A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 360 – The Island

The Island – February 23rd, 2011

Back when this movie was coming out in theaters I remember seeing ads for it. And at first I wasn’t sure, but the more and more I saw, the more and more convinced I was that this was a remake of a movie I am ridiculously familiar with. We make no attempt to hide our MST3K fan status (I know my info club member number by heart and my card is signed by Joel), so I feel no shame in admitting that we’ve seen the episode Parts: The Clonus Horror many many many times. And this looked bizarrely similar. So we looked it up and no, it didn’t seem to have any connection. Eventually we heard there’d been a suit filed and settled out of court for a sum of money. And I’ve got to say, I’m not surprised they settled. Cause this? This is so very similar to Clonus.

I wouldn’t say it’s exactly the same movie, but it does have the same premise and the same basic plot arc. We’re shown a vast and idyllic facility where a large number of people are living what seem like fairly boring but not unpleasant lives. They have menial but not taxing jobs. They eat bland but not bad food. They all wear white workout gear and keep fit. And they all participate in the Lottery. No, not the Shirley Jackson sort, but close. The folks in the facility all think that winning the Lottery means they get to go to the Island. They believe they’re the only survivors of a horrible contagion that’s wiped out most of humanity and the Island is the only uncontaminated place left. Winners are sent there to start rebuilding the world’s population. But of course it’s all a lie and the winners are actually killed (see, Shirley Jackson, but without the motivation in the story) because they’re clones of people outside in the real world and have been created to allow their “sponsors” to live for as long as possible. Creepy, huh?

Clonus, by the way? Same premise. Exactly. Replace “The Island” with “America” and the vast underground bunker with a college-type campus in the middle of the desert and add in a lot more product placement and you’ve got it. Identical workout gear, unaware of the outside world, chosen to “leave” when their real world counterpart needs a new whatever? Yup, pretty much. And eventually two of the clones, a man and a woman, find out what’s going on and escape into the world to try and track down the people they were made from. The big differences are in the level of creepy (which I will get into), the explosions (since this is directed by Michael Bay) and the ending, which is brutal in an entirely different way from Clonus. And you know what? I cannot find it in myself to be upset over this. It’s a good little “tampered in god’s domain” sort of plot and let’s face it, Clonus got picked for MST3K. We’re not talking Academy Award stuff here. It’s fun and all, but I don’t mind in the least that an updated version was made, with better acting and effects and sets.

Of course, this movie has plenty of flaws itself. A lot of the dialogue is ridiculous (especially the whole “I can tell you’re lying by your eyes” bit that Scarlett Johansson’s character, Jordan Two Delta, says to Ewan MacGregor’s, Lincoln Six Echo) and some of the plot points are vague and unnecessary. It’s a whole lot of big deal made and then the actual creepiness that’s alluded to and flat out shown gets tossed aside in favor of fast car chases on hover-motorcycles and impossible falls off buildings in giant signage (I can’t explain it better, I’m sorry). Every time I thought there’d be more interesting stuff with Lincoln’s “sponsor” and his skeeviness or Jordan’s “sponsor” and her on-the-brink-of-deathness, no. More explosions and shootouts and chases. And that makes me sad.

There’s a lot of potential in the world that this movie is based in. It could have gone so much deeper into the creepy dystopia aspects and instead it goes with the action. We see a young woman give birth only to be killed and her baby given to her “sponsor” couple. We see a man wake up mid-operation and claw at the floor. The ending for Lincoln and his source is predictable, but interesting and has some potentially nasty implications. It’s very clear that this is a nasty place full of unkind people. People who don’t see the clones as human. And then there’s a whole subplot with four of the newest generations of clones starting to develop curiosity about their world and somehow regain the memories of their sources without ever having met them and it’s all just a tool. It’s not delved into. It’s not explored. Because the movie already clocks in at a good bit over two hours and if we explored that we’d have to cut a few seconds of car chase or something. It’s an action movie that could have been so much more.

February 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Island

February 23, 2011

The Island

I bought this movie because it was based on a movie featured in a Mystery Science Theater episode. Or at least it is based on the same story as Parts: The Clonus Horror. Only it has a much bigger budget, a different ending, and explosions care of Michael Bay. I also felt as I watched tonight that this movie was missing the same element that the Mission Impossible movies lacked: Peter Graves.

The core plot of this film is exactly the same as Parts. Our hero Lincoln Six Echo is living in an idyllic Utopian society with uniforms provided by a shoe company (Puma this time and not Adidas.) All the track-suited residents of this society believe that they are the last survivors of an apocalyptic disaster that rendered the surface of the planit inhospitable to life. They all long to win a lottery which will allow them to go to “The Island,” which is the last uncontaminated place on Earth. They live in a extremely controlled environment under constant surveillance and surrounded by handlers and security. (I got strong THX-1138 vibes for a lot of the film – so I suppose Michael Bay was “influenced” by more than one movie in making this.)

Of course Lincoln soon discovers that his entire world is a lie. He, and all his friends are actually vat grown clones raised as spare parts for people living out in the real world. Except that the people of the outside world, even the millionaire clients who have commissioned clones, don’t know that the clones are awake and aware. They’ve been told that the clones are dormant, vegetative, unaware meat to be harvested. So when Lincoln and his best friend Jordan Two Delta escape from the facility the director hires a squad of deadly mercenaries to hunt the two of them down before his secret can get out.

I can’t help comparing this movie to Parts and finding The Island wanting. Parts has a grittier, more realistic feel to it. The clones in Parts are mostly lobotomised to keep them placid, which is far more creepy than the just inexperienced clones in this movie. Also, Parts takes place in the current day (well the seventies because that is when it was made, but it was contemporary at the time) and it feels like something that could actually be going on. This movie is far more fantastical, with hover bikes and floating trains and all kinds of futuristic technology. It’s very much a brainless action film – being as it is directed by Michael Bay – and doesn’t have the edge of Parts.

It doesn’t help that there is a lot of sloppy and not very realistic writing here. There were at least two major “I call no way” moments in the film, neither of which are necessary to the overall plot. First was when Dr. Merrick stated that the clones were raised to be the same age as their prospective recipients. If you have the ability to create your clones at any age you’d think that it would be optimal to make them all in their twenties so they’re in perfect health. I know that if I was an eighty year old billionaire who needed a new heart I’d be pretty pissed off if it was eighty years old too. (In Parts it’s clear that the clones are raised until they reach a state of peak physical shape before being chosen to go to “America” when they are frozen to be harvested when the need arises.) Then there’s a whole bit where the clones have started getting memories from their sponsors somehow. It’s never explained by the movie and doesn’t make any sense to me.

I suppose it’s silly of me to expect sense from a Michael Bay movie. It’s got some fun chase scenes, some cool bits where Ewan McGregor plays both Lincoln Six Echo and his sponsor Thomas Lincoln. (The special effects of this kind have sure come a long way since Doc Brown talked to himself in Back to the Future II.) And of course there are plenty of explosions.

Another advantage to having the bottomless pockets and Hollywood cred of Michael Bay involved in the movie is that just about every role in the movie is filled by an accomplished and respected big name actor. Just look at this cast! Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Bean, Djimon Hounsou, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan, Ethan Phillips… all in the same movie. I had not realized all these familiar faces were going to be in this movie and as the opening credits rolled I found myself getting excited to see what they were all going to be doing.

I don’t want to give the impression that this is a bad movie. It has some good action, some cool sci-fi tech, and if I were not familiar with the movie it was based on I might have even said that it has a creepy and cool premise. It just doesn’t live up to the potential shown by its forbearer. Where Parts is thought provoking and unsettling this movie is just a fun adventure flick that borrows its central plot from Bob Sullivan’s story, Ron Smith’s screenplay, and Myrl Schreibman and Robert Fiveson’s adaptation twenty six years before this movie came out. (Credit where credit is due.)

February 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment