'The Island' Proves That Michael Bay is an Excellent B-Movie Director

Considering the ridiculously low quality of his other movies, how did one of Michael Bay's better films, The Island end up being his only bomb?

The Island

Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Bean, Djimon Hounsou, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan
Length: 136 minutes
Studio: DreamWorks SKG, Warner Bros. Pictures, Parkes/MacDonald Productions
Year: 2005
Distributor: DreamWorks
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexuality and language
Release date: 2011-06-21

Time is a funny thing. When I saw Michael Bay’s science fiction thriller The Island in 2005 (yes, I was that lone man in the theater in Normal, Illinois), I agreed with the dominating opinions voiced about this film: it was a conventional, predictable mess with too much noise and too much running. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson were adequate at looking pretty, but they never grabbed the audience like true movie stars, not actors, can. The Island was disposable summer fodder I forgot about minutes after it was over.

Now, charged with reviewing the film in its new Blu-ray edition as a service to you fine readers, I have to watch it again. Six years later, I’d nearly forgotten it all. McGregor plays Lincoln Six Echo, a fine-looking and physically fit member of a futuristic society, living in an impeccably clean gray and white structure. Outfitted in white jumpsuits with various warm colors on their sides, these people are survivors of a worldwide contamination whose only dream is to make it to the mysterious “island”.

The only problem with this dream scenario for Lincoln is that his curious nature inhibits his enjoyment of the advanced society. Where do the tubes that he fills every day lead to? How do they keep finding survivors? Why can’t he have bacon? I don’t know. Or I should say, I didn’t know before my second viewing. It turns out not being constantly berated with trailers, TV spots, and cast interviews before a movie’s release may actually help one’s enjoyment of the film. Who knew?

The mystery, or I should say, the carefully but briefly hidden secret, was much more enticing when I approached The Island with a clear mind. I won’t ruin it for you (though they tell you everything less than 40 minutes in), but it opens up a whole new genre for Michael Bay: one I think he’s much better suited for than endless action sequences of robots fighting bigger robots. It’s so clear now after watching The Island that I almost feel silly saying it, as if it’s an old YouTube video everyone else has seen but I didn't until now (which happens to me far too often), but I will say it: Michael Bay is an excellent B-movie director.

He’s a modern day Ed Wood, but Bay makes thinly plotted action flicks with enormous budgets instead of thinly plotted horror films with no budget. The Island, like many of the best B-movies, carries with it a political subplot that is only acknowledged at its most basic level. Don’t expect to see a detailed analysis of the story’s positive and negative effects. Bay is too busy smashing expensive cars into one another.

This is not really a flaw, though, if you see the film as nothing but a fun distraction. I’m not going to defend all of Bay’s films with this very general justification, but you’ll notice his worst movies are the ones he either took too seriously or let the plot expand ridiculously. Pearl Harbor. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. He also has a knack to be a little insensitive (read racist), but that’s a different argument/flaw (though a problem of this ilk with Bad Boys II is hard to forget).

The Island has flaws all its own, and, of course, they’re with the plot. While the setup is solid and the action scenes are intense, a few nagging plot holes open up as the movie moves forward. The usual “How did they survive that crash/explosion/massive free fall” can be excused. After all, it’s an action movie. Yet with science fiction the rest needs to be logical, clean, and clear. No one should be lost or confused lest the fun be ruined. Bay actually handles this fairly well, but during the scenes with dialogue, when he’s undoubtedly zoning out, is where The Island loses its potential to be an "A-level, B-movie".

Nevertheless, The Island was far more enjoyable the second time around. It was still predictable, but in the enjoyable popcorn flick kind of way. The only mess was the one Bay made with all his explosions (and those few plot holes). Johansson never really owned the screen, but McGregor had just as much screen presence and charm as any Michael Bay leading man other than Bruce Willis in Armageddon (but who can compare with John McClane?). Perhaps it was the viewing space, cheaper cost, or lack of information going in, but Michael Bay’s roller coaster ride worked this time – and he wasn’t shy about showing how in the disc’s special features.

The highlight is “The Future of Action”, a 15-minute featurette on how the various action pieces were executed. There’s a solid amount of background footage with basic explanations from the crew and director who shot it. The same goes for “The Making of the Island”, only the film’s stars pop up to chip in a few tidbits of their experience on set. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but anyone who buys the second Blu-ray release of The Island will do so only for the newly added bonus content.


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