The Island


Rating 2½

Directed by Michael Bay

Written by Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, based on a story by Caspian Tredwell-Owen

Starring Ewan McGregor (Lincoln Six Echo / Tom Lincoln), Scarlett Johansson (Jordan Two Delta / Sarah Jordan), Sean Bean (Dr Merrick), Djimon Hounsou (Albert Laurent), Steve Buscemi (James McCord), Ethan Phillips (Jones Three Echo), Brian Stepanek (Gandu Three Echo), Michael Clark Duncan (Starkweather Two Delta / Jamil Starkweather), Siobhan Flynn (Lima One Alpha), Kim Coates (Charles Whitman), Alex Carter (Censor) and Shawnee Smith (Suzie)

Lincoln Six Echo lives in a self-contained high-tech underground colony of uncontaminated humans, each one waiting to win the “Lottery” and be allowed to go to an idyllic location called “the Island”, the last habitable place on the planet. Lincoln begins to question his surroundings and has a recurring nightmare, which brings him to the attention of Dr Merrick, who controls the area in which he lives. He also forms a close friendship with Jordan Two Delta and when she is announced as the next lottery winner and he discovers that everything they have always known is a lie (they are simply clones to be harvested for organ transplants or used for surrogate pregnancies), they escape from the complex and go on the run, relentlessly pursued by a deadly paramilitary squad.


‘The Island’ is a 2005 sci-fi action film directed in typically abrasive fashion by Michael Bay. It has a 40% rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 180 reviews. Rich Cline called it, “An intelligent, provocative premise wrapped in a bone-chillingly stupid action movie,” and Jeffrey Overstreet wrote, “It seems to assume that its audience is made of idiots, constantly reminding us of the simple plot details and having characters define things for each other.” It grossed just $36 million at the US box office against a production budget of $126 million and an outlay somewhere in the region of $45 million for domestic marketing and distribution. A further $127 million was grossed overseas. An accusation was made following the release of the film that it infringed the copyright of a forgotten 1979 film called ‘Parts: The Clonus Horror’. Settlement was reached out of court before it went to trial, allegedly for a seven-figure sum.

A number of familiar themes often pursued in science fiction are to be found here, drawing on libertarian political philosophies and ideologies, totalitarianism and commentary about science gone mad, in this case human cloning. There is no question that the film poses some interesting questions, but Michael Bay’s particular brand of filmmaking reduces the whole thing to the simple idea that everyone should be free to brandish big guns and cause maximum destruction. The constant stream of action sequences in the second half of the film’s two hours plus running time are slickly staged, but making everything bigger and louder and being brazen about the product placement does not make it better. These action sequences are, in fact, bone-headed and objectionably stupid.

Ewan McGregor is not an actor I have ever warmed to and nothing here changes that. Scarlett Johansson’s early promise seems to have dissipated somewhat since the days of ‘Ghost World’ and ‘Lost in Translation’. She lost me in promotional interviews for ‘The Island’ when she appeared to lay claim to having on-set tantrums because she wasn’t allowed to take her clothes off in the film. However, both are reasonably effective in the lead roles. The film itself is a perfectly serviceable action film, but the premise offers something beyond that and there is undoubtedly a much more intelligent if somewhat unoriginal film buried somewhere underneath the mind-numbing onslaught of explosions and general destruction.

I cannot pretend not to have enjoyed the film up to a point, despite some cringe-making dialogue (this is the second time I have watched it), but it could have been so much better and ends up being an offensive piece of mindless claptrap. I could not help but come away thinking there is a degree of irony in putting Michael Bay in the director’s chair of a film in which one of the central characters proves to be a megalomaniac with a God-complex.

Review posted 30 November 2009


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