The Island (2005)

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Published on: 2007.05.01

I saw “The Island” (2005) tonight (made by Michael Bay, starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.)

Before going, I read a few reviews of the film, all of which seemed to only have a passing interest in it. For instance, The Washington Post said: “For about 3/4 of its length, The Island sets up a fascinating science-fiction premise… Then it dumbs down into a noisy action flick…” The LA Times adds: “…’The Island’ collapses like a punctured balloon…”

USA Today went even farther, calling it an “overwrought sci-fi action thriller,” and incorrectly accused the film of “rework(ing) and borrow(ing) from… ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘The Matrix,’ and ‘Logan’s Run’.”

Maybe they saw a different movie than the one I witnessed. Or maybe the reviewer at USA Today (Claudia Puig) never saw the other three films she mentioned. For instance, “Blade Runner” (based on a Philip K. Dick book) is all about the ethical question of whether intelligent androids have souls, and whether or not the main character is himself an android. ‘The Matrix” is about beating the machines who’ve been using the humans for electrical power. And “Logan’s Run” is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the characters realize that life outside their carefully cloistered society may be feasible, and that fascist-style control of all of humanity may not be the best answer.

While “The Island” revisits these themes, none of these themes are original with the above three movies; they are themes and questions that have plagued humanity for many years, even when science fiction was in its infancy. But the plot, while not completely original, was definitely not borrowed from these movies.

Writer Caspian Tredwell-Owen tells us an emotional story about a world only 14 years in the future, when the rich and moderately wealthy can afford to purchase “insurance” in the form of a full-grown clone. If they need skin for plastic surgery, a liver, a heart, or whatever, then the company that grows the clones will cut the necessary part from the human clone, and provide it to the “client,” thus greatly extending the average human life-expectancy, at least for the rich (each clone costs about $5 million). The problem is, the company finds that the clones just won’t stay healthy if they’re kept in a non-conscious, vegetable state, so the clones are “educated” to the level of young teens, and kept in a carefully controlled, peaceful environment. They’re told that the outside world is full of contamination, and that they’re among the only survivors. When new clones are added to the group, the older ones are told that “more survivors have been found.”

Somehow, through a scientifically improbable method that’s unexplained in the film, a few of the clones began having dreams that contain images and memories from their “owners” (the clients who provided their DNA). This is about as believable as a clone of Elvis having the same musical genius, or a clone of Michael Jordan having the same basketball skills (without any of the training or any of the same childhood experiences as the original). This lapse of believability was the only thing I really didn’t like about the film.

Anyway, McGregor’s character (“Lincoln Six Echo”) starts having dreams and getting curious about the outside world. While outside of his permitted sector, he finds a butterfly, which shouldn’t exist because of the “contamination.” This sets off a chain of events that leads him to take Jordan Two Delta (Johansson) out of the complex and escape into the real world. This sets of a chain of events where the company tries to track them down and bring them back inside, so the outside public won’t learn that the clones are actually conscious.

All of the settings are beautifully put together by the set designers and Michael Bay’s directing ability shines through as it has on so many of his films. The colors are rich, and the aerial photography is excellent. McGregor casts off the comic book style acting from his Star Wars movies and returns to the deep talent he’s shown before, while Johansson is at least as captivating as she was in “Lost in Translation.”

The movie manages to portray sensuality without nudity, as the two protagonists learn what they’ve been missing about relationships, and violence without gratuitous pools of blood. Some reviewers thought the action sequences, which dominate the last third of the film, were improbable, but anyone who’s seen Mission Impossible (just plain unbelievable) or the new James Bond films (more for flash than for story-line) will find these tricks competely acceptable. Lincoln Six Echo mysteriously knows how to pilot the vehicles in the outside world, but this makes sense after you accept that he’s gained some of the memories of his DNA donor, who was a designer of exotic motorized contraptions.

Michael Clarke Duncan makes a short appearance as the clone of a professional football player, but he’s killed off early on, in the scene where Lincoln Six Echo realizes what’s really going on inside the compound.

All in all, the movie was enjoyable, not only as a “sci-fi action thriller,” but as a story about morality, love, loyalty, and maturity. Besides, it’s an all-too-real (possibly) glimpse into the future, unless some realistic guidelines are laid down to govern cloning practices around the world.

If you have a chance, go see it. Unlike the couple who sat in front of me, though, I’d advise against bringing young children… Some of the plot-thickening scenes might be somewhat disturbing. Unless your kids have played “Grand Theft Auto” already; then this should be a walk in the park for them.

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