? Lincoln Six Echo starts to have serious doubts and when Jordan Two Delta actually wins the lottery there's no time to find out more so he takes her and they go on the run, opening up a whole can of worms in the process.

Mixing in action and thrills with some very interesting ethical food for thought, The Island perhaps tries a bit too hard to please the action fans while also pleasing those who like more thoughtful fare and maybe that's yet another reason why it didn't perform as well as expected. There are a number of potentially horrifying moments here and there throughout the movie but they lose their impact slightly by the time things move on to yet another typical upward-pointing 360 shot from Bay.

The script is pretty good, although a couple of characters could have been better developed (Michael Clarke Duncan should have bagged a bit more screentime and Djimon Honsou is let down by the writing in the final 20 minutes or so), and the direction is as you'd expect from Bay. I happen to think he's usually okay with anything that includes a bit of bang for your buck. Yes, he makes some bad choices like the harsh, harsh overediting of what should have been a fantastic car chase in The Rock, for example, but he can oversee some BIG set-pieces and put it all together in a glossy and entertaining package.

Last, but by no means least, we come to discuss the acting in The Island. This was also criticised by many people but I don't see anything wrong with it, really. Ewan McGregor, for most of the movie, has a strange American accent but who's to say that he was actually supposed to be getting it spot on anyway - he's a clone, actually only a few years old, and we don't know what influences he was exposed to in his formative period. Scarlett Johansson doesn't have any accent to put on but she does just as well as McGregor when it comes to playing up the innocence and vulnerability of their characters. Steve Buscemi is a delight for every minute of his limited screentime and Sean Bean oversees everything in a role that feels like a rerun of his role in Equilibrium. As already mentioned, Michael Clarke Duncan should have been in the movie more and Djimon Hounsou does well with what he's given. There's decent support from Kim Coates, Ethan Phillips and Brian Stepanek and Glenn Morshower also puts in a very brief, but very funny, appearance.

The Island is a very good slice of sci-fi action that I'd recommend to most people. There is, of course, a chance that you do end up disliking it and thinking that it deserved to perform as poorly at the box office as it did but I hope that's not the case. Mind you, if you absolutely loathe everything that Michael Bay does then this isn't going to win you over. If you can tolerate his style and are curious to see him do something that's a bit different from his normal output then you may just find this film as enjoyable as I do.



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