Monday, July 25, 2005

The Island

There are two ways to review a film: The first is to judge it on whether it met your expectations going in and the second is to look at the film and ask if it still works despite its flaws. Under the first category The Island fails early on, but under the second it succeeds spectacularly. I went to see what I thought was going to be a big budget high-thinking moral sci-fi tale about cloning, but what I got was a huge summer action adventure chase movie inside a sci-fi structure that just blew me away for two hours. Does it deal with the moral issues? Kinda’. Would I have liked to see them develop the philosophical and ethical implications more deeply? Probably. But did I enjoy the movie? You better damn believe I did. I had a blast.

Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) is unhappy. He’s one of the lucky ones; he survived the cataclysm and radiation that devastated the earth and lives in relative comfort with the other survivors who hope every night that they can win a chance to live outside on the island, the last free uncontaminated zone on the planet.

Lately though he’s begun to have nightmares about a life that isn’t his own, to question his existence, and that of the island as well. Finally his fears and suspicions get the best of him and he talks his best friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) into escaping only to discover a world much different from what they believed existed.

They are shocked to discover that their home is a cloning facility and they are clones and very valuable property. Lincoln and Jordan struggle through the real world as they hide from those that want them captured led by the imposing figure of Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou).

The film introduces several ideas: that all humans are corruptible and will do anything to survive, you shouldn’t trust your doctors, the police, or the government, and that human cloning, whenever it is achieved, will cause some severe ethical dilemmas. Not all the questions are adequately addressed or solved, but the issues are at least raised and discussed. The first third of the movie involves life in the facility, how these clones are made and the lives, and deaths, they are given. After Lincoln and Jordan’s escape the movie moves into full gear as a fast paced chase flick that never really slows down. Both halves of the movie work for me. Johansson is wonderful as she captures the intelligence yet innocence of her character who has grown up in a society that is ignorant of common everyday human activities. McGregor has the harder role as the clone who questions the lies and discovers the truth, but does an admirable job by keeping the action rolling. Steve Buscemi, a lab tech who befriends Lincoln, and Sean Bean, as the facility’s administrator, are perfectly cast in roles that they are known for, sarcastic comic relief and greedy villain respectively.

In many places the film feels like an updated version of Logan’s Run, but better casting and special effects than the original. There are story points and gaps that may bother you after the movie. Isn’t their escape rather easy? What happens if someone wants two clones of himself made? How exactly does the mind/behavior modification work? Is there no opposition to the practice of cloning? Even with these issues unresolved we get two hours of action mixed with serious moral issues which turns out to be a nice midsummer surprise.

While it wasn’t the sophisticated science fiction movie I wanted, it was a great summer action/adventure flick that keeps on entertaining. Even though it doesn’t succeed on all fronts, it does enough right that I would recommend it. Sure there are plot points that still bother me, but the movie is so much fun that is was easy to overlook them and just enjoy the ride. I would have preferred a more serious in-depth look at the ethical questions the film raises, but under the direction of Michael Bay (much better at explosions than philosophy) this was probably the way to go. Finally, if anyone who knows where I can actually get a clone of Scarlett Johansson let me know!!