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Steer clear of The Island

Raja Sen | July 29, 2005 16:06 IST

The IslandSummer blockbuster films are often referred to, both dismissively and expectantly, as popcorn fare. Lightweight, escapist filler that succeeds in avoiding realism entirely and looking pretty darned big.

Michael Bay is one of the most successful box office snackmakers, with hits like Pearl Harbor, Armageddon and Bad Boys II to his 'credit'. Now, with this bit of futuristic fluff, he's managed to craft a perfect kernel of popcorn with something missing -- the excitement, the drama, the masala. Which leaves us with absolute White.

The Island, we're told, is set in 2090. Humanity lives in one of those colourless future-visions that exist only to promote tracksuits, as future citizens live in jailhouse-order confinement, quarantined from the outside world contaminated by some ambiguous epidemic. They all wear white and are kept healthy and fit. Also, they're bloody bored.

Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) can't understand why he can't get a different coloured jersey. "White is impossible to keep clean," he justifiably complains. Merrick (Sean Bean) frowns at this display of free will. He isn't particularly approving on Lincoln's compulsive attraction to Jordan Two Delta, an understandable reaction for Lincoln given that she's played by Scarlett Johansson.

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To her jubilant surprise, Jordan wins the lottery, a daily sweepstakes the all white-pajama'd citizens vie for. The prize is actual freedom: departure to The Island, an idyllic coastal locale left untouched and free of contamination. Lincoln, possibly driven by anguish at losing his only bit of eye-candy, comes up with convenient conspiracy theories and decides to make a run for it.

The Island now traverses into familiar territory, well mapped by films like The Truman Show and The Matrix: that of life not being what it is, and instead being an inadvertent part of The System. In The Island, it's an insurance scam. Shiny happy people in the future cough up millions to get clones made, which live to nurse their biological body parts and ensure immortality.

Jordan and Lincoln make a dramatically simple escape, and the film's almost-interesting premise waters down into shallow, often derivative nothingness. The clones adjust with effortless ease to the real world, and The Islandto alien concepts like driving and sex. Everything is resolved with the ease of a lazy, prepaid screenwriter, and action directors concentrating expensively hard on making irrelevant destruction look real.

The Island looks good, but lacks the convincing attention to future detail in Steven Spielberg's carefully sculpted Minority Report. But, while looking far sharper than the groundbreaking Tron, the mammoth-budget seems a massive waste for this all-frills film. It's not a good summer film, despite a slew of good performances (Steve Buscemi, always deserving of applause), the barbell-bouncing chase scenes are just too long.

In The Island, escape is just too easy to be entertainingly escapist.

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