Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
From 1974 to 1979, author Peter Benchley pulled off a hat trick of impressive seafaring bestsellers. Each book was adapted for the big screen one year after publication – with mixed results. There’s Jaws, of course, then The Deep, which also did well at the box-office thanks in part to Jacqueline Bisset swimming in a see-through shirt. It seemed like adapting Benchley’s source material meant instant success. Then there was The Island, a film that cost more than Jaws and The Deep combined, that wound up tanking in theaters.
Directed by Michael Ritchie (Fletch), The Island follows investigative journalist Blair Maynard (Michael Caine) who decides to take on a nautical mystery as his next assignment. In a certain corner of the Caribbean, dozens of boats have been disappearing over the years. It’s some Bermuda Triangle shit and Blair is determined to get to the bottom of it. He takes his estranged son Justin along with him under the guise of a “vacation.” They do some father-son bonding stuff like buying a gun and lying to law enforcement agents. While they’re fishing one day, a filthy man and a little girl abduct them.
They’re brought to an uncharted island inhabited by a 300-year-old colony of French pirates. Their leader is suave scumbag John David (voice-actor extraordinaire David Warner). The pirates are the ones behind the missing boats and they’re really good at the whole looting and murder aspects of pirate life. They’re not kid-friendly Disney pirates who make clever quips while only getting marginally drunk. This gang never showers, they cover their women in mud, and they get wasted on some kind of island moonshine.
But throughout all the raids and swashbuckling, John David longs for a son. For years he’s been trying to train the boys of the colony how to be as cunning and heartless as him, but everyone’s failed him. It’s a bizarrely heartfelt subplot anchored by Warner’s dignified performance. So he starts to train Justin in the ways of pirate life in hopes of finally finding a worthy successor. The kid takes to it right away – swearing off Blair as his father and showing great aptitude with a pistol. It’s hard to believe a son would turn against his father so quick (as shitty as a father as he’s been), but at this point in the movie all credibility has been tossed overboard anyway.
All the while Blair is kept alive and forced to act like a husband to a woman of the colony. He almost escapes a handful of times, but it’s not until the pirates decide to take on a Coast Guard vessel that Blair sees his chance for escape and revenge. The Island was made during Caine’s “80s paycheck period,” in which he was more interested in getting paid than creating critically acclaimed films. Some of his output during this period is really fun (Dressed to Kill) and some is, well, Jaws: The Revenge.
The Island falls somewhere in the middle. Caine doesn’t exactly phone his performance in, but there are moments where he looks extremely bored. During the gun shop scene, for example, Caine looks like he’s falling asleep on his feet when he’s supposed to be debating with his son on whether it’s wise or not to own a gun. Other times he does his classic scenery chewing like only Caine can. The climax on the Coast Guard vessel is easily up there with one of the best badass Caine moments of all time. I wouldn’t compare it to the naked shotgun shootout from Get Carter, but it’s up there.
While there are a lot of nice set pieces and fantastic locations in The Island, it never really lives up to the word “thrilling.” Moments of suspense are cut short and dragged down by weak sub-plots and character developments. A lot of time is given to Blaire’s “pirate wife” and their forced relationship, which couldn’t be more dull. It feels like Ritchie wasn’t sure what he wanted the movie to be about: Caine’s attempted escape from the island or his son’s conversion to pirate life. He fumbles these two plots back and forth, shifting tones each time. The climax is terrific, but everything leading up to it feels very clunky.
The Island bombed at the box-office and then faded into cult obscurity. Universal released it through their “Vault Series” last year, and now, Scream Factory’s resurrected the film with a DVD and Blu-ray combo pack. Unfortunately, due to a void in resources and the passing of Michael Ritchie in 2001, there are zero special features on this set. It’s definitely worth a rent, but only diehard Caine and cult fans should dish out the cash for the set.
Scream Factory presents The Island in 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen with DTS HD Master Audio 2.0. The colors of the island scenes are particularly lush with blues and greens popping and contrasting nicely with the dark of the jungle. Ritchie definitely got the most out of location shooting. The film sounds as good as an HD 2.0 track can.
Like I mentioned, there are no special features. Not even a trailer.