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The Island

In the summer of 1980, fewer movies were more anticipated than THE ISLAND. It's easy to see why looking at its pedigree. Producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown had been behind "Jaws" five years before, from the novel by Peter Benchley.

Benchley had followed up that novel with bestseller "The Island" and he was aboard to write the screenplay.

Universal had seen this as their big June Summer release and backed it with a $22 million budget.

And what we got almost unwatchable mess.

The film opens with a trio of big city businessmen on a Bahamas excursion for Marlin. After about five minutes of boring set up and horrible dialogue, they're attacked by pirates straight out of a road company of Peter Pan. Their deaths are incredibly gory and pretty poorly shot, with obvious dummy heads and stomachs gouged by axes. Its jarring and so graphic it feels like a Friday the 13th knockoff.

Michael Caine has refused to talk about this movie for 40+ years. It's one of his true stinkers, swimming in the same outhouse as "The Swarm"and"Beyond the Poseidon Adventure".

He plays a New York City reporter named Blair Maynard, who's pushing to look into many boat disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. In just the first dramatic leap of logic, he decides to take his 12 year old son with him, promising him a weekend at Disney World.

Instead, they board a rickety cargo prop plane with a giant pig and a pilot with similar hygiene and promptly crash onto an isolated island in the middle of nowhere.

After a short encounter with a crooked immigration officer and a philosophical doctor named Windsor (Frank Middlemass) who seems to have wandered in from another movie, Blair and his son Justin (Jeffrey Frank in his one and only big screen role, for obvious reasons) are soon attacked and dragged to an island about ten miles away that's run by pirates who have been hiding there for a couple hundred years.


So they're only ten miles away from other islands, but no one has ever discovered them? No airplane has ever seen them? It's a major gap in Benchley's story, and not the only one.

Director Michael Ritchie (Fletch, The Golden Child) seems completely lost in finding a tone. The pirates never seem very menacing except when they're taking over a boat, then they become a bloodthirsty mob of absolute maniacs. When they're not doing their pillaging, they could be right out of "Hook" with plenty of teasing and fun between them.

Meanwhile, Caine is forced to walk around in a chain and steel collar around his neck, serving as breeding stock for the one fertile woman in the gang. Awkward.

I can only assume that usually brilliant composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, The Hateful Eight) never saw the film when he wrote the score. Jaunty pirate music plays over scenes of gruesome massacres, completely out of context and frankly inducing repeated laughter.

The always terrific David Warner (Time After Time, The Omen) is completely wasted here as the island leader. It's not easy to make Warner dull, he's one of our most consistently interesting character actors. But not here.

There's no denying that Peter Benchley came up with one of the greatest thrillers in history when he created "Jaws" and "The Deep" wasn't bad either, but this one lacks any thrills. Benchley should stick to novels. (When you go back and read the original book of Jaws, it's not really very good, buried in soap opera subplots, but Spielberg turned it into a hell of a movie.) Zanuck and Brown paid over $2 million in the late seventies for him to write this movie adaption. Bad investment.

By the time our merry band of throat slashers have turned Caine's son into a pirate and they're attacking a Marine Corps vessel, the entire thing was officially way off the rails.

I did kind of love Caine's massive military gattling gun face-off with them in the final act. It's like some twisted Scarface/Douglas Fairbanks mashup that leaves your jaw dropped.

A massive box office bomb and all-time turkey, THE ISLAND deserves that rare thing, an F grade. This is crap of the tallest order.

(Zanuck/Brown fans watch closely for the sailors watching their fun cult hit, 1973's "Sssssss". That low budget, fun blast of a horror thriller is 1000 times better than this big budget dreck.)

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