Science Fiction Film Review
By Steve Biodrowski
Director Michael Bay (purveyor of the summer thriller ride taken to ultimate extremes) restrains himself to trying to tell a story here -- at least for the first thirty minutes -- and the result is one of his better films -- a good combination of clinical horror and action-packed thrills. Gone is the lugubrious sentimentality that tried to turn PEARL HARBOR into a TITANIC-sized love story but wound up reducing the film to a two-hour soap opera prologue for the movie people paid to see (i.e., the actual bombing). Instead, the first-act build-up actually creates some tension, so that when the action finally arrives it feels justified by the story, and we enjoy it all the more.
Some story and visual elements will remind viewers of LOGAN'S RUN and THX-1138 (with a tiny bit of BLADE RUNNER thrown in), but the film truly is a remake of 1979's THE CLONUS HORROR, although there is no acknowledgement of this in the credits. Especially the first third is very close, presenting the audience with a phony "reality" that the characters accept, and then providing glimpses behind the scenes that show us what is really happening (a technique used in THE TRUMAN SHOW as well).
Of course, this movie has a much bigger budget than its 1979 progenitor, so the sets and production values are several orders of magnitude larger. Once the two leads realize that their dream of leaving their isolated facility and going to "the island" is a lie (a bit like "Pig Paradise" in BABE), they escape, and the film turns into a more typical piece of Bay-directed action mayhem -- the sort of entertaining silliness where an uber-efficient hit squad can't manage to kill their targets, while our naive and helpless heroes manage to surmont every obstacle in their path.
Luckily, it's all done with sufficient verve to make it entertaining, in spite of its abusrdity. An extended freeway chase scene is quite impressive (our heroes push heavy, rolling objects off a flatbed truck to block their pursuers, who zig-zag and crash with almost as much excitement as the asteroid belt scene from EMPIRE STRIKES BACK).
There are some nice character touches and good performances. In a supporting role, Steve Buscemi is great as always. Djimon Hounsou makes such a powerful impression as the hired gun that we actually by his character's third-act "redemption" (we know it's cornball but can't help falling for it). Ewan McGregor does a wonderful job as both the naive clone and his human original -- it's the kind of double role actors love to play, and he does a fine job, showing off his American and Scottish accents. Only Scarlett Johansson barely registers: she's beautiful, certainly, but her character is pretty much just the girl along for the ride. And Michael Clarke Duncan is wasted in a tiny role as a clone who tries to escape the operating table before he is scavenged for spare parts -- a brief cameo that leaves one expecting additional scenes on the DVD.
The later portions of THE ISLAND diverge enough from the original so that it is not just a clone. Of course, THE CLONUS HORROR was a 1970s exploitation film, so it reflected a certain cynicism, born both of its age and of economics -- downer endings were often the rule of the day, especially in low-budget movies.
THE ISLAND is also very much a product of its era, and it too reflects the economic demands of its budget, so its attempt to shock the conscience of the audience is muted by the desire to provide a fun-filled action flick. This could have resulted in a really bad, heavily compromised film, but THE ISLAND succeeds on its own terms quite well. Some viewers and critics passionately hate Michael Bay as a director, and this won't change their minds. But everyone else should have a good time.
In 1979's CLONUS (a.k.a. PARTS -- THE CLONUS HORROR), a male clone and a female clone fall in love and realize they are destined to be killed and used as fodder to keep their originals alive. The male clone escapes, meets his original and tries to get the truth out about what is happening in the Clonus facility, then returns to save the woman he left behind. Most of the clones are kept lomobotimized so that they will not figure out the truth of their existence. They are told that they are training for a chance to go to "America."
THE ISLAND has essentially the same plot, except that the clones are told they are going to "The Island," supposedly the last verdant spot in a post-apocalyptic world. Also, both the male and female clones escape the facility; both of them return to save their friends; and the ending is considerably less downbeat.
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