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Movies: Future Looks Grim. Again

3 minute read
Richard Schickel

If we’re to believe The Island, the private sector, in the very near future, is about to make Halliburton and the rest of those scary big guys look like a kids’ corner lemonade stand. Director Michael Bay’s new movie posits a secretive biotech operation offering rich people the opportunity to have their very own, disease-free clones. In other words, for $5 million you can have a more or less living insurance policy. Need a kidney transplant? You got it, helicoptered right to the operating room.

It’s a sweet, even vaguely plausible, scheme. The clones are kept in a nice white bunker, their health is closely monitored, all their needs–up to the mental age of 15–are provided for, and sex is not an issue since the system’s mastermind, Merrick (Sean Bean), has simply eliminated that messy urge. He feeds them on two myths. One is that they are the only survivors of a vast “contamination” that has wiped out the rest of human life. The other is that there’s a paradisical, uncontaminated island on which you can win residence by giving birth or through a lottery that is the clones’ major source of entertainment.

What Merrick doesn’t count on is the clones developing minds of their own. Well, not exactly minds–more like trace memories borrowed from the people they are doubling for. But you know how it is: you get to remembering, and then you get to thinking. It’s sort of the same way with romance. Cute guy (Ewan McGregor) and pretty girl (Scarlett Johansson) start making eyes at each other, escape to the fully populated, slightly dystopian real world and, sure enough, find time amid the car chases and explosions to start fooling around. There are other trace elements in the film: a clone Adam and Eve, a bit of Faust, a touch of George Orwell (McGregor is like 1984’s Winston Smith, whose curiosity about unanswered questions got him into such terrible trouble).

But mostly the roots of The Island are to be found in every (presumptive) summer blockbuster you ever saw, especially the futuristic ones–or decided, upon mature reflection, not to see. To give Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor) his due, there’s a certain wit and splash (or should we make that splat?) in his action sequences–nice stuff with a flying motorcycle and a surprise-filled sequence in which the leads are hanging onto a skyscraper sign that’s losing its moorings. But for all the menace of its techno-prattle, its implicit boosts for humanism and its swell production design, the picture is finally a bore. Sci-fi was more powerful when its special effects were cheap and crude, its ideas simple but potently stated. –By Richard Schickel

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