One of the best things about watching a good science fiction film is the opportunity to see interesting interpretations of what the future might look like. If "The Island", the new film by Michael Bay, is to be believed, the year 2019 is dominated by Aquafina Water, Michelob Light, Cadillac, Adidas and Microsoft. Everyone uses these brands, and only these brands. And when they use them, we get a long, loving look at the logos. When exactly did the extent of creating a futuristic universe become product placement? "I, Robot" also fell victim to this (over)using Audi and Adidas. In one scene, Will Smith's character gushes over his new Adidas. Filmmakers! Use your imagination. The future is more than product placement lines.
Michael Bay's "The Island", starring Ewan McGregor ("Star Wars: Episode III") as Lincoln Six Echo and Scarlett Johansson ("Lost In Translation") as Jordan Two Delta, is about a select group of people who have escaped the widespread contamination of the planet. They currently live in a safe holding facility, segregated by sex, working, exercising, waiting for their chance to win a trip to live on the Island, the last uncontaminated bit of land on the planet. But Lincoln Six Echo begins to ask questions of Merrick (Sean Bean), the leader of the facility. And he finds some answers, alarming answers.
"The Island" is all `too'; too long, two separate films, and filled with too many product placements.
The first part of the film tells the story of Lincoln and Jordan, establishing their life in the facility, after the widespread contamination, giving us an alarming look at the future. Surprisingly, a fair bit of humor is interspersed, enlivening the story. All of the inhabitants have their every step monitored and if something is noticed, everything is changed accordingly. One morning, after Lincoln awakens, he has a pee and his urine is instantly monitored and an abnormal sodium level is detected. At breakfast, the server knows this and refuses him his customary bacon. Just as Jordan is called to leave for the Island, Lincoln learns some secrets and tries to convince her not to leave.
This part of the film works fairly well. Bay has abandoned the frenzied editing style he used to excess in films like "Armageddon" and "Pearl Harbor" in favor of actually telling a story, developing characters, building a time and place. From the moment we are introduced to Lincoln and Jordan, we get a sense that something is wrong with them, with their society. Everyone rescued from the contaminated areas is very nave and childlike. What happened to them before they were rescued? Bay handles this well and uses his budget to create glossy, well-rendered settings which are, unfortunately, marred by excessive product placements.
At one point, Lincoln complains that all they have to wear is white. "It's impossible to keep clean." I almost expected a hand to reach in from off screen and hand him some Tide or All. Because Product Placements have become so standard in film and television, the next step is to make them prominent. We are so used to seeing a Coke can pop up in a film, we might overlook it. Filmmakers now have to make sure the product gets noticed. Science Fiction seems to be the vehicle of choice for this type of advertising. In films like "I, Robot" and "The Island", the filmmakers have taken already recognizable brands or concepts for future products and use them as "The Future" in their films. Because Cadillac allowed the use of their concept cars, the camera seems obligated to linger on the logo on each cars grill, lovingly, for long periods of time. A `futuristic' bottle of Michelob Light sits in front of Steve Buscemi's character. They need to leave the bar immediately, but he still has time to pick up the bottle, logo front and center, take a drink, and put the bottle back on the bar, the camera holding on the bottle after Buscemi has left. Enough with the product placements already.
This bit of the story fills the first 45 minutes or so. Then Bay seems to get bored. The second part of the film becomes a more traditional action film. Lincoln and Jordan are chased through one situation after another. As this is a Michael Bay film, the chase scenes are big, loud and impressive, but they just don't fit with the first half of the film. First of all, the two characters are so nave and childlike, how are they able to escape a band of hired mercenaries lead by Djimon Hounsou for so long? Lincoln and Jordan know nothing beyond the containment facility, yet they are able to allude this team of men in helicopters, motorcycles and souped up Cadillacs for almost an hour of screen time. How exactly do they know that the information booths emblazoned with the MSN logos will be able to help them? Or that they should avoid the many MTA trains gliding through the sky? How much did the MTA pay for that piece of fiction? As impressive as the action scenes are, they just don't work with the rest of the film.
At about two hours and fifteen minutes, the film is way too long. The first part is good, but at 45 minutes, it seems like a major portion of the film. When the chase begins and it then lasts for over an hour, you start squirming in your seats. Alarmingly, Bay even stops the chase at one point for Johansson to watch her own Calvin Klein Perfume commercial in a shop window. Huh?
Both of the lead actors are acceptable, but I expect so much more from both. McGregor has been in a series of very good independent and foreign films. He is a very good actor and in "The Island", he manages to convey Lincoln's naivet and curiosity well. What he doesn't manage to do is convince us that he can suddenly outwit a band of mercenaries chasing him. As Jordan, Scarlett Johansson takes a real step back. This is the type of role Jessica Biel would be good at. Standing around, looking good, like eye candy. In the film, someone exposes the two to Maxim magazine. Didn't Johansson do a spread for Maxim at one point? Basically, she acts like a living spread for Maxim throughout the entire film. She looks good standing next to McGregor's character and acts dumb throughout.
The first part of the film shows that Bay can make a film about characters, with a story, and create a definite sense of time and place. Now, he simply has to stop second-guessing himself and allow this creative side to take over. Mr. Bay, you don't need to resort to elaborate freeway chases to tell a story. Throwing large wheels off the back of a truck at pursuing Cadillacs might make for a fun chase, but they aren't necessary in every film. You can do better, Mr. Bay. Remember "The Rock"? Excessive yes, but in a fun way.