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The Island (2005)
Director: Michael Bay

review by Tony Lee

Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor, dogged survivor of Star Wars prequels) lives in a gleaming 21st century future where everything in life is usually 'nice'. If it's not very nice, there are doctors like the ever-smiling Merrick (Sean Bean, locked into smarmy, corporate bad guy mode) on hand to give any problems their 'special attention'. Lincoln resides in a sterile complex isolated from the poisoned Earth, and his bestest friend in the whole city is Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson, here making her bid for 2005's top sci-fi action babe - but losing out to Serenity's Summer Glau, Elektra's Jennifer Garner, and even Fantastic Four's blonde Jessica Alba) and, when our naively inquisitive hero uncovers the horrible truth about his sheltered existence, he decides to run away from home with her...

The horrible truth is a horrible cliché, in terms of literary SF, of course. This is a lowbrow Michael Bay flick, so what else could fans of sci-fi thrillers expect? The protagonists are clones, mere products in the biotech dystopia of 2019 - where maglev trains, flying motorbikes, sleek concept cars, a network of elevated monorail shuttles crisscrossing urban Los Angeles' high-rise infrastructure, and plentiful gadgetry, form the glamorously appealing backdrop for the film's appallingly bland genre drama. The Island is simply an extended chase. Basically, it's nothing more than Logan's Run (1976), by way of a sanitised Brave New World (Huxley's classic novel was first adapted for a TV production way back in 1980), and it blatantly filches or cynically alludes to various tropes and themes - from THX 1138 (1970), Blade Runner (1982), Gattaca (1997), and The 6th Day, among a whole catalogue of other, generally superior, pictures. If we pause to consider the psychological nature of the scenario's main characters (agnates, hatched fully-grown to adulthood, supposedly conditioned for childlike docility) the movie reveals its peculiar brand of stupidity when it steals the notion of a 'virtual' boxing match from Westworld sequel, Futureworld (1976). Why would such an aggressive 'sport' be permitted in this city of unsuspecting slaves if the overseers prefer their charges meekly obedient? Perhaps the answer is because The Island is a product of mainstream Hollywood, where crude 'sensation' is always favoured over commonsense, and the producers must struggle to justify a staggering $120 million budget. Bay routinely squanders a vast fortune on such pointless 'action' scenes, without seeming to care that a VR fight club in such a rigorously controlled society as this one is thoroughly incongruous to the story-logic, and demolishes the creative integrity of his film's sci-fi setup.

The plotting of The Island is so incompetent and full of holes that it makes Spielberg's tragically flawed Minority Report seem like an intellectual and artistic masterpiece by comparison. Notable actors like Steve Buscemi (as sleazy maintenance engineer McCord), and Michael Clarke Duncan (as the ill-fated clone of hulking sportsman Starkweather), cannot breathe any life into the clunky exposition, or salvage a modicum of veracity from such ham-fisted dialogue as: "why do I always have to be the one to tell the kids there is no Santa Claus?" Despite some highway mayhem clearly designed to copycat the road chase sequence of Matrix Reloaded, much of the visual impact is undermined by the director's typical lack of editorial finesse. The curious affect of Bay's filmmaking technique is one of comically arrhythmic haste without any meaning or consequence. As the editing speed of numerous camera angles and practically frameless close-ups increases, and results in a staccato blizzard of snapshot images, so narrative progress slows. And, bearing in mind that The Island has precious little plot to begin with, this dismally overlong two-hour opus actually moves forward at a curb-crawling pace. Overall, this is about as compelling for the genre-literate viewer as watching a familiar episode of your favourite cartoon show, but one that's re-animated from old footage without the essential presence of that show's beloved main character.
The Island





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