Most film-goers could identify a Michael Bay film just by the techniques he uses — quick edits, sun drenched color palate, and lots of action. This usually means that Bay is suited more for low-brow action movies as opposed to high concept films.
In Pearl Harbor, Bay proved that he couldn’t handle anything that didn’t explode — resulting in a lop-sided film. The first hour was a tedious love story and the last 90 minutes were better — including an excellent recreation of the surprise attack.
The same is true in The Island. Bay can’t wait to make things explode, and once they do — Bay is very much at home. Though while the explosions are very well choreographed, The Island becomes another action movie that would have worked better had the concept been given more thought.
By now, The Island is far from original sci-fi fare. Books and films like 1984, THX-1138, Logan’s Run, and even Equilibrium have already tackled totalitarianism in the future — and better. But The Island does ask some good questions, especially in today’s society where cloning is rapidly becoming more of a reality. It’s just a shame most of those questions are unanswered.
Lincoln Six Echo(Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) live in quarantined society. The outside world has been contaminated. On the inside, everyone dresses the same and is strictly monitored by Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean). Every once in a while, a lottery winner gets to go to “the island” — the last pathogen-free place on the outside world. Or so we think…
What follows may contain some spoilers based on the amount of information you’ve read on the film.
It turns out that the winners of the lottery do not win a trip to the island. The quarantined society is actually a colony of clones or “agnates” who have been created for their human sponsors. These human sponsors will eventually need the clones for vital body organs to live another 50-60 years. So the “winners” of the lottery unwillingly offer up their organs, and are then killed.
When Lincoln Six Echo finds out the truth, he and Jordan Two Delta escape the quarantined facility to find their human sponsors and expose the cloning operation. Dr. Merrick summons ex-Special Forces agent Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou) to track them down. What follows is some good action, but a lot of the questions asked early on are forgotten in favor of blowing stuff up.
While the initial set-up is interesting, it’s nothing mind-blowing, and neither is the action. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. McGregor and Johansson are good actors and they both do good jobs early on, especially when adjusting to the real world. But once the action begins they’re reduced to reacting to dots on a green screen.
One thing that struck me as odd is that Lincoln and Jordan’s human sponsors are both relatively famous people. Lincoln’s sponsor is a wealthy engineer and Jordan’s sponsor is a model/actress. If Lincoln and Jordan are clones of these people, wouldn’t they be recognized in the real world? And that leads me to another point; scenes where Lincoln meets his human counterpart are fun. It’s a shame Jordan never meets her ill sponsor. That could have been one of the film’s more powerful scenes.
Overall, The Island is another example of a movie that uses its interesting set-up to get to the action. While a film like The Matrix did the same thing, the action in that film always seemed to matter, resulting in a more urgent viewing experience. In The Island, the action is much more pedestrian and mostly seems to exist for the point of making things explode. While The Island may think it’s another 1984, it’s closer to something like Paycheck.
The Island is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. As with all Michael Bay films, the disc looks great. The Bay color palate is on display and to good effect. The image is sun drenched and steely — colors are bright and vibrant. I noticed no malfunctions with the disc, although in one scene I saw what could have been a hair in the lens.
However, no matter how good the disc looks, it’s never razor sharp. The image seems slightly saturated. Nevertheless, this is a good looking disc.
You can always expect Bay movies to look a certain way and the same can be said for the way they sound. While The Island is sorely lacking what could have been an excellent DTS track, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track picks up the slack, resulting in an enjoyable listening experience. During chases and shootouts, the entire soundstage is used, enveloping the viewer. While in the facility, the surrounds handle lots of futuristic ambience. I don’t think the audio track ever made my subwoofer really stretch its legs, but I never remember thinking that the movie could have used more bass either.
Much like the picture, the audio track is not perfect, but it’s still very good. Highlights include the highway chase scene. Watch it loud!
- Director Commentary — Michael Bay gives a very bland and self-congratulatory commentary where he mostly describes the sets and other technical aspects of the film. He proudly boasts that he was able to get a futuristic boat before Michael Mann used it in his upcoming Miami Vice and also pats himself on the back for using a new hand-held camera.Bay also puts his foot down in response to all the criticism about product placement in the film, and says matter of factly that in today’s society product placement is obvious, so in the future it will probably become even more blatant. And while I do agree with that point, I still don’t see the point of having advertising in the quarantined facility. For one, the clones wouldn’t care what Xbox or Aquafina is — and for two, wouldn’t the production facilities for those products need to exist in the outside world? What’s up with that?Another remark Bay makes in his commentary is “You don’t see Ewan McGregor in many action films.” While McGregor may not be the Bruce Willis of action films, he did just come off of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Whatever, Mike.
- The Future of Action — this featurette goes behind the scenes to explore the action scenes and how they were created. While it’s neat to see how they crashed a lot of cars during the highway chase scene, it would have been nice to see a feature devoted to the possibility of something like this happening in the future.
By now you know what to expect from a Michael Bay film. While The Island may lure you in with a decent set-up, it’s really just a precursor to the action.
While the disc is very well made, it’s not perfect. With the lack of many special features and a DTS track, I would guess that an expansive Special Edition is on its way in a few years, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The Island was far from a financial success in the box office and with many better options currently on DVD, I doubt it will be a success in any sense of the word.
Rent it for now, and if you like it enough, wait for a possible re-release to buy it.
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- The Future of Action