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The Island (2005)

July 3rd, 2007 · 1 Comment

In the 5th season of South Park, Kyle exclaims, “Job has all his children killed, and Michael Bay gets to keep making movies. There isn’t a God.” In the last of six articles, I determine the existence of God by revisiting the films of director and alleged anti-Christ Michael Bay.

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After waking from a drowning nightmare, Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) begins his day. The year is 2019, and the world has been rendered uninhabitable by a contaminant. The survivors are sealed in a sterile facility in which their every move – clothing, diet, fraternization – is screened and regulated. The big event is a lottery, which selects survivors to transfer out of the facility to “the island,” the only contaminant free spot on earth.

Lincoln visits the facility physician, Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean) with questions about his nightmare and why he’s here. He sneaks down into an engineering level to visit his buddy Jimmy (Steve Buscemi) who lives outside the facility. Jimmy assures Lincoln he’s better off where he is, but once Lincoln leaves, Jimmy’s work takes him to an area where an adult human is artificially birthed from a sac.

Another friend, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) wins the lottery and is set to go to the island. Lincoln sneaks out again and comes across previous lottery winners. Lima One Alpha (Siobhan Flynn) gives birth and has her baby taken away before being killed by lethal injection. Starkweather Two Delta (Michael Clarke Duncan) wakes from surgery to take his kidney. He’s chased down and dragged back to certain death.

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Lincoln and Jordan escape the facility, which is surrounded by hologram, and find themselves in a desert. Merrick – whose company has perfected human cloning – hires a mercenary (Djimon Hounsou) to bring back his product. As far as his clients know, their $5 million living organ donors never achieve consciousness. Now in the real world, Lincoln tracks down Jimmy. He agrees to help the clones get to L.A., where Lincoln hopes to find his donor.

In February 2004, Michael Bay received a call from Steven Spielberg. The legendary director and principal of DreamWorks Studios told Bay that he thought he was talented, had the perfect script for him, and wanted Bay to read it immediately. Titled The Island, it was a 140-page futuristic thriller by Caspian Tredwell-Owen that Spielberg had taken off the market for $1 million against $1.5 million.

Finishing the script around 3:30 that morning, Bay was on board. He went to work with Tredwell-Owen in an attempt to reconfigure the script to Bay’s sensibilities. When the scribe balked at the changes Bay wanted, Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci were brought in to rework the second and third acts. McGregor was cast, and after Jessica Biel and Diane Kruger were considered, Johansson agreed to play the female lead on the strength of Tredwell-Owen’s draft.

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Eight months after the script landed at his door, Bay was being rushed through an 83-day shooting schedule. Throughout the production, Bay, producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, and DreamWorks marketing execs debated whether the film should be sold to audiences as science fiction, or action. Bay bristled at the ad campaign right up until the July 2005 release, when the film was ignored by audiences.

The Island is, at its heart, a science fiction morality tale, and the failure of the film is that Bay steers it into what he was comfortable making: a popcorn action flick. That said, there’s still enough interesting stuff going on here – particularly in the terrific first hour – for me to recommend it. Caspian Tredwell-Owen wrote a clever script that features more subtext and intelligence than can be found in all of Bay’s films put together.

The conceit of a colony harvesting living organ donors was new and totally within the realm of belief for me. The art design, costumes and digital effects create a fascinating – and functioning – vision of that future. I also found it amusing that the clones operate on a 6th grade education. Most of the comic potential for this went untapped after the first hour, but Djimon Hounsou brings something else that most of Bay’s work is devoid of: dignity.

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Conclusion: Whether you hate Bay and are happy to see him flop, or kinda like this film and are pleased he’s not the anti-Christ, I see no evidence that the universe is cold and remorseless based on the films of Michael Bay. Explaining the popularity of Paris Hilton is another story.

Albert Walker at The Agony Booth writes, “Some have said it’s Bay’s most thoughtful work yet, but when the competition includes Bad Boys II, is that really saying much?” He offers an exhaustive comparison between The Island and The Clonus Horror, as well as reviewing the DVD.

“Unlike his replica protagonists, however, it’s Bay’s repugnant film that shows no sign of intelligent life,” writes Nick Schager at Lessons of Darkness, who gives it a D+.

Eric Snider says, “Sleek and stylish as if made by a real filmmaker, The Island is good summertime fare.” He gives it a B.

Tags: Alternate universe · Dreams and visions · Paranoia · Psychoanalysis · Shootout

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 ray // Nov 6, 2008 at 12:24 am

    I thought it was okay, although I too would have done some things differently. I will certainly never forget Lima One Alpha being murdered. That was the money shot. Would have been tempting to get more empathy out of that scene, but I can understand the need to avoid melodrama. If Bay erred on the side of caution there, that’s a respectable choice.

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