Film Review: The Island (1980)
This film is not good.
It’s not a failure on every level the way something like Maniac was. It’s a competently shot film, with strong production values and a very good cast. Michael Caine plays the film’s protagonist, Blair Maynard, and opposite him is David Warner as John David Nau. The rest of the cast has plenty of other British actors you’ve probably encountered before.
The premise is also interesting – a settlement of pirates (lead by Nau) has survived on an island in the Bahamas by raiding ships for supplies and (as their gene pool has thinned), women and young men for breeding purposes. Blair Maynard, a reporter, goes to investigate the disappearances of these ships (bringing, for some reason, his son Justin – played by Jeffrey Frank – with him), only to end up in the pirate’s clutches. If you’re familiar with the X-Files episode “Home”, then you’re probably familiar with the premise (that episode did it with rednecks), and know that the idea has promise, with the right execution.
Where things fall apart is the writing. The screenplay and the novel it was based on is written by Peter Benchley, who is best known as the writer of Jaws. This is also where the film falls down – since, as written, the film has a runtime coming it at just under two hours. Of that runtime, after a quick appearance of the pirates in a very violent and bloody opening sequence, we see or hear hide nor hare of the pirates until almost the film’s halfway point. Instead, we follow Blair and Justin as they travel to Florida and the Bahamas to investigate. Theoretically, the purpose of these sequences is to show the relationship between the two so it can be tested when they’re captured by the pirates, but it doesn’t work. Caine and Frank simply don’t have much chemistry. I don’t know if it’s due to inexperience (according to IMDB this is Frank’s first and only film role), or something else.
Once Blair and Justin get captured by pirates, things get interesting. We witness Justin’s brainwashing at the hands of the pirates, while Blair is used as slave labor and breeding stock. Through all of this, Blair tries to find opportunities to escape and get his son back – getting through his son’s brainwashing in the process. This part is the most tightly plotted and well written portion of the film, which makes the fact that it takes so goddamn long to get there a nuisance.
The film’s climax comes after the first of two ship raids in the film. The first raid has the pirates attacking a sailboat that’s smuggling cocaine, which Blair accompanies them during. Following the raid, Blair leaves a trail of cocaine packets to the island that the pirates are using as a base. This lures the Coast Guard to the base, at which point their cutter is successfully attacked by the pirates, which makes me wonder how they filmmakers got the cooperation of the US Coast Guard on this film, as the film’s depiction of the Coast Guard is not what I would call complementary.
This also leads to the film’s other weakness – its score. The film’s score is composed by Ennio Morricone. If you’re familiar with his full range of films, then you know that for every Fistful of Dollars, there’s also an OK, Connery/Operation Double 007. The pirate attacks are scored as if the audience is watching something like Captain Blood or one of the other heroic pirate swashbucklers of the 30s. The problem is that in this film, the pirates aren’t heroes, they’re the monsters in a horror film – we shouldn’t be rooting for them. Yet the score has their back, not their victims.
The Island is, ultimately, a film that should have had a 90 minute run-time, with less time spent in Florida, and either should have gotten a different composer, or director Michael Ritchie had gotten more time with Morricone to get a score that tonally fit with the film.
The Island got a DVD and Blu-Ray release from Shout Factory as part of their Scream Factory label, but it’s so incredibly bare-bones that I can’t recommend buying a copy of the film, unless you’re a Scream Factory completionist.
Should for some reason you want to pick up this film, it is available from Amazon.com