The Island

July 28th, 2005 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed by Michael Bay

Starring; Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Honsou, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan.

With producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s deep pockets behind him, Michael Bay took the twin bulls of over the top action and computer generated imagery by the horns and became the embodiment of everything that was wrong with Hollywood.

1995’s Bad Boys was a fairly plain buddy cop movie, but with everything — the comedy, the action, the car chases and the explosions — amped up beyond the levels most special forces soldiers ever see, let alone detectives.

It was a formula he continued with The Rock, a one-note action thriller that slotted neatly into the modern template of a high concept summer blockbuster.

The came 1998’s Armageddon, which (despite the powerful, neat script and eye popping spectacle that most people have forgotten), came when the disaster movie genre was starting to sour from digital overload.

By the time of Pearl Harbor, critics and most audiences were sick of the sort of lazy, empty blockbusters the CG era had spawned and the film — along with it’s flashy director — took a hammering that secured the last nail in the coffin of the Bruckheimer/Bay inspired CG disaster genre.

Aside from 2003’s Bad Boys sequel, Bay has kept a low profile, staying out of the bigger, badder, louder genre. Upon hearing he was on megaphone screaming duties on the upcoming The Island, movie fans the world over must have groaned with disdain. It looked like all the trademark action, adventure, thrills and spills.

And it is. Like a Best of Bay vignette, cars flip over and explode, people cling to the side of buildings, gunfire careens back and forth and the theatre speakers rattle with the impact.

But there’s something you might not have expected. The Island is a fantastically visceral piece of cinema and a fantastic movie, and the over the top stunts and action fit the story well. Because that’s the second big surprise; the story! More than just an excuse to drive us from one destructive highway chase to the next automatic weapons battle, Bay and unknown screenwriter Caspian Tredwell-Owen have written an interesting tale for the explosive movement to anchor itself to.

Sure, it’s not a new story, as anyone who’s read or seen anything from Brave New World to Logan’s Run will recognise. But it’s a universal theme transposed to a very identifiable near future seamlessly, and in such a way that you’re not quite as sure what’s going to happen by the second scene like you are in most action films.

Because here’s what else Bay does right. Together with production designer Nigel Phelps (Troy, Pearl Harbor), the vision of the future isn’t just a few thrown-together bits of stainless steel and funny-shaped phones. From the raised cable train system around urban Los Angeles to the computer-in-a-desk (operated by the use of a glass prism), no detail has been spared. Not even the product placement goons have left empty-handed, with Apple (as usual), MSN, Cadillac and others all helping offset production costs.

We join Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor), the inhabitant of a Utopian society where everything he and his identically-dressed contemporaries do is watched and monitored while the system takes perfect care of them — adjusting their diet based on urine samples and keeping them chaste by issuing proximity warnings when they get too close to the opposite sex.

But Lincoln is having bad dreams and asking questions about his life, work, surroundings and The Island — an idyllic paradise, the only uncontaminated land left in the outside world, where lucky members of society move to if they win The Lottery.

His suspicions and curiosity gets the better of him and he makes a break for the outside world beyond the sanitised walls. When the cute girl at his work, Jordan Two Delta (Johansson) wins the Lottery, his fear that there’s no Island makes him desperate and he convinces her to take flight with him.

They emerge into the outside world where there’s no contamination and a world is humming around them, and where the shocking truth of their lives is revealed by Lincoln’s friend, a tech from the outside world (Buscemi).

When Lincoln and Jordan go on the run to stay one step ahead of a team of fearsome paramilitary bounty hunters, the action takes off, but it’s not by any means time to turn your brain off and just enjoy it. The quest Lincoln and Jordan find themselves on takes you to the very last sequence and the story never weakens.

There are some overly orchestral flourishes with the visuals, but Bay also employs plenty of gritty handheld camerawork as well, giving snippets of the film an almost indie feel. If you still don’t like big action films there’s plenty of parts that will make you roll your eyes and groan, but there’s much more on offer.

It’s the smartest, noisiest, most enthralling sci-fi/action film in a long time, and from the director of some of the biggest, clunkiest, dumbest movies of recent years, that’s saying something.


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