Netflix Recommendation: The Island (Bay, 2005)

Some folks hate Michael Bay. Some folks think he’s everything that is wrong with Hollywood. Some folks are upset that racism, sexism, and incoherent editing seem to be among his trademarks as a filmmaker. Some folks feel that he has never made a movie of quality, preferring to bask in the glory and profits of plotless effects bonanzas. I believe some folks haven’t seen The Island. The Island is not only a quintessential Michael Bay movie, full of frantic chase scenes, eye-popping effects, and beautiful tanned bodies running slow motion in front of a picturesque sunset. It also is a fantastic sci-fi portrait of a dystopian future, which deserves to be listed among The Matrix, Minority Report, and Wall-E as exemplary examples of the genre, proving that sci-fi can still provide edge-of-your-seat thrills with terrific creative storytelling.

In a future world, Lincoln (Ewan MacGregor, typically earnest and charming) and Jordan (Scarlett Johansson, typically breathy and gorgeous) are living inside the only safe haven in an uninhabitable world. It’s an indoor facility where everyone is assigned a job and takes part in a lottery system, where a few lucky individuals are granted a pass to leave the facility forever and go to the Island, the sole outdoor location safe for people to live. Anyone familiar with the sci-fi genre knows that no one actually goes to an island, but instead they are killed and our heroes are bound to find out. Michael Bay takes more time to set up this scenario and these characters than he normally does, and he manages to get the audience invested when this inevitable twist occurs. It’s after they inevitably make their escape and discover the truth about their very existence when the film really takes off, and Bay and the writers start to have fun with every possible turn their setup can take.

Bay is always smart and fills his films with appealing leads, fascinating character actors, and gorgeous sun-baked women. What I think even his sharpest critics cannot deny is that the man manages a special-effects laden action sequence better than nearly anyone else working today. The Island is no exception, with a highway chase scene involving bouncing metal train wheels that had me holding my head in shock at what I was watching. Some say his films are too loud, but usually I find that he finds the appropriate balance of sound for the mayhem being executed on the screen, and the sound in The Island again is extraordinary– a sequence with a falling neon sign has especially vivid sounds, placing you right in the madness (and the noise the aforementioned train wheels make will linger in your head long after the film is over).

What separates this from the rest of the Bay films is the time he takes for the characters and the story. There’s no simple voice-over narration trying to catch the audience up so we can hurry forward into the action sequences. He lets us watch these people live in the facility and go through their day-to-day before we get to the suspense. This actually is an exhilarating way to begin the film– we get to experience Bay’s future world, reveling in the creativity and getting to know the characters, and there is an element of suspense as we squint our eyes looking for the seams, attempting desperately to determine where the twists are going to come from. Bay holds his cards close enough to his chest that we stay on the edge of our seats before anything dramatic occurs. Then, when the chases begin and the bullets start flying, we’re not following the usual Bay archetypes through a world we recognize. We’re in a completely new world with characters we care about in a sympathetic and tragic situation. It’s Bay’s most original film– his most story-oriented narrative, his smartest uniquely created universe, and his most well-earned happy ending.

Food for thought: the film bombed at the box office. It had no big name stars, was not a remake or a sequel, and was far too smart for the usual Michael Bay movie audience member. Transformers was his next film, which was home to his biggest opening, largest box office total, and was a recession back to relying on archetypes instead of characters and phenomenal action instead of story. It’s silly, fun, and chaotic– and the sequel, according to all overseas reports, multiplies that madness exponentially. It will also almost certainly make more money than any other film Bay has made, and if it does indeed pass the first Transformers, it will make ten times more box office than The Island did. Michael Bay recently decried the critical backlash he receives for his action extravaganzas, saying that they take far more skill and knowhow than the critics give him credit for. While critics have valid points about his films where plot takes the backseat, The Island certainly shows that he has the capacity to balance top-drawer action sequences with creative, original storytelling, and one can only hope that regardless of the success of Transformers 2, he continues to make fun big-budget bonanzas. If he doesn’t, we may not see a film as enjoyable, as smart, and as indulgent in its genre pleasures as The Island was for a long, long time.

~ by russellhainline on June 23, 2009.

6 Responses to “Netflix Recommendation: The Island (Bay, 2005)”

  1. I actually liked this one… it was a little over-the-top, but not so much as the recent Transformers metallic nightmare of SFX ridiculousness. Hopefully this is what he will go back to, now that he’s probably not going to do more Transformers films:

  2. Can you PLEASE put The Island directed my Michael Bay on Netflix. Please and thanks!!!

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