One of two major Summer action movies that surprised many by not having much impact at the box office, "The Island" is the latest from director Michael Bay, a director famed for making action movies that continually search for new ways to be bigger and louder. The first film Bay has done without producer Jerry Bruckheimer, "The Island" is Bay's attempt at intelligent sci-fi. While the opening portion of the film starts off in that direction, by the halfway point, one can tell the film is getting anxious to turn toward's Bay's usual popcorn film ways.
The picture stars Ewan McGregor as Lincoln 6 Echo, one of the inhabitants of an interior city that claims to be one of the last remaining safe places on Earth after a great tragedy happened. The survivors (new ones being "found" all the time) who populate the structure go about their business and never question the heads of the facility, who govern their daily lives. They are "educated" by the instructors at the facility and kept obedient and innocent. Each day, one of them gets picked in a lottery and sent of to "The Island", a tropical paradise that the survivors are told is the last piece of uncontaminated Earth left.
As the movie opens, Lincoln has been having dreams, and starts to question the details of his daily life, which doesn't sit too well with his handlers, including the doctor that runs the complex, Merrick (Sean Bean). Aided by friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), Lincoln eventually manages his way to the outside world and the truth. I won't give away any more than that.
Johansson and McGregor, while excellent actors otherwise, seem lost amidst Bay's pyrotechnics - especially McGregor, whose performance isn't convincing. Given his ability to act against nothing in the "Star Wars" movies, it's surprising that his performance here seems flat. Johansson (who doesn't exactly seem comfortable) doesn't fare much better (and she has zero chemistry with McGregor). However, Bean, Djimon Honusou (as the leader of a group of soldiers after Lincoln and Jordan) and Steve Buscemi are somewhat more enjoyable in supporting roles. Still, given the lack of a strong lead performance (although, to the actor's credit, the script barely develops the characters), the movie lacks emotional involvement.
Although admittedly the opening chunk of film is taken from a series of other movies (not to mention there's definitely some goofy lines of dialogue), at least it's moderately interesting and the movie's eerie production design is nicely done. Working with cinematographer Mauro Fiore ("Training Day"), Bay's camera spirals around every single action moment and conversation once the feature gets going at top speed and, once it gets going, it rarely lets up. The action scenes, while not as chaotic as Bay's unbelievably insane "Bad Boys II" (as impressive as a main highway chase is here, it simply seemed to me like a futuristic version of the "Bad Boys II" highway sequence, which still stands out as the better sequence of the two), is as slick and loud. It's all visually interesting, if not hugely involving. The plot, which seemed to figure in so prominently, now seems like something of an afterthought (or simply a jumping-off point for the action), making the second half of the movie almost feel like a different flick.
There are some elements here that are more dismaying than they usually are in Bay's films. While product placement has been in every Bay movie (you can hear him discuss it as a "trade-off" in the "Armageddon" commentary on the Criterion edition DVD), it's never been anything like it has here, as there are several moments of blatant (to the point of being distracting) and not-so-blatant advertisements throughout. Bay also continues to not know how to tighten up his films, as "The Island" goes on and on, eventually wearing out its welcome in the last quarter of the 135-minute running time, with Bay coming to an ending that feels corny (it's a Big Emotional Moment in a movie that hasn't earned it) and abrupt.
"The Island" is Bay's attempt to make something thought-provoking, and I can't say that he's done that here, as this movie so clearly takes from so many other, better movies ("Gattaca", "Matrix", "Blade Runner", "Truman Show", the list goes on and on.) What we're left with is a decent time-waster that, while entertaining in spots, could have been better.
VIDEO: Dreamworks presents "The Island" in the film's original 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is generally excellent, although unfortunately, it's tripped up on a few occasions by some minor concerns. Sharpness and detail remained excellent throughout the proceedings, with the entire proceedings appearing well-defined.
As for issues, the presentation does show some minor edge enhancement at times. Although noticable, it's not terribly distracting. No pixelation was spotted and print flaws (as one should expect from a new movie) were absent. Although rather cool by intent, the film's color palette seemed accurately rendered, with no issues such as smearing.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is not the best sound mix for a Michael Bay movie (that honor still goes to "Bad Boys II"), but it does certainly provide the expected slam-bang audio once the picture goes into action mode in the second half. Surrounds kick in fairly often to deliver discrete effects and reinforce the score. While not always as enveloping as I'd hoped, the soundtrack still mostly delivers. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue that doesn't get overwhelmed when the action starts, as well as crisp score and effects. It's unfortunate no DTS audio option is included.
EXTRAS: The main extra is a commentary from director Michael Bay. While I've liked some of Bay's movies more than others, I've always liked his commentaries, as the director is honest, funny and informative about trying to pull together all of the elements that go into his action sequences. His commentaries always tell exactly what went on and, whether you agree with him or not, Bay often enthusiastically says exactly what he's thinking - early on, he goes into a brief and animated discussion attempting to defend all the product placement in the movie and energetically discusses the filmmaking toys available to him.
We also hear about working with the actors, going forward with a somewhat shorter shooting schedule than he usually has, the joy of megaphones, marketing and the film's lackluster box office, lack of awareness when the film was released, the stress of budget overruns and what he was going for in some scenes.
We also get "The Future in Action", a 15-minute look at the making of the highway chase sequence. It's an interesting featurette, which offers a lot of good behind-the-scenes clips and interviews.
Final Thoughts: "The Island" starts off well and then falls apart, as the Bay-esque action of the second half doesn't fit with the somewhat thoughtful (if still very familiar) sci-fi opening. The DVD edition provides very good audio/video quality, along with a couple of good supplements. Rent it.