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THE ISLAND

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean, Michael Clarke Duncan, Steve Buscemi
Director: Michael Bay
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Dreamworks
Features: See Review
Length: 136 Minutes
Release Date: December 13, 2005

“I’m sorry, I’m not ready to die!”

“ME, NEITHER!!”

Film ****

Never has a single movie delivered more bang for the buck. With The Island, director Michael Bay has taken his filmmaking game one step further by delivering two movies for the price of one. One half provides a most thought provoking science fiction story, while the second half delivers Bay’s trademark slam bang action.

Blending these two elements may sound a bit risky, but Bay has pulled it off flawlessly. The Island serves as Bay’s best effort yet to have the story drive the action instead of the other way around. His past films, such as Bad Boys II, have succeeded in the reverse effect, but this film should demonstrate to all of those who’ve slammed the director that he can indeed be a grand storyteller.

The first half shows a side of Bay that has been unseen. It’s a relaxed, deeply atmospheric portrait of a futuristic society that has been established ever since a contamination took place. The citizens dress in the same attire, follow a set of everyday rules and are educated to the level of a 15 year old.

They are to never give a single thought to their purpose in life, but one such citizen, Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor), has developed a sudden feeling of intense curiosity. He is unclear as to why certain rules are in place, why he dresses the same as everyone else, why he isn’t allowed certain foods to eat and why do they keep finding new people to de-contaminate. His curiosity catches the attention of Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), the head of the facility.

The citizens are given something to hope for; a chance to win a lottery which will grant them permanent life on The Island, the last pathogen free-zone in the world. Two winners are selected per day. The latest winners are Starkweather Two-Delta (Michael Clarke Duncan) and Lincoln’s closest friend, Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson).

But Lincoln’s numerous curiosities are soon answered in a frightening way as he witnesses brutal acts to a couple of citizens bound for freedom. After which, he tells Jordan that she may get killed by accepting her spot on The Island. Before long, Lincoln and Jordan are on the lam from Merrick’s security. By now, they have escaped the futuristic colony, which turns out to be in an underground lair somewhere in the desert.

Merrick, fearing the biggest security risk, brings in top level mercenary Albert Laurent (Djimon Honsou) to retrieve the two escapees, who are referred to as “products”.  His team, armed with state of the art vehicles and weaponry, set out to find them. By now, the movie has switched gears into a sensory-assaulting action movie that only Michael Bay can be capable of delivering.

Meanwhile, Lincoln and Jordan track down an employer of the facility, McCord (Steve Buscemi, in a very funny supporting role). He explains to them who they are and why they were kept in such an environment. It turns out, they are both clones and they have been created to simply provide spare parts for their real human source, such as a heart transplant, artificial insemination, etc. They are expensive material (5 million each to be exact), and the real human clients want nothing to do with them. As McCord puts it, “Just because somebody wants to eat a burger doesn’t mean they wanna meet the cow.” Lincoln and Jordan insist that McCord help them elude the authorities, so that Lincoln can catch up to his human counterpart.

The second half of The Island contains some of the most jaw-dropping action to hit the screen since Bay’s last movie, Bad Boys II. Don’t let the PG-13 rating fool you, as Bay is quite capable of pushing the parameters of any rating when it comes to movie violence. Indeed, this is a movie where a seatbelt is certainly required.

And I am now convinced that nobody can build up to a great action sequence like Bay can, in addition to executing it. As Laurent’s team gear up for the chase and get word on the two’s location, Bay’s editing and use of intense music convey that something big is about to happen. And boy does it indeed happen!

The key action sequence is a lengthy freeway pursuit, where Lincoln and Jordan are hiding on a truck carrying wheels for locomotives. Lincoln unknowingly sets the wheels loose on the freeway, taking out many of their pursuers. You won’t believe what hit you (no pun intended) when you see just how much damage these wheels do to a maneuvering automobile.

And it doesn’t end there! The scene follows with the two commandeering a futuristic flying vehicle, leading Laurent’s men on a mind-blowing air pursuit. It’s as if Bay took a scene right out of Star Wars and placed it in a more modern setting, despite being somewhat in the future. Believe me when I tell you that debris will be enormous and buildings will be crashed into.

Even after all the incredible action, the story provides a few surprises. The biggest of all is the encounter with Lincoln’s human source, Tom Lincoln. This meeting leads to a scene that, I must admit, didn’t go down at all like I expected. It involves the use of a futuristic Cadillac that, should one ever get developed, I will kill to have!

As far as having a thrilling entertainment value, The Island is certainly one of the best of 2005! Michael Bay is a truly gifted action filmmaker, but this film shows that he can do even more with a strong screenplay. It’s rare that a single movie can blend in two different genres so perfectly, but The Island has done just that by applying the best marriage of sci-fi and action to hit the screen in years!

Video ****

In a word…FANTASTIC! Dreamworks has boasted what is very much one of the best looking discs of the year. This visually engaging movie has had justice done to it in the video department. The anamorphic picture executes visual sharpness and clarity from beginning to end. Colors are absolutely marvelous, in addition, as they illume amazingly in just about every single shot. And the many visual effects look nothing short of astonishing. It’s one presentation that truly is a treat for the eyes.

Audio ****

Though I was hoping for a DTS track, Dreamworks has fully delivered with a sharp Dolby 5.1 mix that is one of the best sounding discs of 05. A Michael Bay movie always soars high in the DVD sound department, and this may be the best transfer yet of a Bay movie (that’s right, surpassing even Armageddon!). Everything here is in the absolute right place, from Steve Jablonsky’s dynamic score to the rousing action set pieces to the simplest form of dialogue delivery. And the action sequences will very much get a reaction from you thanks to the flawless treatment of the sound mix. Absolutely amazing!!!!

Features **

The only letdown area of the disc, as all that’s included is a commentary track from Michael Bay, which is a good listen despite having one gap too many, and a brief featurette entitled “The Future of Action”, which goes into how the film’s action set pieces were constructed.

I’m certainly hoping that a Special Edition or Deluxe Edition is in the works.

Summary:

Like I said before, The Island delivers in many areas, but it’s the feeling of getting two audacious movies for the price of one that really blew me away. As a result, Michael Bay has upped his filmmaking game even further, as this is one of the best entertaining flicks to come out all year. Buckle up and enjoy!

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