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Release Date(s)1980 (December 11, 2012)
Studio(s)Universal (Shout!/Scream Factory)
Note: This review contains spoilers. For those wishing to go into this movie cold, I suggest you wait to read this until after you’ve seen it.
The Island is definitely not your typical run-of-the-mill failed blockbuster, but it is one of the more entertaining ones. Its mix of tones and visual clashes didn’t sit well with audiences in 1980, but that didn’t stop it from gaining some cult status. It’s filled with a mix of fun and quirky ideas with some that aren’t quite so good, but no matter how uneven it is, it’s still an appealing film. Even the plot itself is a mixed bag. Michael Caine stars as Blair Maynard, a writer who goes to the Caribbean with his young son to investigate the disappearance of many a boat plus their passengers. Upon arrival, they’re captured by 18th century pirates who have managed to remain as is in secret on a hidden island in the middle of the ocean. From then on in, Maynard’s son is brainwashed into becoming a swarthy young pirate and it’s up to Maynard to shake him out of it, get them both away from the bloodthirsty buccaneers and back to civilization.
What’s strange about the movie in general is the sudden and unexpected turn of events with the plot. If you go into this with absolutely no knowledge of what it’s about (like I did), then the sudden change in tone from slasher to pirate adventure really throws a curve ball at you. Perhaps that’s why I ended up enjoying the movie, because it comes out of left field so blatantly, and makes no apologies for it. If it had been more straightforward in its approach, then it probably wouldn’t have been quite as interesting. The movie more or less tricks you into thinking that it’s something else, but it isn’t. It starts out by showing various people going out to sea and being viciously attacked by something strange with creepy horror music playing in the background and a plentiful amount of gore to go with it. Fast forward to later in the movie, after we learn that it’s actually the work of pirates and not some lone slasher type of killer and we see the same sort of carnage, but instead of creepy build-up and seeing only glimpses of it, it’s shown full on with all of the gore still intact and an adventurous swashbuckling score behind it. It’s definitely a major shift in tone, which is the best reason why it was more or less rejected when released.
The film was mostly promoted as being based on the book by Peter Benchley, who we all know was the writer of “Jaws.” The film actually feels a lot like Jaws overall, and you can see unintentional (or intentional, I’m not quite sure) visual similarities to the film if you pay close enough attention. The actors all give pretty good performances, despite the film being kind of schlocky, and the overall tone of the piece is definitely not an even one. Even Michael Caine seems to be out of answers as to what’s going on, and not just in his performance. The movie may not be without its flaws, but there’s a glorious amount of blood and gore to be found, as well as some great character dynamics and great locations. Overall, The Island is a pretty enjoyable find, and kudos to Scream Factory for digging it up again.
Given that this has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray before, my assessment is that it’s impressive without being amazing. As is, it’s a very nice presentation, and the transfer on display is quite a sharp one. There’s a nice amount of image detail and grain is relatively stable, but blacks aren’t quite as deep as they could be. Contrast isn’t too high, but there’s enough to get the most out of the images. There’s also quite an array of colors on display, especially reds, greens & blues, and they’re all pretty strong. Flesh tones aren’t always even, but they don’t appear unhealthy by any means. There also doesn’t seem to be any digital improvement of the images either. It just sort of appears as is, which I like. There are two soundtrack options to choose from: both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD tracks. I tend to go with the original 2.0 soundtrack, but the 5.1 track is pretty good too. It’s only ever so slightly cleaner and more presentable than the video presentation. Dialogue is mostly audible, but sometimes some of the performances sound a little far away. Not by much, but noticeably. It’s a relatively good mix, with the sound effects and music given the most boost in clarity over the dialogue. It won’t wow you, and there isn’t much dynamic range to it, but it sounds good enough for what it is. Not much to complain about there. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any extras to be found, except for the theatrical trailer, plus trailers for Death Valley and They Live. The only other things worth mentioning are the Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks on the DVD instead of DTS-HD tracks. Otherwise, the discs are identical. It’s a shame too, because I would have loved to have heard at least a commentary from some of the filmmakers on how they feel about the movie today in retrospect. Oh well. All in all, The Island isn’t a perfect film, but in all fairness, even in different hands it probably would have been just as lopsided tonally as it wound up being. Thankfully there’s Michael Caine and David Warner on hand to improve things, and how can you go wrong with that combination?
- Tim Salmons