Skip to main content

Sir, I have one question. Where do all the tubes go?

The Island
(2005)

(SPOILERS) Michael Bay would probably have been better advised to remake the Michael Caine The Island, which has just the kind of excesses that would better suit his tastes. Instead, he attempted to tackle a nominally cerebral actioner and so strove to expose that it really has little going on under the hood. The Island, set just over a year ago (it begins on July 19, 2019) is at its best when it’s focusing on the plot rather than the rather rote spectacle. Which is to say that the second half of the picture becomes something of an endurance test. Michael Bay films are too damn long!

By this point, Bay had already turned the events of Pearl Harbour into a rousing action fest (when an Oliver Stone-esque conspiracy tale would have been considerably more interesting. But then, Stone didn’t even go near that with his The Secret History of America documentary series). Perhaps he fancied proving he wasn’t just the guy who could out-excess himself with Bad Boys II. It’s hard to figure for certain, as The Island is visually amped up to eleven even in conversational scenes. Perhaps Bay was making up for his undercharged leads.

McCord: Oh no, why do I get to be the guy who tells them there’s no Santa Claus.

Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are entirely bland presences as clones – or Agnates – Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta. You might suggest that’s the point, but if so, that’s why you need actors with more natural presence. Hollywood quickly got the message with McGregor, who wouldn’t be headlining a big studio production again until last year (although, arguably the star of that was Stephen King, while the CGI bear was the main attraction in Christopher Robin). In fairness, he is quite good as his Lincoln’s human original, an unapologetically libidinous weasel…

Johansson had just segued to adult roles, and would soon segue to Black Widow; she’d never have a problem getting good parts, but would face much bigger problems in making an indelible impression. Both actors being swallowed up by a Bay production bears noting; while the subject matter definitely didn’t play to the director’s strengths in this case, he undoubtedly needs leads who can anchor his maximum carnage. The strange thing is, the likes of Mark Wahlberg and Shia LaBeouf are able to do this.

The Island has a sprinkling of notable supporting presences – Kim Coates and Steve Buscemi, with Ethan “Neelix” Phillips proving just as annoying sans prosthetics – but mostly fails across the board. Sean Bean is forgettable renta-villainous-scientist Doctor Merrick, presumably cast because he could deliver competent action moves at the climax rather than because he makes a convincing genius. As the guy employed to retrieve the clones, Djimon Hounsou is possibly the least discreet operative since… well, the last Michael Bay movie. Michael Clarke Duncan meets a grisly fate. The consequence is that, with the rare exception, the movie feels very one-note, pedestrian and uninvolving, particularly once the second half has devolved into inconsequential action.

The Island was Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci’s first credited screenplay. Caspian Tredwell-Owen came up with the idea, although DreamWorks settled with the creators of Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979) for coming up with a very similar idea. That itself is interesting, as I’m unsure how much The Island is really about cloning. Kurtzman and Orci had graduated from TV, notably Alias, and would soon be widely loathed for their contributions to/crimes committed against Star Trek and Spider-Man; Kurtzman is still wreaking carnage on the former (although, it’s rumoured such wanton desecration may soon end).

McCord: The life you think you has before” the Contamination”? It never happened.

The Clonus Horror concerns an isolated desert facility where clones are bred for the elite (including a US President). They are intermittently awarded the honour of going to “America”. Sound familiar? It’s pretty undeniably similar to The Island, just not as upbeat for the main parties. But you’d be forgiven for thinking the set-up of isolated innocents in a sealed environment fed a lie about their world and eventually acceding to a reward or change of status isn’t so dissimilar to Logan’s Run (for going to the Island, read the rite of Carrousel).

Essentially then, one might very easily see The Island a reset tale, illustrating how easy it would be to raise an oblivious populace (as Cristof says in The Truman Show: “We accept the reality of the world we’re presented. It’s a simple as that”). In this case, it’s as simple as telling the tale of the Contamination. It takes someone capable of seeing the limitations of the lie (Lincoln) to disrupt the enforced order of things and seed others’ doubts (most amusingly, the confusion over where all the tubes go).

Lincoln is the equivalent of a Flat Earther, or a Truther (like Orci). Winning the Lottery in this environment becomes the equivalent of religious salvation or retirement (significantly, the clones have no knowledge of sex or spirituality: “What’s God?”). The Island “is the one thing that gives them hope…. Gives them purpose”. It represents something to invest oneself in above all else. Knowledge and understanding are withheld, such that the clones are “educated to the level of a fifteen-year-old". So pretty much as we are, give or take.

There are some nice touches here, Kurtzman and Orci recognising the struggle to make sense of a world that does not. Phillips’ Jones Echo Three uses numerology to attempt to make order of the processes controlling his environment (suggesting that those selected for the Island can be predicted). Unfortunately, his system is so convoluted it comes out as nonsense (in a world where the conspiratorially minded can have a tendency to brandish rudimentary numerological or gematric tools wherever one looks, to “make sense” of things, that sounds about right).

McCord: Well, just because people want to eat the burger, doesn’t mean they want to meet the cow.

But from the cloning point of view, the movie doesn’t have too much to say. The Island uses the classic Hollywood set up of a bad seed going out on a limb (meaning order will be restored once the picture ends). We’re asked to believe the Department of Defence is unaware that Merrick has been breaking the Eugenics Law of 2015, which instructs that clones may only be grown if they remain in a persistent vegetative state (such a precondition is an all too believable “safeguard” for permitting such activity). This at least acknowledges the prospect of public objection to such unethical behaviour; Never Let Me Go, another cloning pic, leaves it as an unaddressed elephant in the room. 

Employee: Looks like we have a fine product.

According to Merrick, it was discovered that clones could only become suitable donors for their rich doubles through being grown fully conscious. He and his employees, aside from Buscemi, maintain a dissociative state towards their humanity, as one would expect. “It’s a product… not human” and “They have no souls”. Desensitisation is such that they are in fits of laughter at the traumatic escape attempt by Starkweather Two-Delta (Duncan).

Lincoln: A dump? Take it where?

There’s no real attempt to investigate the identity of the clones beyond these markers, though, or the process by which Lincoln develops the memories of his original. Once Lincoln and Jordan escape the facility, much of the potential is dropped in favour of hyperbolic action sequences and determined escalation, such that by the third act, Lincoln is delivering a more than serviceable impression of his human counterpart.

Perhaps Orci and Kirkman’s reticence is because, in contrast to their 9/11 parable Star Trek into Darkness, they feel the jury’s out on actual cloning. It is, after all, one of THE big conspiracy theories, with frequent evidence of glitchy clones breaking down cited on YouTube, be it Hillary, Eminem or numerous news anchors. Equally, there’s dispute as to whether what we are seeing in many of these cases really does represent clones; maybe they are variously deep fakes, doubles, or MKUltra subjects springing a leak. Or something else besides. You have a line of this kind of duplicate narrative running from The Beatles through to Dave Chapelle. It could be another smoke-and-mirrors psyop, masking what is really going on. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that Donald Campbell’s explanation for celebs and politicians’ prominent black eyes related to lurid tales of Vrill/aliens possessing them (soul scalping), in tandem with accounts of underground cloning centres/fight clubs. Currently, that has been supplanted by association of the black eye with adrenochrome – which, not dissimilarly to The Island, also promotes the elite cannibalising victims to sustain their youth and vitality.

Guard: You two, watch your proximity.

Then there’s the side of The Island that may represent predictive programming. It’s set in 2019 and concerns secretive and illegal activities that favour the elites. Those subjugated are required to maintain a safe distance from each other and fed lies about the dangers of their environment (the idea of global contamination “keeps them fearful of going outside”).

Lincoln: Why is everyone wearing white all the time?

Ultimately, though, The Island offers slim pickings. There’s some nice production design from Nigel Phelps (Bay didn’t like his big train, but the Coma-esque room where clones are indoctrinated with key words – “You have a very special purpose”; “I want to go the Island” – is memorable). Unfortunately, though, Bay’s frenetic style and Mauro Fiore’s complementary cinematography tend to avoid letting anything stand out. Sometimes such an approach can distract from the issues with plot, but in The Island’s case, it shows up that everything is pretty shallow.





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Are you, by any chance, in a trance now, Mr Morrison?

The Doors (1991) (SPOILERS) Oliver Stone’s mammoth, mythologising paean to Jim Morrison is as much about seeing himself in the self-styled, self-destructive rebel figurehead, and I suspect it’s this lack of distance that rather quickly leads to The Doors becoming a turgid bore. It’s strange – people are , you know, films equally so – but I’d hitherto considered the epic opus patchy but worthwhile, a take that disintegrated on this viewing. The picture’s populated with all the stars it could possibly wish for, tremendous visuals (courtesy of DP Robert Richardson) and its director operating at the height of his powers, but his vision, or the incoherence thereof, is the movie’s undoing. The Doors is an indulgent, sprawling mess, with no internal glue to hold it together dramatically. “Jim gets fat and dies” isn’t really a riveting narrative through line.

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

I can do in two weeks what you can only wish to do in twenty years.

Wrath of Man (2021) (SPOILERS) Guy Ritchie’s stripped-down remake of Le Convoyeur (or Cash Truck , also the working title for this movie) feels like an intentional acceleration in the opposite direction to 2019’s return-to-form The Gentleman , his best movie in years. Ritchie seems to want to prove he can make a straight thriller, devoid of his characteristic winks, nods, playfulness and outright broad (read: often extremely crude) sense of humour. Even King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has its fair share of laughs. Wrath of Man is determinedly grim, though, almost Jacobean in its doom-laden trajectory, and Ritchie casts his movie accordingly, opting for more restrained performers, less likely to summon more flamboyant reflexes.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

Fifty medications didn’t work because I’m really a reincarnated Russian blacksmith?

Infinite (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s as if Mark Wahlberg, his lined visage increasingly resembling a perplexed potato, learned nothing from the blank ignominy of his “performances” in previous big-budget sci-fi spectacles Planet of the Apes and, er, Max Payne . And maybe include The Happening in that too ( Transformers doesn’t count, since even all-round reprobate Shia La Boeuf made no visible dent on their appeal either way). As such, pairing him with the blandest of journeyman action directors on Infinite was never going to seem like a sterling idea, particularly with a concept so far removed from of either’s wheelhouse.

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

I’ve crossed the Atlantic to be reasonable.

Dodsworth (1936) (SPOILERS) Prestige Samuel Goldwyn production – signifiers being attaching a reputable director, often William Wyler, to then-popular plays or classical literature, see also Dead End , Wuthering Heights , The Little Foxes , The Best Years of Our Lives , and earning a Best Picture nomination as a matter of course – that manages to be both engrossing and irritating. Which is to say that, in terms of characterisation, Dodsworth rather shows its years, expecting a level of engagement in the relationship between Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) and his wayward, fun-loving wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton) at odds with their unsympathetic behaviour.