ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  michael bay

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  sci-fi

LENGTH  -  138 minutes

RELEASED  -  22 june 2005

DISTRIBUTOR  -  dreamworks

OFFICIAL SITE  -  the island

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $122,000,000
the island - a shot from the film


buy the soundtrack from war of the worlds at

buy the soundtrack from the island at

a man goes on the run after he discovers that he is actually just spare parts and is being kept along with others in a utopian facility.

a 45-minute preview of the film was shown to the press at the cannes film festival.


picture from the island

picture from the island

picture from the island

picture from the island

picture from the island

picture from the island

picture from the island

picture from the island

picture from the island


two out of four possible stars

Director Michael Bay has a very specific set of trademarks that seem to find themselves showcased in every film he's made since 1996's The Rock. His first action packed extravaganza, Bad Boys (1995) saw the birth of many of his filmmaking techniques, but it was not until 1998's Armageddon that Bay really hit his big-budget blow-everything-up stride. The sweeping, downward camera move, a Hans Zimmer inspired, rock hued musical score, blowing tendrils of hair, a fourth act, a swank wardrobe, and lots of explosions. Or cars doing dough-nuts. Or both, as in the case of The Island, film that only slightly exceeds two hours but that has the potential to feel a lot longer.

There are two reasons why The Island may find some of its viewers shuffling their feet and checking their watch a few times before the final credits roll and the first is the construction of the plot. Each "set piece," or each event that the protagonists much hurdle in order to reach the next stage of their journey is just a hair too long. When there's a car chase, the chase goes too far. When something blows up, the film takes too long to get to the point of detonation. When two people get it on with a few rounds of fisticuffs, there are too many rounds before somebody is down for the count. Each explosion is so large and each death-defying leap is so over-the-top, that it's almost as if the film is constructed on the premise of forcing the audience to wait just a few minutes longer for that action packed pay-off.

Although there are some instances where the characters slow down and exchange a few words, most of what they say is pure one-liner territory and isn't a weighty enough counterbalance to all the chases, jumps, and explosions. And this ties into the second reason The Island doesn't handle its 132 minutes so smoothly: Michael Bay's trademark filmmaking techniques, although professionally honed and always well accomplished, actually work against the viewer who's seen another of his films. His familiar cinematography, musical cues, and Buscemi one-lines are just that, too familiar.

It's like saying, if you've seen The Rock you've seen Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and Bad Boys II. Different movies with different plots, but the contents are all the same. Although that dipping cinematic move where the camera dips swiftly toward the ground, keeping its angle focused on a distressed protagonist is a very cool move and can elicit a true, visceral reaction from the audience, just how many times does Bay think he can get away with that technique before all the magic is gone? Bay can undoubtedly create an exciting action movie, but it's incumbent upon his next crew to make sure he isn't "up to his old tricks."

Something else that might hit viewers like a swat of a baseball bat is the egregious product placement. Beyond the Aquafina bottles that decorate every scene that involves food, there's actually a nearly full-length commercial starring Scarlett Johansson in the middle of the film that just rips you out of the narrative and into a Calvin Klein advertisement. As if this product placement isn't obvious enough, there's also a scene where star protagonist Ewan McGregor stars into a drawer of clothing and discovers that one of his pairs of matching shoes is missing. A Puma logo is conveniently thrust in the audience's direction as McGregor looks at the drawer.

And interestingly, the audience is never told why McGregor's shoe is missing. Although the plot can't really be called innovative, it might have been nice for the filmmakers to shore up this very obvious loose end. If anything, the simple plot inherently displayed by action films would allow that there wouldn't be quite so many loose ends to tie up because there wouldn't be very many ends hanging around in the first place. But there it is, big as Dallas. One of the first things McGregor's character does is find his shoe missing and that action is never followed up.

Perhaps Bay and his cinematographer were too busy making Ewan, Scarlett, and the rest of the beautiful cast look suitably cinematic whenever something around then was shaking, burning, or blowing up. Even in the midst of dangerous fiery spectacles, all characters, good and bad, must be dressed well and coiffed. Except if your name is Steve Buscemi, because then you have license for greasy hair and holey, worn-out clothing. But Buscemi trades decent threads for well-delivered one-liners, so perhaps everything comes out equal.

In addition to looking their finest, stars Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, while neither of them seem natural choices for roles in a blitzkrieg action film, each seem to handle the constant runaround of the plot fairly well. Neither actor is blessed with an over-abundance of intelligent lines and that's unfortunate because both are capable of delivering much more dramatically than was required for this film. Co-star Sean Bean, playing the administrator and leader of the utopian society where McGregor and Johansson live, is criminally dumbed-down and under-used. It should be a crime to use Sean Bean in such a simple and unrewarding manner.

Co-star Djimon Hounsou fares somewhat better, playing a bounty hunter hired to track McGregor and Johansson when the two escape the utopian facility. But one might venture a guess to say that Hounsou finds himself in more interesting territory than his co-stars only because he has fewer lines and by default, has fewer unintelligent things to say. But it's a shame he's forced to bound around Los Angeles in pursuit of his quarry while riding shotgun in a Dodge Magnum. Beyond the Magnum being some of the most blatant product placement in the film, it's just slightly hilarious to watch a bounty hunter ride around in a hearse.

The Island is a film where descriptions like, "overblown," "over-long," and "bombastic" would find suitable homes and as an action film, it showcases expected elements such as improbable stunts, loopy dialogue, and extensive action sequences. And while large budget action films almost have a requirement attached that they exhibit all these symptoms, Michael Bay's time at the helm has taken a dive creatively in this most recent film.

Bay delivers good action and pretty explosions, but they're the same action and explosions he's delivered a half a dozen times before. And that's only exacerbated by Steve Jablonsky's [albeit rocking] score. It's like we've heard it all and done it all before. Whether he takes his explosions larger or his action in a different direction, something needs to change in the overall delivery of Michael Bay's product. Just because a film is well made technically doesn't mean it's an interesting visceral experience.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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