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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: The Island (2005) – 15th Anniversary

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “My name is Lincoln Six Echo and I’m your insurance policy”. A 15th anniversary of Michael Bay’s “The Island”. I explore why Michael Bay is the auteur of awesome. In being only of a few filmmakers who are stylistically consistent. Michael Bay is a visionary with a clearly identifiable style and a tendency toward filmmaking that can be described as challenging and even experimental. Being one of Michael Bay’s only real box-office missteps (or more appropriately overlooked films) is 2005’s “The Island”, an homage to the dystopian sci-fi films of the 70’s, like: “THX 1138”, “Logan’s Run” and “Coma”. Sure it’s got Michael Bay written all over it with over-edited, illogical and fairly cheesy at times. But also in Bay fashion his action sequences are stellar, the score is fantastic and it has just enough of an ethical argument at its core to make it thought-provoking. “The Island” is cinematic spectacle, that lays bare the films biggest question: What does it mean to be human? The production had been a rushed and demanding one, as problems ensued including: DreamWorks being sued by a 1979 sci-fi film for copyright infringement to Michael Bay having no completed sets on which to film and to having the movie’s construction crew fired after an accounting scandal to having the visual effects not being completed until the last weeks before release. “The Island” is a stunning futuristic thriller about cloning and immortality, that combines spectacle with controversy. Big ideas are matched by big budgets and director Michael Bay has pulled out all stops to uncork a winner, appealing not only to those who embrace heavy action, but to the thinker and lover of intelligent science fiction concepts. 

•I Share A Fan Love Of Both Ewan McGregor & This Film With My Sister. This One Is For You Sister.

Michael Bay and his films have been given all kinds of names in Hollywood, such as the devil, an a-hole (which has been dismissed by many of his cast and crew), among others. While most of his films are typically panned by critics and some movie goers. Calling his films: “Loud”, “Stupid.” “Horrible”, “Unbearable”, “Appalling”, “Evil”, “A great grinding garbage disposal of a movie” and “An assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained”. 

If there ever was a Michael Bay fan club, you bet I’d be a part of it. I love the man’s work of his explosive and visually stunning filmmaking style. Love him or hate him, few filmmakers are as stylistically consistent as Michael Bay. Just call him the auteur of awesome. I say auteur because he is the author of a film, whose movies reflect a distinctive and personal sensibility. He’s a visionary with a clearly identifiable style and a tendency toward filmmaking that can be reasonably described as challenging and even experimental.

Michael Bay loves what Director James Cameron calls “the big train set”. Cameron himself, also loves this style of filmmaking, which he uses to describe a films “huge physical production”. Huge physical productions like Michael Bay films is one of the most challenging types of filmmaking there is and he does it gorgeously. He has the best eye for multiple levels of pure visual adrenaline. Not since John Woo has there been a better action filmmaker out there then Michael Bay. 

There are few instances that Bay recycles many of his same shots, editing patterns and color schemes. He loves hot neon color contrasts (especially teal and orange) and his movies often appear to take place in a perpetual magic hour, with moody sunsets and sunrises looming in the background.

Bay also loves motion and commotion, filling his frames with noise and activity and then moving the camera in ways that accentuate and compliment the chaos. He reuses the same shots, as: poetically waving slow motion flags, erratic whip pans, low angle circular pans (see “Bad Boys” for best example of this). He makes each film seem like a collage of his favorite personal greatest hits. 

Bay’s movies may look chaotic and messy, but he always knows exactly what he’s doing, especially when you consider his films have grossed more than $5 billion dollars. Every movie he makes reflects his personal creative vision. You may like it, you may not but those movies are him without compromise. It’s amazing to be able to have a movie where you can look at it and within five minutes you say: “That’s a Michael Bay movie”. To have a style that distinct is quite the example of an auteur filmmaker. 

In a career that spans more than 30 years as a filmmaker. One of Michael Bay’s most overlooked films is his 2005 dystopian sci-fi actioner “The Island”. Filmed between 2003’s “Bad Boys II” and “Transformers” in 2007. Michael Bay’s “The Island” is an homage to the dystopian sci-fi films of the 70’s, like: “THX 1138”, “Logan’s Run” and “Coma”. 

Being one of Michael Bay’s only real box-office missteps (or more appropriately overlooked films) was “The Island”. It’s a shame too as it’s a fun movie, that has one of the best choreographed car chases, as star Ewan McGregor causes mayhem on the freeway as he rolls railroad train wheels off the back of a truck, resulting in cars being tossed like paper in the wind. In-fact this sequence was Michael Bay’s idea, as one day he was driving home and was following a truck transporting the wheels and Bay thought to himself, “Well. That doesn’t seem safe” and made it into a memorable car chase sequence. 

Sure it’s got Michael Bay written all over it with over-edited, illogical and fairly cheesy at times. But also in Bay fashion his action sequences are stellar, the score is fantastic and it has just enough of an ethical argument at its core to make it thought-provoking. “The Island” is cinematic spectacle which, through its imagination of a dystopian future, Michael Bay lays bare the machinery of spectacular visuality that is crucial to Hollywood spectacle cinema that Bay’s work is often held to exemplify. 

“The Island” runs at a lengthy 2 hours and 15 minutes, but has clear relations to the literary works of George Orwell and the first act of the film is located in a utopia, which is clearly indebted to earlier dystopian films such as “THX 1138” and “Logan’s Run”. As it’s setting is located in what seems to be a post apocalyptic world where survivors of some kind of biological catastrophe, are maintained inside a controlled environment.

As the film progresses, the machineries of the controlled society are gradually revealed from the point of view of an increasingly alienated and questioning protagonist named, Lincoln Six Echo (played by Ewan McGregor). The viewer, then Lincoln himself, become aware that the world of The Island is a just a representation of a better more serene world, a creation constructed by Dr Merrick (Sean Bean) to create and sustain clones of wealthy ‘sponsors’, which may be used for the purposes of organ donation, surrogate pregnancy, and other purposes. 

When the the clones ‘win the lottery’ to be relocated to The Island, the last uncontaminated spot on Earth, they are in fact taken out of the sealed environment and are subjected to medical procedures which inevitably result in their death. The second act of the film is an extended chase sequence, where the escaped Lincoln and his partner and obviously soon to be lover Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) attempt to understand, who they are and the ‘real’ world into which they have escaped to. 

The production of “The Island” had been a rushed and demanding one. Where one day, Michael Bay had no completed sets on which to film and later into production, the movie’s construction crew was fired after an accounting scandal. For the first time, Bay wouldn’t be working with uber action producer Jerry Bruckheimer, his producing partner on all of the Bay’s previous films. Not long before production, Bay had fired his Creative Artists Agency talent agents, which helped guide his career from a hot music video for Aerosmith, Tina Turner and Meatloaf, just to name a few to becoming a commercial director and finally into the popcorn movie filmmaker we all know today.

No surprise, that there were complications on set, some typical and others unexpected. Visual effects were not completed until the last weeks, which led to early commercials and trailers not including several action scenes. Months after filming “The Island” was completed, Bay had to stage one more quick scene for the movie’s final reel. By that time costar Ewan McGregor was in a London musical and couldn’t come to Los Angeles to shoot the scene. So Michael Bay essentially directed the scene from Los Angeles, while a British crew filmed the actor while in London. 

“The Island” was up against a summer of remakes, sequels and television show retreads. Both Dreamworks and Warner Bros, started to market the film in being sold to moviegoers as an original story within a summer of imitation. But Bay worried the DreamWorks marketing campaign wasn’t generating enough interest and he complained that “The Island’s” poster, which was from a contest being held and the chosen winning candidate’s poster was from more than 650 mock-ups. Bay complained because the poster chosen made costar Scarlett Johansson look like “a porn star”. 

Bay’s $124-million movie was feeling like anything but a sure bet, it wasn’t gearing up to be the blockbuster that “Armageddon” or “Pearl Harbor” had achieved to be. “These last three weeks have been a pressure cooker,” Bay says. “Every movie is a war. Studios try to grind you down to the point of your having a nervous breakdown. I’m proud of the movie. But there’s nothing I can do. I can do all the screaming and yelling. But they have to do their job and market the movie. The sad thing is, I think we have a really good movie here. But pretty soon, it’s going to be too late. There is a point where I have done my job, and they have to do theirs. So I am causing a … storm”.

DreamWorks had a thin production slate and needed to step up its game to get the production started. DreamWorks partner and co-founder Steven Spielberg was in Japan at the time, causing a flurry of intercontinental telephone calls was arranged to discuss purchasing the script. Many thought Spielberg should consider directing it, but the legendary director suggested Michael Bay instead. In fact, Bay just a few weeks earlier had visited DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg to talk about working at the studio, eager to show he was not joined at the hip with either Bruckheimer or Disney (home to three of his five movies).

Bay’s new William Morris agents read the script, then dispatched it to Bay with their recommendations. Bay didn’t start reading the script until nearly midnight, but he was immediately struck and said yes the next morning. DreamWorks teamed up with Warner Bros and bought “The Island” for $1 million, beating out Paramount Pictures in the bidding.

“The Island” needed someone who could bring a real sense of scale to the movie and Michael Bay was the perfect choice to do that. In Michael Bay fashion, he could bring some high-octane pyrotechnics to a topic that in duller hands would play like a Discovery channel special. Bay knew Warner Bros. was contemplating a remake of 1976’s “Logan’s Run,” which had a similar anti-utopian theme and Bay wanted his movie not only to come out before the “Logan’s Run” remake, but also to be ready for the summer of 2005, which was then at the time, a year away. But in movie time, that was hardly any time at all.

Bay sits in a darkened Santa Monica screening room, quickly making assessments about color and contrast levels for an “Island” promotional reel to be shown to theater owners in June. To try to and shave the budget, Bay tapped some of the companies for whom he has made commercials, including Budweiser and Cadillac, getting money in exchange for numerous product placements. While the movie has a lot of product placement, it still wasn’t enough, Bay says.

“I called Jerry Bruckheimer for advice,” Bay says. “And he said, ‘You have to keep beating them down. You just have to keep beating them down”. DreamWorks decided it needed a financial partner, and Bay went out to try to sell the film to another studio. He brought along storyboards, talked about his design ideas and showed studio executives how he would stage chase scenes. This is where Warner Bros came in and decided to split the film’s costs and now Bay was ready to start shooting. 

Southern California’s rainstorms would cause countless obstacles, an actor’s father became ill and production was briefly shut down, coming to a cost of $500,000 and the constructions budget was spiraling out of control. “This movie was hard all the way,” Bay said with just a few days remaining to finish the film. “We were always playing catch-up. We were shooting on an ambitious schedule. It was 20 days less than ‘Pearl Harbor’ and we were shooting in the winter, when there is less daylight”. While some studios have been showing completed summer movies months before their release, DreamWorks could only wait until Bay was done. As for its marketing plan, DreamWorks notes that Bay has approved every spot and poster.

Still, says the studio’s marketing chief, Terry Press, “There is no question it has been a challenge. But it also goes to the schedule these movies are made on. We are on a schedule where we haven’t had our most important tool for selling the movie…the movie itself. I don’t know if it’s an underdog, but it’s a movie with its challenges. In a season of movies with presold attributes, it’s very daunting”. As Bay raced to finish “The Island,” Bay already is contemplating his next project.

His Platinum Dunes film label had been a winner, producing the hit remakes of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Amityville Horror”. The label’s next project was a remake of “The Hitcher”. But what will Bay do as his next film behind the camera? His conference room filled with “Transformer” toys, was all the evidence needed as which was the basis for his next planned movie.

The 1979 film “Parts: The Clonus Horror”, found so much similarities between the film and “The Island”, that the creators of the 1979 movie filed copyright infringement against DreamWorks who settled out of court with an undisclosed seven-figure amount, a tidy profit for a movie that originally cost only $250,000 to make. With a budget of almost $130 million, “The Island” took more than $160 million worldwide.

“The Island” is a stunning futuristic thriller about cloning and immortality. “The Island” combines spectacle with controversy and when you add the impeccable casting of Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, you have a passport for intrigue. Big ideas are matched by big budgets and director Michael Bay has pulled out all stops to uncork a winner, appealing not only to those who embrace heavy action, but to the thinker and lover of intelligent science fiction concepts. 

“The Island” takes it’s boldly premise and runs with it full throttle to its natural conclusion. McGregor and Johansson give strong and credible performances as the near perfect Lincoln 6 Echo and Jordan 2 Delta. From innocents, locked in a mechanical, sterile world where there is no room for curiosity, their eyes become wide opened, as they are thrown into a manic real world of corruption, power and manipulation. This is edge of the seat thrills and the massive stunts dazzle, as Lincoln and Jordan learn the hard way the will to survive. They also soon learn that tongue kissing is much more pleasurable than those proximity restrictions of the past.

We are right in the midst of all the action and while Bay’s special effects are plentiful, they always serve the storyline. Sure, this is a sci-fi “popcorn action” movie at its core, but even without the futuristic stuff, this movie delivers with a intriguing basis in plot, a number of cool twists and turns, a gaggle of action sequences, two good looking leads and a number of fun secondary characters, including: Steve Buscemi.

Sean Bean also co-stars as the deliciously evil mastermind Dr Merrick, who commissions hired-gun Djimon Hounsou to track down the runaways. Buscemi brings a touch of heart and a dose of humour as the staffer who helps Lincoln and Jordan escape. It is through their innocent eyes that we see the world for the first time and things really start to heat up when Lincoln meets face to face with his look-alike owner. 

In a clever twist, Lincoln’s owner is Scottish, allowing McGregor to play with his accents as he plays against himself and enabling us to differentiate between the client and the clone. “The Island” is among many other things an edgy, exciting and exhilarating piece of throwback cinema to 1970’s sci-fi. But it’s also a trademark Michael Bay movie with a compelling idea and resonant question of: What does it mean to be human?

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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