Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Film Review: The Island DVD

After the crapfest that was Harry Potter 4 I went down to the local Blockbusters and rented another crappy film which I missed during the theatrical release. This time it was The Island on DVD, and I had a mate to watch it this time. He died of brain damage.

I heard some pretty bad stuff about this film, that it is the most generic action film of all time and all, but I didn't expect it to be this bad. Well I shouldn't be surprised. After all this is a Michael Bay film. And a Dreamworks one too.

First up. Product placements. With a DVD I have the luxury of pausing and writing things down. You can't do that in a cinema. But even then you won't have to if you are planning to research product placement in films. The Island is rife with ads that are so in your face you do not need the pause button.

From the top of my head is the Xbox - basically the stupidest product placement ever. The original Xbox is now defunct and outdated. Quite how there are Xboxes ten years from now is beyond me as the Xbox 1.5 (360) is already well on its way to seal its fate as the 21st century pariah gaming console.

Then there are Microsoft MSN, Apple, Puma, Calvin Klein, NFL, Chevy, Budweiser, Chevrolet, Cisco, Amex, Maxim magazine, Ben & Jerry etc. There are also a couple that I can't recall the brand names, but I do know that those are popular American brands (like the train and the mineral water served in the bar). Whole sequences became elaborate and stylish commercial.

Second issue: like that other Dreamworks picture, this has a generic future city setting with generic future cars that looks fugly. There are also the obligatory hovering trains and metro system. Where the fuck do they get these designers? Films always get it wrong predicting the future and The Island, I am sure, won't disappoint.

You may remember the early scene in Terminator 2 where a clash of culture occurs? Well it is here. The car scene is merely a redone Bad Boys (also by Michael Bay if you remember) and Matrix: Reloaded clone. Plenty of explosions, car crash and innocent dead. The film makers are just refilming materials from other films.

The film plot is loosely based on anti-stem research crap and probably inspired by The Matrix, only this time humans are being harvested for other humans. The antagonist is played Sean Bean, forever misunderstood by Hollywood who are unable to tap his talent. Actually I found his character to be cool, understated and passive until the end when Hollywood as usual, decides that Sean Bean has to be a usual crazed lunatic. Can we have an intelligent baddie who does not lose his cool once? Harry Potter ruined Ralph Fiennes. The Island (and many other films) ruined Sean Bean.

I just can't get past how awful the film is. Scarlett Johansson may be hot, but the most you ever see her flesh is when she discovers sex, but fails to remove her bra (among other things). And she can't act.

Ewan McGregor, talented as he is, has made pretty bad career movements in the past (Star Wars anyone?) - and this is no exception. The scene where he met his Scottish 'sponsor' is the single most idiotic sequence of the film. Later on the clone tried to fake his sponsor's Scottish accent. So here we have a Scottish actor playing someone with a generic American accent who is trying to speak Scottish. Get it?

No? Well how about this for extreme banality in product placement? Clone, played by Scarlett Johansson comes across Calvin Klein commercial featuring her sponsor, a famous actress/model, only that the commercial is an actual commercial (meaning you can see it anywhere other than the film) that stars the real life Scarlett Johansson. Colour me weird but I should be impress with the auteur's ability to reuse other people's work.

Anyway the product placements remains the biggest issue with the film. It is all Minority Report again. If you want product placement, do it in subtle tone. The Mercedes in Men In Black II, or the Audi in I, Robot, were pushing it for me, but at least those were required vehicles - and the films were enjoyable. You don't need huge Xbox logos in the gaming room. Why would Microsoft advertise their products to clones who would never ever buy their console anyway? Do people put up PlayStation/Nintendo logos in their living rooms because they have one tucked below the telly? No!

There has been lots of debates regarding product placements making their ways into games recently, especially those generic shooters which resides on multiplayer servers and MMO games. Part of the argument for product placements is the consumer would not have to pay to play as the cost will be passed on to the sponsors. That may be a good idea as it provides a choice. Pay for ad-free games (like we pay for ad-free BBC channels) or play games for free, but be bombarded with ads. But The Island is different. People are forced to pay to view ads. You can't simply walk to the ticket usher and demand money back, it doesn't work that way.

I am not against product placement as long as they are done properly - you know realistically, and not like an ad. You can't have a film in a London high street and blank out all the brands that Londoners are being forced to but you do not have to shove it into our face for 2-3 seconds. Perhaps Hollywood film studios should take note and release ad-free films on DVDs. How difficult would it be to get rid of all the ads especially with a little dab of CGI here and there? I would be willing to pay slightly more for ad-free films (as long as they are good).

In the case of The Island though, the product placements ruined it for me, but even without them, this was still a pretty awful film. The first half wasn't that bad. I was hoping for some kind of Blade Runner or Gattaca like film but once the two clones escapes, it all went down hill, with its generic Michael Bay action scenes. I am all for actions, but you can only go so far.

I am just glad I didn't watch this film in the cinema where you will be bombarded with ads before the film and during the film. I am hardly surprised that it bombed in the UK (taking only £1.5 million during the UK's opening weekends last summer - in comparison even the awful Fantastic Four did better with £3.5 million).

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