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Featured Blu-ray review: The Island

June 18th, 2011

The Island - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Michael Bay has been directing movies since 1995 and in that time, he's made eight films (not including the upcoming Transformers threequel). Of those eight films, only one, The Rock, has earned overall positive reviews. On the other hand, since his first place, Bad Boys, he's only had one film fail to reach $100 million at the box office. That film was The Island. In fact, this film is the least successful box office performer in his career, but does it deserve this distinction?

The Movie

The film is set in the year 2019, sometime after an environmental disaster has left most of the Earth uninhabitable. It starts in a massive complex where the last humans live and whose lives are controlled to the smallest details from monitoring sleeping patterns, to monitoring social interactions, to monitoring sodium levels in your urine. They have a very regimented regime, but there's one thing that gives them reason for hope, The Lottery. The last remaining uncontaminated place on Earth is an island, referred to as The Island. The only way to get there is to win The Lottery. Some people have won in just a few months, others have been there nearly a decade.

One such inhabitant of this complex is Lincoln Six Echo, who at the start of the film has a lot of questions and that could be what's giving him nightmares. These nightmares end up forcing him to talk with Merrick, the head of the complex, who asks him about the dreams he's been having, his relationship with Jordan Two Delta, why he seems unhappy. He's unhappy because he has so many questions no one will answer for him. He doesn't get any answers from Merick, but what he does get is a cyber-implant for his troubles. Most of the rest of the inhabitants are far less curious and just go about their days waiting till they win the Lottery. While trying to get answers, including from a less stringent overseer, McCord, he finds a live moth that had flown in through one of the ventilation shafts. This just brings up a world of new questions.

Then when Jordan Two Delta wins The Lottery, he decides to do some further investigating that night, and discovers... Major Spoilers. Although I'm pretty sure many of the spoilers were given away in the trailers, I'll end the plot there, as there's a good chance that at least some people reading this review won't know what the twist is.

The Island earned mixed reviews and my opinion on the film is likewise mixed. There are some excellent ideas at the heart of this movie. The film starts out great with a sci-fi feel backed by an intriguing mystery. You recognize something isn't right and the work Lincoln Six Echo does to uncover what going on is the most compelling part of the story, along with Merrick trying to figure out why Lincoln Six Echo is acting so strange. This part of the movie also brings up some interesting philosophical questions that I really can't get into without giving away too much. However, once he discovers the secret and he and Jordan Two Delta escape, it turns into a rather average action film. Granted, it's big and loud and well made in that regard, but also improbable and overproduced. For example, it is improbable that a semi-truck would start losing its load over the freeway without the driver slowing down to check it out. I know, that seems like a minor point, but the film started off so well that these details really bugged me. As for overproduced, there were more than a few moments where I thought the filmmakers were expecting the film to be seen in 3-D. There's a car chase in the movie that lasts far too long, and feels borrowed from countless other movies.

On a side note, and this is a major spoiler, Jordan Two Delta is a clone of a famous super model. Her donor was in a car accident and is in a coma and needs several organs for replacement. However, no one seems to recognize her and ask, 'Weren't you in a car accident?' At one point, she's standing right in front of an advertisement she's in, but not one person notices? She's arrested by the cops, but neither cop seems to notice they have a famous supermodel in the back of their cop car? Again, it's a minor thing to get stuck on, but the movie started out so well that the minor things bugged me. Although, I never did buy the reason behind why the clones needed to be fully conscious. 'Without consciousness, their organs would fail.' Nope, not buying that.

The early part of the movie suggests that this film could have been great, but instead of sticking with the intellectual and philosophical sci-fi elements, it turned into a simple chase film partway through. If you are a fan of popcorn flicks, it is still worth checking out, but it could have been so much more.

The Extras

The Blu-ray appears to be shovelware with the previous DVD extras ported over. This starts with an audio commentary with Michael Bay. It's a solo track and suffers from the usual problems involved, i.e., it lacks energy. There are also three short featurettes on the making of in general, shooting the actions scenes, and the pre-visualization. In total, their running time is about 37 minutes, which is not a whole lot. Then again, the movie was a bomb, so you can't expect a fully loaded Blu-ray.

Looking in on the film's tech specs, it's hard to justify the video quality, as there are a lot of scenes that are very grainy. Normally this is a real knock against the transfer, but the grain is there for artistic reasons, so it is a knock against the director. Seriously, if I woke up and my eyesight was that bad, I would see a doctor immediately. On the other hand, the colors pop, the contrast is sharp, the black levels are deep without, etc. The audio is better than the video and every single speaker in your 5.1 setup will be put through a workout. The bass is strong, there's ambient sounds galore, and plenty of directional effects.

It is shovelware, but the technical presentation is worth the $16 price-tag, if you are a fan of the movie.

The Movie

Is The Island Michael Bay's worst movie? Not even close. It's not a great movie, but it is a watchable sci-fi popcorn flick that should have been better than the end result. The Blu-ray doesn't have any new extras, but the technical presentation is strong enough that it is worth upgrading to, if you liked the movie enough to buy the DVD. If you've never seen it, at least give it a rental.

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