Monday, June 25, 2007

reVIEW (5)

With Michael Bay’s Transformers looming on the very near horizon, I thought it might be good to resurrect this review of his previous science fiction effort, The Island. (The review was formerly known under its published name of “Tomorrow, With A Bang.")

I’ve only watched one previous Michael Bay film, Armageddon, and I found it by turns borderline cheesy and painfully laughable; none of his other films seemed interesting enough to me to make the effort for.
Then Bay decided to do The Island, and for once, I found myself actually looking forward to a Michael Bay movie. With its science fiction angle, The Island seemed to have the potential to be the first Bay film with any actual substance. And Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson aren’t exactly lightweight thespians, either.
So, was my excitement justified?
Well, to weigh in on the matter, The Island’s a good movie. Go out and watch it.
Now, if you’re here for the dissection…

The Island is the tale of Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Johansson), apparent survivors of some global “contamination” that has forced them to live in an isolated facility, their every action monitored, under the vigilant eye of Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean). The only break in the monotony of their daily routine is the lottery, which chooses one lucky individual every week to be sent to “The Island,” purportedly the last pathogen-free spot on the planet, a paradise for the blessed few.
Of course, if you’re a fan of these kinds of SF films (or, if you’ve seen the film’s trailer), you’ll know that all is not what it seems. There is a dark secret to the facility and Dr. Merrick, a secret that will be uncovered by the unusually curious Lincoln, a secret that will cause him to go on the run, Jordan in tow, in an attempt to expose the truth of this seemingly perfect (though perhaps a trifle boring) society.

I’ve always been a big fan of futuristic dystopias, from the literary (George Orwell’s 1984, William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy) to the cinematic (Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca, and Michael Radford’s adaptation of 1984), and the vision presented in The Island is an interesting one. The rigorous control, from social (close proximity between members of the opposite sex is prohibited), to dietary (chemical imbalances are monitored by urine-analyzing toilets, and rectified by a careful selection of solid and liquid intake), to mental (reading material is screened, and reading lessons are apparently limited to “Dick and Jane” primers), is frighteningly claustrophobic in this future-by-Adidas society.
And it is, of course, this society that Lincoln and Jordan must flee from when the horrible truth is revealed. It is also at this point in the film when the fact that The Island is a Michael Bay film becomes readily apparent.

There was a point in Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall when the film permanently left Philip K. Dick land and firmly entrenched itself in Arnie land. But, whereas Recall’s pivot point crippled the film beyond any hope of healing, The Island’s actually makes it a fun and agreeable thrill ride.
Bay’s bag of tricks—the adrenaline-pounding pacing, the car chases, the big explosions—is deployed to applaudable effect. This is Hollywood SF, surely, but it’s Hollywood SF that actually moves, that doesn’t get bogged down by its own hype or a spew of pretentious philo-babble.
The premise and SF scenario is just enough to make The Island more than a mere Michael Bay thrill ride (which it essentially is), while the themes—the objectification of the human being, man as the ultimate disposable product—though certainly not explored in any significant depth, are nevertheless present, also adding precious spikes of flavor to the mix.

Sadly, the performances by McGregor, Johansson, and Bean aren’t their strongest, as if they also know, instinctively, that all is in ultimate service to the Michael Bay-orchestrated action. Also, Steve Buscemi (like Michael Clarke Duncan, reunited with his Armageddon director), as McCord, Lincoln’s friend and confidante, has sadly limited screen time.
Shortcomings aside though, as I said earlier, The Island’s a good movie, a Hollywood SF actioneer that has just enough brains to make it an agreeable way to pass two hours and seven minutes of time.
Which is more than can be said for a lot of other movies being made these days.

Parting shot: For a mind-blowing approach to practically the same idea, check out the “An Orison of Sonmi-451” sections of David Mitchell’s kaleidoscopic novel, Cloud Atlas.

(The Island OS's courtesy of

No comments: