I went off to see "The Island" this evening. I wasn't quite sure what… - John C. Kirk
Aug. 25th, 2005
I went off to see "The Island" this evening. I wasn't quite sure what to expect - I'd read a couple of bad reviews, along the lines of "this is a fascinating, thought-provoking subject, and they've made a boring film with helicopters and explosions", but I also know a couple of people who'd seen it and said it was very good, so I figured it was worth a look.
On balance, I'd say that it was "ok". The story held my attention, and kept moving at a reasonable pace. On the other hand, there were some massive plotholes, and I found the "set pieces" tedious. I mentioned this in my review of "Star Trek: Nemesis" a while back, and it still applies - I think that the Miles Vorkosigan novels (written by Lois McMaster Bujold) offer the best insight into a world that has the technology to create clones and genetically engineered babies. I've certainly kept thinking back to those novels during the recent media hysteria about parents potentially choosing the gender of their offspring.
More detailed comments with spoilers follow...
The lead characters came across as pretty bland - I'm sure that this was a deliberate choice, to emphasise their inexperience, rather than reflecting any lack of acting ability, but it did make them a bit dull. By contrast, I have to wonder how the actor playing the lead security guy got hired (or who he had to bribe), since he really did a terrible job.
On a related note, I thought that the character (rather than the actor) was also amazingly incompetent. For example, he was talking about "1.2mph, and a 5 mile perimeter", but the fugitives were able to lie down for a nap and still get past him. Then there's the whole issue of discretion - he said something like "Our business is to keep your business confidential", and apparently felt that the best way to achieve that was to shoot someone in a crowded station then throw the body off a balcony to shatter a glass counter below. And then he'd cover that up by killing even more people, including police officers?! John's tip of the day - if people boast about being "former SAS" or whatever, then ask why they're "former", i.e. whether they got kicked out for excessive stupidity.
It also seemed a bit odd that the black ops team would check all the cameras in the city manually, while looking for the fugitives. Granted, it worked, but it seems like it would either be a very labour intensive process, or it would be heavily dependent on luck.
Coming back to the actors, it's nice to see that there's life after "Voyager". Just to throw in a positive comment amongst my criticisms!
I mentioned the set pieces - the "brain robots" didn't actually seem to serve any useful purpose in the storyline, so I can only assume that they were put in to provide a creepy scene. (The tracking aspect could have been handled equally well by the bracelets.) In fairness, life has loose ends, so that could be realistic, but I'm more inclined to rate it as sloppy. For instance, if these bugs are transmitting signals from Lincoln's brain, doesn't that mean that the staff will see/hear everything that he sees and hears? That being the case, wouldn't he want to be a bit more subtle, rather than saying "Here's how I sneak around in forbidden areas and here's your employee who's been breaking the rules"?
Speaking of the rules, it seemed a bit odd for the staff at the institute to say "We've got rid of aggressive tendencies" but then to set up the 3D game for people to beat each other up. Personally, I'm uncomfortable whenever I see men being brutal towards women, so it wasn't exactly an entertaining scene for me, but I don't think that it made sense within the plotline of the film either. I don't want to get drawn into the general debate about "do violent computer games make players violent", but when you've got avatars who look exactly like the players, and they're having teeth knocked out, I think it's a pretty fine line.
And on the subject of odd decisions, I'm a bit dubious about the organ transplant issues. In Sarah Jordan's case, it makes sense - she's in the prime of her life, and so getting undamaged versions of her existing organs would be good. But for someone like the President, who wants to extend his life, they're saying "We'll replace your 70 year old liver with ... an exact copy, which is indistinguishable from a 70 year old liver." Nice one, thanks. This is where Bujold's version makes a lot more sense - if I'm a rich 50 year old, I have a clone born. That way, when I'm 70, the clone will be 20 (and raised on a healthy diet with plenty of exercise), at which point I get my brain put into his body. I then have all my wealth/power/knowledge/experience, and the clone's youth/strength, which is quite a tempting prospect. (It is of course rather less tempting for the clone who gets his brain thrown in the bin.)
More generally, it seems odd that the "vegetative state" wouldn't be practical. I'll cut the film makers some slack here, since it's necessary to accept that basic premise for the film to work, but if the clones are able to wander around with the liver/lungs/whatever doing their job, I don't know why the sponsors would have trouble. Maybe it's just that the organs are a bit fragile after the whatsit had hatched, so they needed to spend some time in a functioning body before they'd be strong enough for a transplant. But thinking about the athlete's clone, this also makes the surgeon's comments seem rather odd ("I don't want to euthanise this man just to get his liver!") - what was the alternative? I.e. were they intending to keep him alive afterwards? My understanding is that the clone would need the liver himself (to stay alive), but even if he didn't, they presumably couldn't let him go back to the general population area in the compound (since he's supposed to have gone to the island), and if they could put him into a coma then why not do that en masse?
I was also a bit confused about the clones' level of literacy. If they're taking classes where they all read out "See Spot run" in unison, then how are they supposed to understand "Excess sodium levels" or "Erratic REM levels"? It would make more sense for the computers in the rooms to be able to talk. (Mind you, I did think that the urine analysis was quite a nifty feature.) Come to that, if they're supposed to have been brought in recently, and they have (fake) childhood memories from before The Contamination, shouldn't they already know how to read? As a related issue, the medical director claimed that they've been brought up to a 15 year old's level of education - it would be rather scary/depressing if this is actually true.
Finally, I think that one problem with the set pieces is that there's no sense of danger when the heroes are indestructible. When the big letter fell off the building, I just thought "Oh, come on!" It reminded me of "The Last Action Hero" (a vastly underrated film), where life-threatening injuries are trivial. Actually, I was also thinking about that film during "Willy Wonka", when the chocolate river didn't stick to the Oompa Loompa ("You know, tar actually sticks to some people!").
Incidentally, there was a trailer for "The 40 year old virgin" before the main film. My gut reaction was to hate that film, but the trailer was actually quite funny, so I may go to watch it.
And finally, a random comic link: Action Philosophers!