The Island

“Tonight… on Biography.” Sorry, I have MST3K on the brain. All will become apparent in time.

By Chris Stewart
July 22, 2005
Take Parts: The Clonus Horror, with a touch of The Sixth Day. Maybe a jigger of Coma (you know, Tom Selleck’s first movie.) Cram it full of action, and enough blatant product placements to make it like a running commercial, with all the fancy, super-stylish camera tricks that comes with the territory, not to mention a summer blockbuster budget and you’ve got The Island.

If there is one problem with this movie, it’s that it didn’t wind me up enough to warrant a review, really, beyond “if you’re going to see a movie this weekend, it might as well be this one.” I can tell you, in a single sentence, that there are a few things about this movie that I didn’t like, and a number of things I really liked, and for just over two hours, it kept me entertained, and I stopped thinking about it the minute I left the theater. I had fun and I enjoyed it at the time, but let’s just say I’m not pining for the DVD. It’s a solid film that hits its mark and in the years to come will become just another listing in film guides.

In both The Island and The Clonus Horror, a secret installation is growing replicas of rich people so they can have the babies they can’t have themselves, or to provide the body parts to replace the ones that are wearing out on them. Our hero, played by Ewan McGregor, is one such replica. Living in a perfect world, sheltered from an unspecified bio-hazard apocalypse outside, Lincoln Six Echo doesn’t want for anything. Except answers to the nagging questions he has about the world and the strange dreams he keeps having. Oh, and the freedom to fondle Scarlett Johansson. It’s funny, I have that same problem. I’ll let you decide which problem I mean.

Occasionally, the inhabitants of this biosphere win the lottery, and get to leave for the titular island – the last non-toxic place on the planet. Only, as the massive hype machine has burnt into our brains, The Island isn’t what anyone believes it to be. The truth, as you can guess, is sinister. Once this becomes graphically clear to Lincoln, he makes a break for it, taking his bestest friend, Jordan Two Delta (Johansson) with him. Then the action kicks in.

To talk about it in any greater detail would undermine a movie that doesn’t have a lot of margin to trade away, thanks to the plot and the forces of marketing. Suffice to say that there are a few badly telegraphed surprises. There is some over-the-top action, some of which I can honestly say left me with a feeling of “I’ve never seen that before!” and a lot of which I could have lived without. Johansson, along with Michael Clarke Duncan, Steve Buscemi, and Ethan Phillips are well cast and add a lot to the film. Sean Bean, as the mastermind, doesn’t. I don’t blame him though – his part isn’t as deep as it should have been. McGregor is given the most to do, with Michael Bay (maker of The Rock and other action intense thrillers) taking full advantage of his ability to be American or Scottish, as need be. You’ll see.

Here’s the rub – while hammy, The Clonus Horror tried its muddled best to address the ramifications of cloning on a culture. Too bad the acting sucked. Coma tried its best to address the ethics of corporations exploiting human life for the benefit of the rich. Too bad the budget was kind of cheap. And The Sixth Day spent more time on what cool toys the future could have. Too bad it sucked.

Therefore, The Island, by default has everything going for it – a budget, decent acting, and all the bells and whistles we could want. Too bad they didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the subject matter. It takes full advantage of it, mind you; with all the current discussion about all manner of medical advances, including the use of stem cells, the whole thing is very timely and you can tell the filmmakers know it. But while we get a taste of pandering to both sides of the debate, the movie only offers an over-simplified moral – humans will do whatever it takes to stay alive – and then promptly tosses it so there can be a typical action film ending; violent and happy ™. I would have liked to have gotten a taste of the things to come as the world tries to come to grips with a new population of duplicates, struggling with their rights as individuals, but given that there escape took up a quarter of the movie and half the budget, there wasn’t any room for that kind of ending. I’d like to wander out of the theater wondering what something like that would do to a family tree or forensics. In fact, there are a lot of great stories that could come out of this movie, but I don’t think we’re going to see a sequel.

The Island is a textbook summer blockbuster, from the massive advertising assault to the fun, but needlessly excessive product. I can’t find a lot to fault the movie on except that it didn’t give me a lot to rave about. It just is.