Thursday, August 04, 2005

Movie Review - The Island

(image curtesy of Dreamworks Pictures)

I’ve been meaning to watch this movie since it was released almost 2 weeks ago but was never able to make it until yesterday during the after-hours get together with some of my office mates. I was surprised to see that even after these past 2 weeks and on a workday too boot we had a full house for the movie that night. It was at least a good sign to start the movie off as I settled down into the assigned seat.

In the latest summer blockbuster by director Michael Bay, “The Island” tells the story of two people living in a seemingly idyllic existence in an underground refuge complex designed to protect them from what they are told was a contaminated world above ground. In their protected environment, these survivors lived regimented and controlled lives designed to prepare them for eventual transfer topside to what they were told was the last uncontaminated location on Earth, known only as the Island, where they would live out the rest of their lives in what seemed to be Paradise relative to their dreary daily lives.

While waiting for his turn to be selected by a lottery to leave for the Island, Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) lived his life questioning why things happen the way it does in his seemingly limited world. He was always questioning who provides for him and what else was there for him to do other than just waiting around to go to the Island. The only bright lights of his life were his friendship with a fellow survivor Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johnson) and his occasionally rebellious contact with McCord (Steve Buscemi), a facilities worker, who took Lincoln under his wing despite the admonition against them fraternizing. It was during one of his clandestine meeting with McCord that he found a large moth in the passageways leading up to the surface.

When the Lottery selected Jordan to be the next person scheduled to go to the Island, Lincoln found himself in the position of losing the only person who made his life exciting in the whole complex. Determined to find a way to be with her, he sneaked away through the passages and up the ladders to what he thought was the uncontaminated surface where the moth he found earlier came from. To his surprise, their living complex was actually an elaborate holding area underneath a medical facility where his friends who had won the Lottery and was suppose to be on their way to the Island were taken to instead. Here his friends were butchered for their organs to be used by the people who commissioned the creation of these clones in attempts to prolong their lives. Horrified by the realization, Lincoln immediately rushed down to the complex to find Jordan and help her escape the brutal fate that awaited her.

The escape through the complex also netted them another piece of the puzzle in that they were actually clones bred under the supervision of the seemingly benign Merrick (Sean Bean) for those who could afford the process. These clones were created for those who would want to have children without going through the pregnancy process or for those who needed to have their internal organs replaced due to injury or lifestyle excesses. In order to circumvent the existing laws, Merrick allowed the clone owners to believe that their clones existed in a continuous vegetative state instead of the living sentient beings that they really were. With the prospect of the public finding out the truth about his operations, Merrick dispatched the heavily armed bounty hunter Laurent (Djimon Hounsou) and his minions to collar and return them to the complex for termination.

From this point onwards, the movie switched into the more familiar Michael Bay action set pieces. Both Lincoln and Jordan found themselves in increasingly dire circumstances as they traveled through near future Los Angeles in search of Lincoln’s genetic template. They hoped that by finding him, they would be able to go public with what was actually happening to the clones that Merrick bred. A twist of fate would later make their initial plan unworkable and they had to attempt a break-in into the clone complex to save their fellow clones who were targeted by Merrick for termination. Merrick had found out that several generations of the clones that he had in the complex were contaminated by the same psychological quirk that made Lincoln questioned his surroundings and now would pose a danger to his operations. Lincoln found himself in the position of having to confront his creator while Jordon organized the others in their flight to freedom with the surprised assistance from Laurent. By the end of the story, Jordan and Lincoln were reunited again as the clones scramble over top side to their freedom with the death of Merrick.

I personally found the first half of this film was more interesting than the second half as it dealt with issues of cloning and genetic ethics that I found fascinating to ponder. For most of the time during the first act, Lincoln was the audience proxy as he tried to understand why the world is like it was around him and the audience got to get involved in his quest for knowledge. Unlike another film on cloning that I know of, “The 6th Day”, “The Island” took the audience through the story from the point of view of the clones finding out who they really are and what they were created for. Once the truth was uncovered, several interesting ethical questions remained just out of reach in the storyline that it was a bit frustrating that they didn’t decide to go into it in a little more detail before going to the action set pieces.

As like in other Michael Bay films, his action set pieces were a wonder to watch. Full with kinetic energy, his characters are thrown into fast and furious circumstances that grew in intensity as the second act of the movie unfolded in front of the audience. The chase scenes during the second act of the “Island” were reminiscent of similar scenes from other movies like “Matrix” or “Minority Report” but the clever use of handheld cameras and fast cuts made for a fresher approach to the fast derivative chase sequences.

Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson were sufficiently believable as the naive clones forced to find their way in the outside world although I had a bit of a problem with his American accent fading in and out during the first act. Sean Bean casting as Merrick allowed him to play a familiar character for him and it shows in his confident performance. Djimon Hounsou just oozed the menacing calm so effortlessly that it was not hard to believe that you would feel seriously afraid and threatened if he was chasing after you. The best lines of the movie however belonged to Steve Buscemi’s character who unfortunately was taken out of the movie fairly early in the action.

Overall, “The Island” was an enjoyable way to spend an evening at the movies. With a fairly well developed sci-fi component and exciting action set pieces, this movie has almost all the components to appeal to fans of the action movie genre. It may not be the best that the genre has to offer but it was an enjoyable watch nevertheless.

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