Dir: Michael Bay. US.2005. 135mins.
Human cloning is thesci-fi theme of The Island, yet it is director Michael Bay's trademarkthundering action that leaves the lasting impression from this sleek,big-budget thriller co-produced by Warner Bros and DreamWorks. Thehalf-explored philosophical elements and a gratuitous dose of romance don't addmuch to the movie's overall appeal and the casting of Ewan McGregor andScarlett Johansson as leads seems like a commercially risky - albeit creativelypromising - move. But The Island still appears to have the makings of asignificant global hit, if probably not one on the same scale as Bay's 1998action sci-fi blockbuster Armageddon.
Opening in the US throughDreamWorks on July 22, The Island will lay a strong claim to the post-WarOf The Worlds mainstream summer audience, appealing to both younger actionfans and slightly older moviegoers.
Outside the US, with Warnerdistributing, the film opens day and date with domestic in Japan before movingon to most of Europe in August. Bay's brand of action has always playedparticularly well overseas so interest from the international audience - whichwill also be more accepting of McGregor and Johansson - should be evenstronger.
Neither performer has yetbeen fully proven as a mainstream draw (though McGregor has, of course,featured in the last three Star Wars films), but both have had globalsuccess with more off-centre projects (Moulin Rouge for McGregor and Lostin Translation for Johansson). And that success could help get The Islandnoticed by audience sectors beyond the action hard-core.
The near-future set up inthe script by Caspian Tredwell-Owen (Beyond Borders) and the team of AlexKurtzman and Roberto Orci (TV's Alias and the upcoming Mission: Impossible III)seems at first to be a familiar sci-fi utopia.
Lincoln Six-Echo (McGregor)and Jordan Two-Delta (Johansson) live in a self-contained facility whosehundreds of identically dressed residents believe they have been rescued froman ecological disaster. The only way out, they are told, is to win a lotteryfor a ticket to The Island, the world's last uncontaminated location.
But the restless Lincolneventually discovers a different world outside the facility, one where a moresinister fate awaits facility residents. He and Jordan escape into what theysoon realise is this uncontaminated outer world.
With little real suspensecreated (the audience is way ahead of Lincoln's suspicions about the facilityand The Island), the film's first act is impressively designed but notterrifically involving. It comes across as a lavish but not very interestingrecreation of any number of previous sci-fi outings.
The only real humour comesfrom the appearance of a grungy facility worker - played by Steve Buscemi, whoperformed a similar function in Armageddon - who befriends Lincoln.
Once Lincoln and Jordanescape and discover what they really are, the film turns into a futuristicmanhunt, with a high-tech mercenary (Hounsou) chasing the couple across thedesert to Los Angeles.
This second act gives Bay -making his first project without producer Jerry Bruckheimer - ample opportunityto indulge his love of over-the-top, metal-crunching action. The result is atwenty-minute chase sequence involving vaguely futuristic cars, a couple of gianttrucks and a flying hover-bike. That's followed by an almost comicallydestructive sequence that starts at the top of a skyscraper and ends in thestreet below.
The final act has Lincolntracking down his 'sponsor,' smarmy LA bachelor Tom Lincoln (also played byMcGregor), and finding a way for himself and Jordan to start their own lives.There's an enjoyably creepy feel to the scenes in which McGregor plays oppositehimself but the potential for unsettling drama is only briefly exploited.
Bay shoots the movie with acharacteristically hyperactive camera, using any number of crane and helicoptershots as well as handheld footage and flashy editing. He also goes to town withsets and props, cramming the film's first half with glinting machines and minimalistinteriors.
The two lead actorssometimes get lost in the action and settings. But McGregor, particularly,brings the movie a human warmth that might have been missing with a moreconventional leading man. Johansson, unfortunately, is underused in her part.
Warner Bros Pictures
Warner Bros Pictures International
Walter F Parkes
Deborah L Scott
Visual effects supervisor
Michael Clarke Duncan