"You're special. You've been chosen."
If you have little memory of 2005's "The Island," join the club. When Paramount sent me this DreamWorks-Warner Bros. Pictures production for review, I had only a vague recollection of having heard of it somewhere. But for the life of me I couldn't place it. This is all the more remarkable when you consider it's a sci-fi thriller from action director Michael Bay ("The Rock," "Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor," "Transformers") and stars Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. Or maybe that combination explains why it did so poorly, returning only about $36,000,000 at the box office on a $122,000,000 budget. McGregor and Johansson are not exactly action-adventure names, despite McGregor's appearance in the "Star Wars" prequels.
Anyway, what we get in "The Island" is a decent-enough if fairly familiar fantasy theme, with McGregor and Johansson at its center. The problem is what happens after Bay introduces the theme. The year is 2019, where we see a mysterious underground facility housing a community of people described as the survivors of some great worldwide calamity. They are a regimented group of several hundred, each person wearing white clothing, each person responsible for some undisclosed activity, each person encouraged to make friends but never in "close proximity." The only hope of escape from this facility is the possibility of winning a lottery and living forever on an island paradise. But only a few survivors ever win the lottery.
Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Johansson) are two of the survivors. They go about their tasks daily, routinely, until Lincoln begins questioning the system. Why are they doing what they're doing, what's the nature of the contamination outside, why does he have to wear white all the time, and where's his missing shoe?
Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), the director of the facility, tells Lincoln not to worry, that because the Earth became polluted with toxins, it's Lincoln's role and the role of the others in the facility to repopulate it, the world presumably starting from scratch, building on only the purest and best.
The reality of what's going on is much more horrifying and touches on topical issues of our day. Indeed, the premise, which I won't reveal, is really rather clever. Unfortunately, director Bay never lets it get beyond its most-basic level because his primary concern is developing an action movie. Therefore, what we get is McGregor and Johansson's characters learning more than they need to know about the facility and escaping into the world above. The resultant motion picture is sort of a combination "THX-1138," "Logan's Run," "Blade Runner," and "The Matrix." You feel as though you've seen it all before.
The movie is as cold and sterile as the society it portrays. The characters, good and bad, are purposely vacuous and, thus, not very engaging. McGregor and Johansson's characters in particular are intentionally innocent, which leads to a few interesting encounters in the outside world, but mostly they're just empty, devoid of emotion, devoid of thought, devoid of personality. Can we, should we, care about them? About the only interesting persons in the cast are Steve Buscemi, always a colorful character actor, as a facility supervisor who reluctantly helps McGregor and Johansson; Djimon Hounsou as the head of a security team assigned to track down the escapees; and Michael Clarke Duncan as a fellow member of the facility. But these folks don't have major roles in the story and fade fast into obscurity.
For the second half of the film, it's all chase and chase and chase some more, with little audience involvement in how it turns out. While the cinematography, costumes, and hardware do look good, all high-tech and flashy, it's hardly enough to sustain one's interest for very long, especially when a loud, pounding musical track is beating us into submission.
In addition, the filmmakers tend to overexplain everything too soon, so there is little mystery left beyond the half-hour mark, with only the extended chase to take up the slack. Once McGregor and Johansson escape the facility, there's over half a movie left to fill up and nowhere to go. It doesn't take long for things to disintegrate into noise and silliness, the action becoming so far-fetched it looks like something from a "Star Wars" prequel.
In short, "The Island" is yet another run-of-the-mill action flick from Michael Bay, no better and no worse than most of his other work. Except during a promising beginning, the characters never stay put long enough for us to learn much about them, not while they're hanging onto the back ends of speeding trucks whilst baddies are shooting at them from multiple SUV's and helicopters. It's all another waste of space unless you're a hard-core action-movie junkie.
Paramount-DreamWorks do their usual good job transferring the film to Blu-ray disc, as always using a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC encode to reproduce the film in its original theatrical aspect ratio, 2.35:1. Colors are deep and rich, sometimes too much of a good thing, making skin tones look a tad too dark. There are lots of whites involved, which show up in good, clean contrasts. Definition is excellent in close-ups, more average in medium and long shots. And a fine, light print grain gives the image a film-like, lifelike texture.
The soundtrack is not terribly adventurous, pretty much providing what any fan might expect from an action movie. Using lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, the sound engineers get all the dynamics, impact, and frequency range they can from the film. The bass makes itself known from the outset, and the surrounds come to life during the more-rambunctious sequences.
You'll find the usual suspects among the extras. Things begin with an audio commentary by director Michael Bay, followed by three brief featurettes: "The Future in Action," five minutes on the action scenes; "The Making of The Island," thirteen minutes behind the scenes; and "Pre-Visualization: Forward Thinking," eight minutes on set, costume, and equipment design.
Things wrap up with twenty scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. A flimsy Eco-case holds the Blu-ray disc.
Michael Bay makes action films. You have to remember that going in. No matter how intriguing the movie's premise may be, "The Island" ends up being just another crash-boom-bang thriller with car chases, foot chases, fistfights, cars blowing up, and evil, black helicopters hovering ominously in the skies. Always helicopters. Always.