The Island (2005)

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A Crippled Underdog

Some will exclaim that The Island is a skid mark on the underpants of Michael Bay’s career as a director. That’s bullshit, and I will explain why after we do some much needed spring cleaning around this film.

Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johnansson         Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Adventure

House Keeping:

Financially, sure, it was considered a box office flop. With $126 million to produce, it earned the chump-change of $36 million in the U.S box offices. Overseas it earned a modest $126 million, for a grand total of $162 million (how depressing…).

However, this was due to an amateur-hour marketing campaign. Anyone knows a poor marketing campaign will cripple any film even if it has legs of steel. There are very few, if minor, faults in this film; the acting, message, atmosphere, cinematography, story-telling and re-playable value were all there. How could the aforementioned be recognized when pretty much nobody in 2005 knew that this film was contributing to the energy bill at their local theatres?

Counting on the public’s word of mouth for spreading the gospel of your film is not marketing; it’s just plain, simple, stupidity. The key to a movie’s success is not just in the quality of acting, story-telling, character development, and beauty; it is also the level of awareness that exists for the project well in advance of the advertizing blitz that takes place in the week or so preceding the actual release date.

An excellent example of a film that did this correctly was The Hunger Games. That film had the shit marketed out of it. And you know what? It did well. People were aware the film existed! Moreover, whether or not The Hunger Games was a good film or not is to be decided in a future review on this platform.

Anyways, as the summer release date approached, the NRG (National Research Group) awareness polls showed that a substantial part of the target audience for The Island had not yet heard of the movie( You can probably see where this is going). Nevertheless, having already spent $122.5 million on the production, DreamWorks decided to open it wide on over 3,200 screens and spent $35 million on buying action-laden ads (which had little relation to the clone plot or the ethical issues).

This of course was an act of desperation. From these ads though, the prospective audience had no way of knowing what the movie was about—other than Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor being chased by bad guys—or even that there was no actual island in The Island.

If I can offer a band-aid for the marketing blunder, The Island back in the summer of 2005 had to overcome the competitive disadvantage of not having the built-in-awareness that comes from being a re-make, sequel, a video game, TV series spinoff, or a comic book adaptation. Yes, there have been many cases where such a film has overcome this challenge-the lesson learned for studios though is that if you are aware of this exact nature of your film, marketing the extreme shit out of it is paramount.

I can’t stress this enough. But I digress.

With having mentioned all of the above in ranting detail, let’s begin the good stuff, and why you are ultimately here in the underdog archive (to hear me service and pump the tires of The Island).

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Overview (minor spoilers ahead):

The Island in my view is one of the best science fiction films I’ve seen in the last decade (If you disagree, great, leave a comment for discussion). It has obvious strengths, which include, but are not limited to, breath-taking action sequences to which we can thank Mr. Bay for. The films greatest strength is in its exploration of important science fiction themes that are relevant and are reflected in today’s societal culture of corporate ethics, prison populations, medical ethics, class warfare and many others.

The film is essentially based on the premise that sometime in our near future, the wealthy citizens of our world might pay a private corporation to grow and incubate replacement body parts so that its rich clients might achieve Godlike immortality; even as they destroy their own organs through unhealthy lifestyle choices such as drug use, binge drinking, smoking, and consuming junk foods.

In The Island, a private corporation is selling this organ-replacement service to wealthy clients and proclaiming that these organs are grown in a laboratory. However, in reality, the corporation is cloning these wealthy clients and are in fact growing complete adult organisms- human beings that have consciousness, intelligence, emotions, and imagination- and then harvesting(killing) those humans  when the replacement organs are needed for the clients.

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The story revolves around two clones: Lincoln 6 Echo (McGregor) and Jordan 2 Delta (Johansson), who reside in a futuristic utopian society. It’s much like Orwell’s 1984,”in which everything is controlled, programmed and run by an unseen force. In this case it’s an ominous doctor – masterfully played by Sean Bean – who is the “God” over the clones.

The fact that this film makes an almost seamless transition from sci-fi film to action film back and forth makes it worth the watch. The film slowed down when it needed to and got loud and noisy in the appropriate places. All in all, I felt that the film was the most exciting and entertaining sci-fi film since The Matrix.

Ewan McGregor is rightly cast as Lincoln 6 Echo, using his boyish charm, good looks and manner to lend the necessary credibility of innocence to his character. The only problem I have with McGregor is the use of an American accent(His delivery would flow better if he used his native tongue and would seem more natural) The charismatic Scarlett Johansson finds just the right note, as well, to bring her character, Jordan 2 Delta, to life. Bay gives each of his actors, in turn, a moment in which to define their respective characters and highlight the plausibility of the film, and when that time comes they each succeed in a way that sustains the interest in the story beyond the action and the F/X. Excellent performances by both McGregor and Johansson.

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Furthermore, it can’t be stressed enough the importance of a having a good composer for a film.  Steve Jablonsky, known for composing soundtracks for such notable films like Transformers and the video game Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, to me made the film The Island ,larger than life. If you listen to the track “My name is Lincoln” from the soundtrack you will understand. The theme track captures the essence of humanity and illustrates with instruments how precious and short life is, and that we as humans rise and fall throughout the changes in our lives to which ultimately comes to an end.

The big lie structure of The Island reminds me a lot of some other great films, including Soylent Green, and of course, The Matrix. Another film that explores the big lie is The Truman Show, one of my all-time favorite movies starring Jim Carrey. Don’t forget Pleasantville, starring, believe it or not, Toby Maguire before his stardom took off from Spiderman.

If you really want to see how our modern world operates behind the curtain, it’s not at all unreasonable to study some of these great films. Art often imitates life, and many Hollywood script writers have a clearer view of what’s really going on in the world today than, say, your average cable news journalist.

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In closing, if the marketing campaign for this film didn’t suck as much as a Dyson Vacuum cleaner, The Island  would have been in the Overcat category.

So go find this one on your alphabetized DVD shelf. Or go to the mall and scrum through the discount movie bin like a real professional.

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