The Island on Blu-ray
Michael Bay may not be known for films that make you think, but if that's the case "The Island" is the exception that proves the rule.
It's a bit "Logan's Run" with a healthy dose of "THX 1138", and even a bit of "The Sixth Day," but not as derivative as that may sound. It could also be considered a cautionary tale about the dangers of uncontrolled human cloning and/or organ harvesting.
In about 80 years, a contaminated earth has led to an isolated underground colony of humans who live and work in the kind of THX 1138 world where everything is controlled. Even what people eat is run by the state – perhaps the logical result of Michelle Obama's current "Big Brother-like" initiatives.
The one chance for something new and interesting in one's life is the lottery, which gives winners a trip out of their closed world and to "The Island," supposedly the last uncontaminated place on earth, a paradise where they'll supposedly live out their lives in wonderful circumstances.
Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) is our hero, one of these people. Except that, unlike the rest of the sheep he lives among, he actually questions his existence and dares to exhibit individuality and creative thought. This gets him sent to a man who appears to be the colony's shrink (Sean Bean) who turns out later to be a lot more than that.
Exacerbating Lincoln's problems is a budding relationship with Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) a decorative woman who is suddenly awarded her own trip to the Island, just as Lincoln and she are starting to become an item – which of course is forbidden.
Before she leaves, however, Lincoln stumbles across the Grand Conspiracy of the movie and, with Jordan, manages to escape the facility and find his way to the outside world. And far from the contaminated environment he expected, he and Jordan discover that the world is just fine. So why have they been living in a virtual prison all these years, and lied to about the world around them?
It's a neat yarn, marred by some overlong action sequences. The film's also marred by a bunch of supposedly futuristic vehicles that are thinly disguised Chrysler products, though that can probably be overlooked considering the budgetary logistics of destroying innumerable cars they had to design and build themselves. And the futuristic Los Angeles looks very cool. So does the Cadillac prototype we get to see briefly.
McGregor is very good in what turns out to be dual roles and Johannson is appropriately decorative. Sean Bean is excellent as the head bad guy, with Steve Buscemi delivering a good performance as Lincoln's friend, a man who starts them on the road to enlightenment. Also on hand in smaller parts are Michael Clarke Duncan and Ethan Phillips, with Djimon Hounsou as a mercenary hired to get our heroes back home – or at least get them out of the way.
So while Michael Bay's name on the title may leave you expecting nothing more than an action extravaganza, there's far more to The Island than just aimless thrills. It's actually quite thought provoking, dealing with the issues of cloning and organ harvesting in a reasonably mature manner that goes beyond simple action adventure. In that way, it's reminiscent of The Sixth Day, and is well worth seeing.
The villain of the piece, personified by Sean Bean's character, is a nasty piece of work. But it appears that his conspiracy didn't start out that nasty – we'd like to get into it in detail but that would spoil the surprises. Suffice it to say that what appears to have started out as a business venture meant to truly help humanity still does that, but getting from where it started to where we join in required some rather unfortunate compromises that ended up with the experiment getting wildly out of hand. At least they try to give their charges decent lives…
The Blu-ray does the film justice, though at the cost of a rather weird look that hearkens back to the film's design and not the Blu-ray technology. The1080p transfer is very crisp, with excellent detail and rich color, even though a lot of the movie takes place in what's basically a very white, sterile environment. Fleshtones appear a little "warm" and the whole picture seems a bit oversaturated – especially once they get out into the "real" world, but overall this is an enjoyable transfer.
The audio is excellent. Paramount gives us a powerful dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack that's rich and detailed, clear and enveloping. The surround channels get plenty of use, as does the low frequency effects channel, and dialogue is always clear.
Extras include a commentary track in which director Bay opines on the picture's visual design, construction of the set, the cast, plot, and a lot more. It's a decent track.
"The Future in Action" focuses on Bay's penchant for filming action, while "The Making of The Island" (which, like "Future", is in standard definition) which is pretty self explanatory. "Pre-Visualization" is a look at how important animatics were in the making the film.
The Island, from Paramount Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.