In realizing the futuristic world of his Sci-Fi flick The Island Michael Bay also managed to create his most stylized film ever. Replacing the basic candy-coated and gritty gloss of his typical film, Bay dialed into a sleek and sterile aesthetic, taking cues from Logan’s Run and updating it with sponsorships and a new vision of the future. The Island doesn’t trump The Rock (though the similarities are noticeable), but it sees Michael Bay trying something new and the result is a quick-paced futuristic thriller that provides an entertaining, albeit mindlessly silly Sci-Fi romp.
The inhabitants of the isolated compound believe themselves to be the survivors of a catastrophe that rendered the planet’s surface an uninhabitable mess. Living in the structure, where their diets and relationships are closely monitored, each of them waits for the day when their name will be called in the lottery and they’ll be allowed to go to “The Island”, the paradisiacal place where mankind is rebuilding.
Among those waiting are Lincoln (Ewan McGregor) and Echo (Scarlett Johansson) who entertain a surreptitious romance as they go about their daily routine. Just as Lincoln begins questioning the purpose of their existence, Echo wins the lottery, forcing Lincoln’s hand and leading him to the discovery that changes everything: there is no “Island”. Lincoln and Echo go on the run as they attempt to expose the compound’s true purpose to a world that has no idea it even exists.
Be warned, a few spoilers lie ahead.
The world Bay creates within the compound is impressive, even when it is overflowing with plugs for the Xbox and Puma, and helps establish the secluded world of Echo and Lincoln. Every generation has its own ideas of how the future will look and Bay was wise not to go too far out, opting instead for the very streamlined look that hints that it could be just around the corner, and that’s what the film needs: a sense of probability. A primary argument of today’s hot topic of stem-cell organ generation and cloning is aptly tackled in the compound’s true purpose, and the fact that it’s just a few steps away makes the premise all the more engaging, a nice change for Michael Bay. Instead of tackling ridiculous stories about transformative aliens and oil-miners stopping the apocalypse, The Island takes an exaggerated stance on the concept of custom-cloned organ farms and then adds Bay’s predilection for solidly filmed action sequences. It’s rare to find a Bay film with this level of substance, but it’s nice when you do.
The Island benefits from McGregor and Johansson’s occasional tendency to play characters in a slightly wooden manner as that’s what the roles required here: half-baked personalities lacking in true life experience. It makes the world inside the compound interesting, and makes their voyage into the world all the more entertaining later on. Steve Buscemi, Djimon Hounsou and Sean Bean have supporting roles which they seem to play with great delight, the former especially. Bay apologists argue that his films aren’t meant to be taken so seriously, but with The Island he successfully communicates the underlying wink of his Sci-Fi tale while still delivering a film that’s entertaining, interesting, and visually superb.
Of course, this isn’t to say it’s without some serious holes like why didn’t the sponsors ever ask to see how their cutting edge gaming system was being used in a medical facility or how there’s no way an accountant didn’t notice that a large facility was using far more bacon than it should be if its inhabitants were truly being kept in utero. Or the concept of memory existing in brain tissue. Or how—the list goes on and on, but you’re ultimate enjoyment of The Island will be predicated entirely upon whether or not you find it an entertaining update of Logan’s Run and THX 1138 or not.
The film’s Blu-ray transfer is superb and the film looks great in HD, from the pristine setting of the compound to the great chase sequence through the city. It goes a long way towards helping you overlook its plotting flaws.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
It would have been nice to get some new extras, but as is the ones carried over from the DVD release are fairly good with an audio commentary by Bay, a look at the plotting of futuristic action sequences, a general “making of” featurette, and a look at how they arrived at the futuristic aesthetic and concepts that they chose for the film.
"The Island" is on sale June 21, 2011 and is rated PG13. Action, Sci-Fi. Directed by Michael Bay. Written by Caspian Tredwell-Owen and Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci. Starring Djimon Hounsou, Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi.