The Island Blu-ray Review
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Written by Peter Benchley
1980, Region A, 109 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on December 11th, 2012
Michael Caine as Blair Maynord
David Warner as John David Nau
Angela Punch McGregor as Beth
Jeffrey Frank as Justin
Frank Middlemass as Windsor
Zakes Mokae as Wescott
Blair Maynord is a journalist investigating an ongoing string of disappearances in the Caribbean. He brings his young son, Justin, with him to conduct additional interviews to uncover the mystery. Not long after their journey begins, their plane makes an emergency landing, but the two are unharmed and make the best of the situation. Before long, they are captured by pirates and soon bear witness to horrors never imagined.
The island clan is led by a man named John David Nau, who believes the Maynords are of a lineage with significance to the pirate community and orders that they be left alive to procreate and lead future generations. Blair must do everything he can to escape his captors and free his son from this nightmare existence where robbery, rape and murder are commonplace. There are additional challenges along the way as it turns out not everyone can be trusted and things are not always what they seem.
Pirates have always been popular characters from Treasure Island to Peter Pan and featured charismatic leading men from Errol Flynn to Johnny Depp delivering crowd-pleasing performances. Our leads here are not as engaging, nor are their characters particularly memorable. This film suffers from a lack of excitement, a non-thrilling thriller if you will. It is never quite dull, but only occasionally fully engaging. The biggest problem saddling The Island is the script by Peter Benchley (The Deep), as it relies too heavily on the “… and then-” pattern of storytelling. Man takes son on trip and then they get kidnapped and then man tries to escape and then…and so on. There is little action that forwards the story to a satisfying conclusion. The few moments of exciting pirate activity are buried under several sequences of sitting around.
With The Island, producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown continued to chase the success of Jaws, but were left adrift without the talent of Steven Spielberg. Director Michael Richie (Bad News Bears) doesn’t really do anything wrong necessarily, but watching this feels like his hands were tied by the producers and their devotion to an underwhelming script by “king of the seas” cash cow, Peter Benchley. Richie makes the best of a dull time but never makes his leading man really that interesting, which is surprising considering the caliber of Michael Caine (Jaws: The Revenge). The director would have better luck a few years later when he teamed up with Chevy Chase for Fletch.
Michael Caine does not disappear into this role, so audiences are always aware they are watching a performance. This again is the fault of Benchley’s script, as the character glides from one scenario to another with relative ease to reach the big finish. One would think by the time his character has escaped four times, someone would decide to post extra guards. David Warner (Time After Time) is the leader of the pirate clan and proves quite dangerous with his skills at manipulation, but his inability to handle the captives undermines his character’s escalation to the supreme villain level. Jeffrey Frank’s character is perhaps the deepest as an easily misled teenager and his scenes with Caine are the best of the film, but he manages to flip-flop too easily between good and evil. The supporting cast is decent, but few are given much to do than watch from the sidelines. Zakes Mokae (The Serpent and the Rainbow) is intimidating as the local law enforcement, but his scene is brief and ultimately pointless.
The Island is not a terrible movie, but it just feels like a waste of time and money. The end results are far less thrilling than what audiences expected from the talent involved. For years the film played on cable and suffered from a terribly murky pan-and-scan transfer that made the story confusing and unwatchable. The best image from the marketing of the picture is the poster art featuring the knife-wielding hand stretching out from the water. I always found this creepy and was disappointed to finally see the film and discover that this idea is never shown.
One final observation: What was with the popularity of pirates in the 1980s? Seriously. The Pirate Movie, Pirates of Penzance, Ice Pirates, Roman Polanski’s Pirates and all we got a decade later was Cutthroat Island. On another cinematic note, Michael Bay has a production company (Platinum Dunes) that specializes in remakes of old horror films and yet in 2005 he directed an original film titled The Island, but it was more a spin on The Prisoner and it underperformed at the box office, just like this 1980 failure.
Thrills and chills on the high seas have long captivated audiences but sadly this effort never lives up to the potential and sinks under the weight of its overconfidence.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the film looks a little better than last year’s Universal Vault Series release, as the picture has undergone a slight tweaking, eliminating some (but not all) dirt and scratches. There are still some soft spots, but nothing terrible. Flesh tones remain accurate and black levels are generally consistent. It is nice to see the film given a proper presentation after all these years.
This Scream Factory release offers a solid DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio lossless audio mix and a DTS HD 2.0 MA track that preserves the original stereo presentation. Surrounds get a bit of nice play throughout the tropical setting, particularly during the rainstorm. Rear channels come to life for explosions and again for the climactic gun battle. Dialogue remains clear and free of distortion while music cues are a bit over-the-top.
Not a lot of special features on display this time around. No commentary and no interviews, just trailers for The Island, They Live and Death Valley.
A DVD copy of the film is also included.
*Note: The screenshots on this page are not a reflection of the Blu-ray image. They were captured using the standard DVD.*