There's an enjoyable, thrilling movie at the heart of Michael Ritchie's The Island (1980), but a few things get in the way of the fun. Adapted for the screen by source novel author Peter Benchley (Jaws), this swashbuckling drama unfolds at a steady clip and piles on the carnage much heavier than you'd expect. The Island bombed hard at the box office more than 30 years ago, recouping less than 75% of its $22M production budget. The dust has long settled since then, and the continued presence of stars Michael Caine (the Dark Knight trilogy) and David Warner (Titanic) offers more than enough reason to revisit this forgotten film. It's not without plenty of nagging faults, but The Island's tropical locales anchor the mystifying atmosphere, keeping viewers off-balance for the duration of its 114-minute lifespan.
Our story revolves around New York journalist Blair Maynard (Caine), who has custody of his 12 year-old son Justin (Jeffrey Frank) for the weekend. The two head off for a quick trip to Florida, where Blair's convinced he can dig up clues as to why so many people are disappearing near the Bermuda Triangle. It turns out that pirates are responsible for the "disappearances", and it's not long before father and son are captured and taken to an uncharted island nearby. These pirates have avoided civilization for several centuries, practicing their own brand of justice on those who dare to stand in their way. Oddly enough, Blair and his son are spared, due to the pirates' belief that the Maynards' lineage will somehow preserve their race. Nonetheless, Blair and his son are being held against their will---and when the pirates' leader John Nau (Warner) manages to gain Justin's "trust", it's up to Blair to get them both to safety.
If the story sounds far-fetched, don't worry: The Island doesn't continually drift into cornball territory. It does have trouble keeping momentum along the way, but there's enough intrigue to hold the attention of those who like thrillers off the beaten path. Other elements fall a little flat, like the typically reliable Ennio Morricone's misguided score (which, during at least two ship raids, sounds like it's playing by accident) and ham-handed performances by a few supporting pirates. The surprising amount of gore and violence along the way---especially during the finale, which obviously inspired the fourth Rambo film---may turn off some viewers, but most of it helps to establish the pirates as a credible threat. Not having read Benchley's source novel, I can't say how it differs from the original story....but seeing as how he adapted it for the screen, he's partially to blame for some of the story's fundamental flaws. Either way, The Island can be entertaining in the right mindset, but it's definitely a film that has trouble maintaining its focus.
Universal made The Island available as a burn-on-demand DVD through Amazon last year, which boasted a respectable A/V presentation and no bonus features. Shout (er, Scream) Factory ups the ante this year with a Blu-Ray/DVD combo; it appears to use the existing transfer and still comes up short in the extras department, but the added punch of high definition should please fans of this oddball thriller.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
The Island was shot in 2.39:1 by famed cinematographer Henri Decaë, whose résumé includes films by Jean-Pierre Melville, François Truffaut and Louis Malle. Many of The Island's tropical landscapes look excellent, boasting crisp image detail and a strong color palette. Nighttime scenes don't fare quite as well, and neither does the film's grainy, underlit climax. Although this 1080p transfer is generally clean, there's some dirt and debris easily spotted along the way. Digital problems like edge enhancement and DNR are occasionally visible, but they're generally kept to a minimum. Black crush is also evident during a handful of scenes. Bottom line: The Island looks pretty damn good---and slightly better than expected, given the circumstances---but the problems it suffers from are enough to dock it a point or two.
HEADS UP: This images in this review are taken from the DVD and do not represent Blu-Ray's fancy-pants 1080p resolution.
The audio is slightly more consistent...and what's more, we're given the option of DTS-HD 5.1 or 2.0 Master Audio. The former is a fairly well-done mix with occasional bursts of surround activity and a solid dynamic range. Dialogue is typically problem-free, though optional English captions are included if you need them. The Island's score is woefully "miscast" but nonetheless sounds robust on most occasions with frequent use of the rear channels and strong channel separation. The 2.0 mix does a fine job with what's available, though I'd imagine that most viewers will go for the full-fledged surround option.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the animated menu interface is easy to navigate. No chapter selections are present, though breaks occur every 10 minutes. This two-disc release is housed in a dual-hubbed keepcase with double-sided artwork; no slipcover or inserts are included. Both discs are locked for Region A/1 playback.
Nothing at all, save for a few Theatrical Trailers
that include The Island
and They Live
(unless you're counting the DVD Copy
, of course). This isn't surprising in the least, given the film's less-than-sterling reputation, but I'd still have loved to hear a few retrospective comments from Caine or Warner.
The Island is by no means classic cinema, but Michael Caine and/or David Warner fans might enjoy this forgotten thriller despite a few nagging flaws. Shout Factory's Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack is a relatively solid (and totally unexpected) effort, but the A/V presentation obviously outweighs the complete lack of bonus features. Those who consider The Island a pleasure---guilty or otherwise---will want to purchase it while they can, but cautious new viewers should probably dip their toes in the water first. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.