Reader! It’s been too long. I figured that I should get back to what I’m good at… watching, and subsequently reviewing, MOVIES!
“Good at” is debatable.
Shut up, voice-in-the-head. Nobody asked you.
Anyway, today we’re talking about the 2005 nearly-a-box-office-flop dystopia-action flick The Island. Let’s dive in!
But wait. If you wanna be REALLY entertained, just go read this review. It’s bonkers. In the best possible way. It made me laugh way more than I laughed at myself while writing this.
Wow, you’re really shootin’ for the stars there, huh?
On paper, this movie has a lot of good things going for it. The cast, for one — eye-candy ScarJo & EwanMcG, the incomparable Sean Bean, the gravitas-laden Djimon Hounsou. Okay I guess that’s mostly it. No, wait… why does this guy look and sound so familiar? This friend of Ewan’s character, in the lab with the tubes. With the almost-comically-large nose. His mannerisms, his speech… it’s like something out of my teenage years. OHMYGOD it’s frickin’ Neelix! From Star Trek Voyager! I KNEW that guy was familiar. Ha! Neelix…
The problem is, these two incredible (-ly good looking) lead actors are asked to play these very naïve, child-like humans in this artificially homogenized semi-futuristic environment, but they can’t quite make it seem real. And I’m sure it’s not entirely their fault — Michael Bay isn’t known for being a master of eliciting pure emotion, so much as he is for making big stuff go boom. But the dialog often feels stilted and off-beat. I could forgive it if it were consistent, because that would actually suit the narrative and the plasticity of the utopian environment; but there are contrasting moments that sort of take you out of the immersion and make you remember “Oh, right, these are actors. Acting.” I’m not saying that’s wrong, just that it should happen less.
Let’s talk about the plot. I mean, if you’ve heard of a book called “Never Let Me Go”, or been at any point exposed to similar dystopian stories — heck, even if you saw the trailers for this movie — you’d kinda have an idea of where things are going. It’s not that complicated. But you watch because you want to go on that journey — you want to be teased a bit, to experience a touch of mystery and a glimmer of uncertainty.
But you kinda just know, from the moment the camera pans past a classroom of fully grown adults reading “Dick and Jane” aloud as if they’re actually learning it for the first time, that something’s very Soylent-Green here. You get the tease, sure, and you’re supposed to be in shared-suspense with Lincoln as he questions all the delicate order and pristine-ness of his proverbial ivory tower. But by the time he crawls up that ventilation shaft…
It’s always a ventilation shaft, isn’t it?
And by the time he watches in horror as the new mother is injected with death-serum as her baby is carried off to another mother who looks exactly like her, waiting in a neat little room with her handsome husband and some well-appointed paperwork… You already knew. You saw it coming. At least, you did if you were paying any attention. And again, when you watched with disgust along with the computer technician (who IS in-the-know, of course, but doesn’t change the fact that he’s not thrilled with everything his employer does) — and by the way why does he need to be so gross and greasy? I mean really, talk about your stereotyping. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, watching in disgust, as they cut open the waterbed-sized embryonic sac to reveal a “newborn, fully-grown” human. Even that, you should have seen coming. Oh, did I mention spoiler-alert? Right. Spoiler-alert!
That’s really what makes Buscemi’s character so incredibly unnecessary. I mean sure, he befriended Lincoln (for some strange reason) — probably seems him like a son he never had — but there’s absolutely no need for his over-expository recital of the movie’s key premise to the characters who are sitting on his couch dumb-founded as if they didn’t just experience exactly what he’s telling them. I mean, I get that they’re immature, but are they really THAT dumb? Are WE? I’d like to think not. Yet this scene just kinda felt like an unnecessary condescension to the viewer, as if the filmmakers were saying “Here, we were just SO CLEVER, but we’re gonna get you caught up now so you REALLY know what’s going on.”
Now, the point of a dystopian story is always to turn the mirror on its audience, to ask “How far will you let science/technology/ideology/etc. go?” To present us with a grim picture of the future where some thing, in this case genetic science and biotech, is taken to the Nth degree for selfish reasons by the world’s wealthy elite, and ask us the proverbial question, “Was it worth it?” So we get that. It may be shoved down our throats just a bit, but we do get it. The film makes a noble effort to enunciate its message without sounding terribly absurd or preachy. Is it effective? Eh.
So we’ve made it this far without actually explicitly stating the plot. Ready? Are you sure?
They’re cloning humans to use as organ donors, so the wealthy original humans (who the clones are made from) can live longer and overcome things like liver cancer, heart disease, etc. Gross, right? But also… kinda neat. In theory.
Now of course we could get into the typical questions like “But do they have a soul?”, “Do they feel love?” etc. It’s all very dramatic and existential. Great. But remember, this is Michael Bay. The Mister Torgue of movies. Which means this movie was about 40 minutes too long, and the second half was largely a mish-mash of gunfire, large explosions, vehicular manslaughter, and bad dialogue screamed over LOUD NOISES. But hey, at least you get to see John Coffey wake up from open-chest surgery and go on a brief rampage.
Length does not work in this movie’s favor. I was actually hoping it would end on a cliffhanger — and I don’t generally enjoy cliffhangers — but it would have felt justified, in this case. Like, the star-crossed clone lovebirds suit-up to go back to the compound and wreak havoc and try to free their soulless brethren, and maybe we get up to their dramatic re-entrance to the surgical facility with the suddenly-turned-sympathetic black merc at their side, and we freeze-frame with guns drawn and cue the music. But no, instead we have to endure another 20 minutes of explosions, running around chasing people, and this incongruous City of Angels conclusion with all the clones in their white track-suits staggering out onto the hilltop with the sun blazing on the horizon.
But obviously, we had to kill Sean Bean. So there’s that.
I thought you said you were done.
Now you might have read all that and thought, “Wow, you really disliked this movie, huh?” Not at all! In fact I quite enjoyed it. I just had lots of thoughts and words. So I had to get them out and share them. Would I recommend the movie? Yeah, if you’re into this sort of thing, absolutely. Would I watch it again and again? No, probably not. It’s not like Gladiator or Forrest Gump. It’s a popcorn flick. The fact that I didn’t actually consume popcorn while watching notwithstanding.
PS: The product placement was SO laughably awful, I almost didn’t even want to go there. I mean seriously, it’s ridiculous. iMacs, Xbox, Michelob, Cadillac, and MSN. Just… wow. And MSN was like, an important thing IN the plot. I mean sure they called it the “Information Directory”, but, good lord. Pathetic. In hindsight, at least. 2005 was a long time ago, maybe Google wasn’t really the colossus it’s become. My memory’s a little hazy, that was college.
Anyway. Cheers! And welcome back to movie-time. =)