If there were an award for the best performance by an actor in a scene with himself, it would go to The Island and Ewan McGregor. Once you get past that, there’s not a lot of anything new offered up by the movie, but it takes what’s been done before and ratchets things up a bit in a way that only Michael Bay can.
It’s the year 2019 and a grim day for the future of mankind: the entire planet is consumed with an ominous and deadly contamination. The survivors have been gathered together in a highly technical, sterile community where the rescued individuals await their turn for an opportunity to go to the one place on earth unaffected by the global disaster. This utopia is known simply as “The Island” and it’s the only thing on everyone’s mind. Well, almost everyone.
Lincoln Six Echo is one of these survivors and he has a few other questions rolling around in his head. Why can’t he have bacon for breakfast? Where do all these survivors keep coming from? Why do they all have to wear silly white suits? His curiosity is disturbing the facility’s manager, Dr. Merrick. Effects of the contamination have left most survivors in an innocent, child-like state and Merrick seems to prefer them that way. Lincoln refuses to be suppressed and follows his nose until it leads him to the discovery of the disturbing lies behind his existence and the frightening truth behind the Island.
The entire film is a far cry from the one advertised in the trailers. What begins as a potentially intriguing sci-fi type thriller quickly descends into your typical Michael Bay movie complete with trite dialogue and gratuitously violent flinch-worthy “oooooh…you know that had to hurt” moments. It’s almost as though he started out trying to make the script something different from his other movies, something intellectual and challenging, but twenty minutes in got frustrated and decided to go back to what he knows best: blowing things up with big guns at really high velocities. It’s something of a relief actually; the first twenty minutes weren’t going that swimmingly anyway.
Bay has an exceptional gift in creating highly improbable and equally enjoyable action sequences. The problem this go around is the extreme and often ludicrous levels of intensity that Bay tries to attain. For example, a run of the mill car chase sequence heightens when he tosses in a couple dozen 2-ton train car axles rolling around on the freeway. Great stuff! Things go a little too far when the scene morphs into a hover-bike chase shamelessly similar to something out of Return of the Jedi. Even worse, it wraps up with a completely unbelievable 700 foot free fall from which the protagonists simply walk away. Few things ruin a first-rate, heart-pounding action sequence like sticking it with a laughable finish. Note to Mr Bay: the love of Jesus can save you from a lot of things, but gravity isn’t one of them.
Another rough spot for The Island is its shameless use of in-place advertising. Residents of the giant rescue center wear Puma brand cross trainers while playing futuristic Xbox games. When they’re thirsty they enjoy refreshing bottles of brightly labeled Aquafina while watching Looney Tunes and that’s just the tip of the movie’s cross-promotional endeavors. How all those present-day brand names fit into a nearly post-apocalyptic existence I leave for you to figure out, but in the end apparently not even global contamination can stop the corporate machine.
The Island has a lot of interesting, though unoriginal, things to say about the future, its politics and ethics but most of those observations are lost on the fact that it is first and foremost an action flick. A lot of great subtle acting moments and dramatic elements get completely bulldozed under and left unnoticed by the audience. It’s not their fault though. Bay keeps his audience so aurally and visually overstimulated that it’s hard to maintain linear thought, much less take the time to consider the film’s more profound suggestions. It’s a good movie that tries to do too much and pays the price for it.
Preferring quality over quantity, this DVD filters out the crap (thank goodness, a package that finally doesn’t have a music video) and offers up only the highest octane extras. Too bad there’s only two of them.
The very first bonus feature begins with a gleefully honest talking point from Michael Bay: “What did I say to the writers? I said, ‘Guys, don’t waste time with the action, just put action, alright, and I’ll fill it in.’” It’s true. You can’t write a Michael Bay action sequence anymore than you can write out the steps to create a Mona Lisa. He is the quintessential action filmmaker and his stuff always dazzles. The feature, entitled The Future In Action takes an in-depth look at how the action of The Island came to be. Everything is touched on from how the stunts and special effects were coordinated right down to what inspired Bay’s entertainingly perverse sense of destruction. It’s pretty amazing stuff that is pushing the limits of action film technology and destroying plenty of $600,000 cameras along the way.
The only other bonus to enjoy is Bay’s commentary. As director he lets you into his quirky and often times clever thought process, doling out disjointed minute to minute observations like a cinema pop-culture Pez dispenser. There are moments where you want to applaud his ingenuity and others when you want to slap him up the side of the head. One of the less glowing instances comes when he defends his use of painful product placement by claiming that it’s not whoring out his movie, but simply portraying his vision of the future: ridiculous mass marketing. Perhaps that’s what he gets for consulting heavily with Microsoft in preparing for this film. I guess we should brace ourselves for Windows OS placement when Bay’s version of Transformers rolls out in 2007.
The Island absolutely tanked at the American box office, making back less than one-third of it’s budget domestically. Bay discusses that topic in his commentary taking some fault on himself and dumping a hefty amount on a botched marketing campaign. With that kind of cold reception it’s easy to see why studios didn’t spring for a huge US DVD release. Two great bonus items aren’t bad, but they’re not very impressive either. Given the film’s compelling sound track and exciting visual style it might have been fun to see an audio track that only included sound effects and score (there’s not much dialogue to miss anyway). Some kind of feedback from the actors would have been nice to see as well. There are a lot of ways this disc could have been expanded but the studio apparently just couldn’t be bothered.