Reviews

The Island

3

Hello and welcome to Spot The Movie Steal - er, homage... On with the pointy geek hats. Lumpy, junk food-nourished fingers on the buzzers...

Human copies with implanted memories? Bzzt! Blade Runner. Sinister, faceless corporation harvesting lost souls? Bzzt! The Matrix. Antiseptic, underground dystopia where physical contact is banned and everyone wears white for some reason?... Have to hurry you... Bzzt! THX-1138.

See also: 1984, a dash of Frankenstein, a Michael Marshall Smith novel (Spares) and a lottery/cull idea half-inched from an ace Frank Roberts short story ('It Could Be You'). So... there.

Ah, nearly forgot. There's also that unpleasant business with the producers of 1979's The Clonus Horror who claim that The Island is, um, a clone of their own clone movie...

Still, nothing's original these days, right? Least of all Hollywood blockbusters. And, as Michael Bay himself admits on the solid but short Making Of, "I wanted to make a fun ride. But with something else at the heart..." So, enough with the chin-strokes. Does The Island have enough of a pulse to make you pause in between popcorn-shovelling? Is it more than the sum of its steals or just as sterile and processed as its characters?

For his first film without the steadying mitts of mentor Bruckheimer, Bay wisely sticks to what he's learned from the master-blaster. That is, keep 'em wired and wide awake - flinching and fly-catching at the clangs and clatters. And always, always, top a propulsive, eardrum-splintering action sequence with one geared to completely shear the top off the most cynical cine-head.

Bored with car chases? How about a lorry chase? A lorry chase where Ewan McGregor is humping hulking great metal spindle things off the back of a lorry and straight down the braying throats of superjeep-driving goons... Tired of stuff exploding? Try the scene where a monolithic, metallic fan blade rears and roars and buckles off its axis, demolishing and detonating everything in its tumbling path. And when things start to flag, Bay defaults back to his comfort zone and chucks in another chopper - or at least another heat haze-saturated shot, framed from below, of a man wearing sunglasses getting out of a chopper in pornographic slow-motion, rotor blades chug-chug-chugging above.

Bay also proves that he can mix it with the De Palma/Scorsese stylists by dropping in some smartypants camera slickery (gliding through an expansive control-room, up and over the rim of an atrium before spiralling down past the prone embryos and swooping along their umbilical connecting cables, through to the work-space where the everyday schmoes unwittingly nurture their next generation). Surface, sure, but at least it shows signs of an urge to stretch beyond the all-out action-only typecasting.

Nevertheless, The Island is a flashbang-wallop of a fireworks display in search of a soul, a story, a little character of its own. The producers tried to pin the film’s box-office belly-up on the lack of chemistry between our cloney heroes, Lincoln Six-Echo (McGregor) and Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson). But, while McGregor’s twinkly edge is again blunted by a daft Big Fish/Star Wars-style Americanisation (couldn’t the cloning process stretch to speech and diction?) and Johansson does little more than pout and bounce from chase to chase, it’s Sean Bean who clunks the loudest. As Big, Bad Boss Of The Body-Farmers, with his gleaming specs and co-ordinated Prada prowl, he’s more officious than ominous. Bean clearly wants to evoke Ed Harris’ mentalist megalomaniac Christof from The Truman Show, but he only manages a posh bank manager with a bit of a temper.

For a man at the helm of such slight sci-fi , Bay’s commentary has an admirable reek of control-freak. Judging by the Making Of cast comments, he was a director determined to subvert his pulpy rep with a few flutters of vision. It was Bay who had the deftness to sneak in a splash of satire on dead-end job dissatisfaction (“What are we doing here?”... “We’re feeding the nutrient lines!”). And anyone who’s had the dubious pleasure of a twilight dash to a delivery room will appreciate his icky, anti-sentimental, production-line approach to the miracle of life. (“I wanted the clone birthing process to be done by truck drivers. Just another job... Some desert rat who lives out there and cuts open these sacks every day.”)

He also has the balls to shore up the over-familiar, eugenics-is-wrong fluster with a clammy, Nazi-nodding sequence featuring clones being coaxed into a gas chamber.

So the derivative, grab-bag effect is still annoying and Bay’s technotestosterone posturing is muffled in the big-to-small screen translation. But the devilish DVD details show a director emerging from the nurture of guru Jerry as more Cameron-in-waiting than just another Tony Scott mimic.

But that doesn’t mean we forgive the gaping great plot-holes – most of which are gagging to have Viz ‘Top Tips’ made out of ’em... Crypto-fascist megacorps! Avoid having your entire secret facility destroyed by not building an easily accessible central computer system with a clearly labelled SELF-DESTRUCT button.

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