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THE ISLAND
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean, Michael Clarke Duncan, Steve Buscemi
Director: Michael Bay
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 136 Minutes
Release Date: June 21, 2011

I just want to live. I don't care how.”

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 seat belt 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!

The Island was certainly one of the best entertainments of 2005, and it remains one of Michael Bay's best accomplishments to date (I actually find it superior to even that of the first Transformers)! 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 ****

All of Bay's movies made for outstanding presentations on regular DVD alone, but the results on Blu-ray have been even more remarkable. This Paramount Blu-ray is a prime example, and it just might be the best presentation of any of Bay's films on the format. It is the most visually spectacular Bay has made to date, and the 1080p takes full advantage of the bright and beautifully colored cinematography. The futuristic setting looks every bit as amazing as it did on the big screen, and the excellent visual effects are displayed in a way I can only describe as a real treat for the visual senses. The picture is nothing but razor sharp excellence, with enormous amounts of detail lingering in every shot. Skintones are top notch (a fantastic quality for those of use who could stare at Scarlett Johansson for days), and the colors are nothing short of a knockout!

Audio ****

By now, it should come as a surprise to nobody that a Michael Bay movie is going to feature the most earthshaking form of sound quality in the known universe, and it has resulted in yet another reference quality sounding Blu-ray disc alongside both Transformers movies and The Rock. Though the first half of the movie is a bit more laid back, the lossless audio does take tremendous advantage of the futuristic surroundings as well as Steve Jablonsky's terrific music score. But once the second half of the movie arrives, it's nothing but a gargantuan thunderstorm of glorious sound mayhem. Every crash, thud, gun blast, roaring car, rocket thrust and explosion is delivered through the channels in such a furious force that it's a wonder your house or apartment doesn't crumble to the ground as a result! Far and away one of the best sounding Blu-ray discs of the year!

Features **1/2

This Paramount Blu-ray contains all of the extras from the previous DVD release, as well as a couple of features that were only available through a separate bonus disc that was only available at various retail stores. Included is a nice commentary with Michael Bay, as well as three behind the scenes featurettes; “The Making of The Island”, “The Future in Action” and “Previsualization: Forward Thinking”. All add up to over a half hour of behind the scenes material, and they each give a nicely detailed glimpse into Bay's filmmaking approach, as well as the tremendous amount of stunt work.

Summary:

The Island has been one of my most anticipated Blu-ray releases for years now, and I can definitely say that Paramount's release was definitely worth the wait. Blending thought-provoking science fiction with the kind of epic, in-your-face action that only Michael Bay can deliver, this remains a rock solid piece of extravagant entertainment! If you own the DVD, ditch it because this is so much worth the upgrade!

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