‘The Island’ (2005)

‘The Island’ (2005) Michael Bay has a brain. Who knew?

As a first-time outing without the overadrenalized Jerry Bruckheimer, ‘The Island’ comes off as a well considered project. While few of the ideas posited in this new film are ‘new’, Bay and screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have done a more than serviceable job of recycling ideas from other movies that arrived D.O.A.

‘The Island’ is, of course, a remake of ‘ Parts:The Clonus Horror ‘ (1979), one of the most sordid of D-grade Mystery-Science Theater 3000 candidates, ever. ‘Clonus’ was ‘ Coma ‘ (1978) made on a budget of $256,000. Straight-to-video? Straight-to-the-SciFi Channel? Not even close. Even Albert Pyun never managed to stink up celluloid so badly – though he’s come close, many a time .

However this is a review of ‘The Island’ and not ‘The Clonus Horror’.'The Island’ is a good movie, built on a solid script, excellent production values and sound performances delivered by A-list actors.

As I sat in the theater watching this movie, I found myself going through a mental checklist, “‘Logan’s Run’, check. ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’, check. ‘Brave New World’, check. ‘The Matrix Reloaded’, check.’Revenge of the Sith’, check.” There are even shades of ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Gattaca’ buried in here, as the film is a dystopia-buried-in-a-futuristic-consumer-fantasy kind of flick. The question remains, though – was this picture brought to fruition by Michael Bay, or just one of the higher-ups at Dreamworks SKG – SKG as in Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen.

Ewan MacGregor redeems himself here, for the 6 years he spent trying to imitate Alec Guiness in the woebegone ‘Star Wars’ prequels. There’s a wonderful long moment in the film where we’re reminded he was once Scottish – ‘Shallow Grave’, ‘Trainspotting’ anyone? And OMG! Scarlett Johansson is actually a fairly attractive woman – I really couldn’t tell before, with her abused girlfriend and serfdom turns in ‘Lost In Translation’ and ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’. Again, who knew?

But the former Director Bay manages to shine through in some areas, with his signature explosions and oddballs in the supporting cast: Steve Buscemi, showing greater range than evidenced before, demeans himself once again, while Ethan ‘Neelix’ Philips shows up to disgrace himself as a roly-poly balding-on-top Stryker refugee.

For shame! Is it possible to have a Michael Bay movie without cartoonish archetypes? Michael Mann got over it – I suggest that Bay get ahold of the manual and further his attempts at meaningful content. There may be something more memorable than ‘Armageddon’ or ‘Pearl Harbor’ in Bay’s future. Let’s hope that he’s able to continue the evolution and that audiences can catch up.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

It’s gotten beaten to death at the box-office during its first weekend, but this is a film better seen in the theater than on DVD. Here are two more good reviews worth checking out:

A.O. Scott from the New York Times
Liza Schwarzbaum for Entertainment Week

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