by Mel Valentin
The marketing campaign for "The Island" boldly reminds the audience that "The Island" is the latest effort from the director of "Armageddon" and "The Rock," Michael Bay. Michael Bay, however, is also the director of "Bad Boys," the cleverly titled sequel, "Bad Boys 2," and, and, lest we forget, the execrable "Pearl Harbor." To the surprise of most cineastes, "Armageddon" and "The Rock" received the so-called “Criterion” treatment usually reserved for "classic" or foreign films (i.e., extras-laden discs that exhaustively detailed the film’s production history and critical reception). Still, of Bay’s films, "The Rock" may prove to have the longest shelf-life, if not for its comic book plotline involving a hostage situation at Alcatraz or the typically over-the-top set pieces, then for its reflections of cultural attitudes and fears about terrorism and the often unacknowledged costs of war and the men who serve in them. Spoilers will be discussed in this review, so if you're a spoiler-phobe, come back after you've checked out "The Island]" (or not).Moviegoers with even a passing familiarity with the benchmarks of American science-fiction films made in the 1970s will immediately recognize borrowed ideas and motifs in just the first few minutes of The Island. In this future, environmental contamination has made the surface world nearly uninhabitable (cf. Logan's Run), with the exception of the island of the title (a/k/a a new Garden of Eden), where a new, healthier civilization has apparently taken root. Everyone else lives in an antiseptic underground straight out of George Lucas' THX-1138. Everything is regulated for the inhabitants, from what they eat, to their moods (cf. Brave New World) and, most importantly, social interactions. Male-female social interaction is allowed, but physical contact isn't, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the hero-protagonist, Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan Macgregor), to act on his feelings for another inhabitant of the underground enclave, Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson).
"Hot diggity. Bay delivers one of the better popcorn flicks of the summer."
Like the mythical Garden of Eden, the island doesn't actually exist. Lincoln Six-Echo, Jordon Two-Delta and the others are clones created and raised to provide spare parts for their wealthy sponsors as living, breathing insurance policies against disease, accident, or the encumbrances of old age. Their creator, Merrick (Sean Bean), is anything but benign or compassionate. Lincoln’s curiosity, a human trait Merrick has tried, without success, to eradicate from newly grown clones, poses a potentially serious problem for Merrick's enterprise. It’s not long, though, before Lincoln discovers the harsh truth about his existence. With the help of a techie, McCord (Steve Buscemi), Lincoln Six-Echo and Jordan Two-Delta escape the facility.
With their escape, Bay and his screenwriters, Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci leave THX-1138 behind, referencing mid-seventies science fiction action flick, Logan’s Run instead. Merrick hires Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou), a French-speaking mercenary, and his crew to recapture or kill Lincoln Six-Echo and Jordan Two-Delta. This development exchanges the admirable (and surprising) restraint Bay showed in the earlier scenes inside the complex for massive mayhem and destruction, a Bay specialty. On the plus side, Bay films an extended chase on a futuristic Los Angeles freeway involving cars, trucks, and hoverbikes far more cleanly than in Bay's previous, bloated action epics.
Most moviegoers will walk away satisfied with the formulaic plot turns and reversals (including a switch in allegiances that’s as predictable and perfunctory as it is welcome) that follow, including the ironic, implausible bring-down-the-edifice of capitalism ending. Leaving no generic Bay also references Logan’s Run denouement. The clones resemble Blade Runner’s replicants (in their shortened life-spans and emotional development, seed pods/clone farms "inspired" by The Matrix o borrowed straight from tParts: The Clonus Horror, a justly forgotten 1979 science fiction B-movie, In other words, no one will ever accuse The Island of originality. Given the story-based similarities between The Island and Parts: The Clonus Horror, a lawsuit for copyright infringement seems inevitable. Someone, somewhere, is about to make some money (and it's not The Island's producers).
Given the not-so-recent trend to treat the science fiction genre as an action-first, ideas-second genre (at least on film), not to mention Bay's involvement, it's not surprising that The Island takes little time and even less effort to explore the ethical, moral, and political ramifications of cloning. The Island dismisses one potentially fascinating issue, a clone’s responsibility to his or her dying “sponsor” (handled via a throwaway line near the end of the film) for the "safe" position (cloning is always wrong, regardless of the circumstances). Merrick represents the takeover of scientific research by of capitalism, but he's a caricature, not a character, a stock villain with a predictable God Complex (it gets mentioned at least twice in the film, first by a tertiary character, later by Merrick himself).Then there’s the ubiquitous, gratuitous product placement. Some viewers will cringe, others will simply laugh at the audacity (this reviewer certainly did). Bay’s never been known for subtlety and here, Bay and his producers ensure that every product placed gets, at minimum, a loving insert shot. There is, however, one clever product placement used to advance the storyline, Scarlett Johansson’s Calvin Klein ads (which Jordan Two-Delta sees being broadcast, yes, even several decades into the future, on a television set at a department store). Given that clones are referenced as “product,” there’s a faint whiff of irony here (most likely, unintentional). For Bay and DreamWorks (the studio that financed "The Island"), anything and everything can (and should be) marketed and sold through commercial cinema, with the possible exception of human clones (but even that might change if human cloning becomes a reality in the not-too-distant future).
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originally posted: 07/22/05 00:09:09