Based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, the 'Jaws' scribe imagines 17th Century pirates still occupying the Caribbean islands in the contemporary world, or at least it show the descendents of those sea-faring plunderers continuing the pirate traditions. In a way, the plot provides a real-world explanation, as fantastical a possibility as it may sound, to the mystery surrounding the Bermuda Triangle, which at the time was of great interest in popular culture, with theories about the paranormal and alien abductions. Essentially, the disappearance of boats in the region are attributed to a centuries-old tribe of pirates inhabiting one of the several small islands in the Caribbean Sea, which outlaw buccaneers of legend once used as a stronghold.
Recent disappearances of vacationers in the area draw the attention of investigative journalist Blair Maynard, played with an urbane British charm by the always winning Michael Caine. The star of Christopher Nolan's 'Batman' trilogy convinces his editor to let him look into the matter further, and what he finds is shockingly more disturbing than imaginary tales about ghosts and extraterrestrials. Granted, the idea of pirates trapped in a kind of time warp is a convoluted thought as well, if not outright hysterical, but this, at any rate, has a better semblance in reality and is closer to the realm of possibility than the other truly far-fetched, elaborate conspiracy theories many seem to prefer. There are no fantastical, earth-shattering machinations worth discovering on 'The Island.'
Rather, a demented colony of maniacs push the modern civilized gentleman, as encapsulated by Caine's genteel reporter, to come in touch with his base animal instincts for survival. Part of this drive comes also from Maynard's impulse to protect his easily-impressionable twelve-year-old son, Justin (Jeffrey Frank), whose role functions more like a dramatic plot device than a full-fledged character in his own right. Nevertheless, it adds to the film's overall effect, providing an excuse for Maynard's reluctance to escape when plenty of chances to do so arise. Despite feeling somewhat estranged from his son, which is later furthered by the boy assimilating to the socially-inept and largely illiterate pirate community, the moral quandary of selfishly saving his own skin and leaving his son complicates the story.
The leader of this ragtag band of outcasts is David Warner, a wonderful actor familiar with playing villains or characters with suspicious agendas. He just has a face that makes people uneasy about the true motives of the characters he portrays. Of the entire colony, it's easy to see why he's the leader; he's the smartest of the lot, a man with a plan who thinks ahead. He prolongs the group's antiquated ways by raiding and pillaging vacationing boats that carelessly wander near their waters and brainwashing the child survivors. Maynard is kept alive so as to impregnate a local female (Angela Punch McGregor) since inbreeding, we are told, is finally taking a toll on their existence. As one character (Frank Middlemass) points out, this community is an anthropologist's dream.
Better known for working on comedies such as 'The Bad News Bears' and 'Fletch,' director Michael Ritchie takes great control of the camera and delivers an enjoyable thriller. Although he flirts with the edge of campy silliness in some spots, like one scene showing the pirates plunder a pleasure boat while harkening to classic swashbuckling adventures, Ritchie confidently orchestrates the bedlam and sustains it within the realm of plausibility. Laughable as some of these sequences may seem, they still carry a steady pace of suspense and excitement. In the 20th Century, we've come to romanticize the ideals and exploits of legendary pirates, sometimes forgetting these outlaws were vicious savages, thieves and murderers, Ritchie's 'The Island' entertainingly reminds moviegoers of that fact.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'The Island' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD25 disc is housed inside the normal blue case with a second DVD-9 disc on the opposing panel. At startup, the disc goes to a generic main menu selection on the bottom of the screen with a static photo of the cover art and music playing in the background.
The pirates raid and pillage Blu-ray with a sharp-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1), giving the cinematography of Henri Decaë the opportunity to truly shine. The picture displays excellent contrast with an attractive film-like quality and a thin layer of natural grain. This allows for colors to pop off the screen, especially the greens on the surrounding foliage. Blood reds are also vibrant and animated while other softer hues are cleanly-rendered and bold. Blacks are accurate and often richly penetrating, particularly in nighttime sequences, without sacrificing shadow delineation. Fine objects and textural details are very well-defined given the age of the film, but a good amount of softness is still prevalent. There are also a few scenes where the overall palette fades slightly and grain suddenly thickens, looking a bit like video noise.
In the end, this is a massive improvement and terrific upgrade over last year's DVD release from Universal.
Like other titles from the Scream Factory line, 'The Island (1980)' comes with two audio options: 5.1 surround sound or 2.0 stereo. The first is actually not half bad, spreading Ennio Morricone's score evenly in the back with good bursts of discrete effects. However, the rear speakers come in a tad too loud and generally feel strange since they bring too much attention to themselves.
As if often the case, the original the DTS-HD Master Audio stereo soundtrack is the clear winner here, which might have a good deal to do with personal preference as well. Still, the lossless mix feels sturdier overall and more natural with a broad and spacious soundstage. Imaging exhibits excellent channel separation and a detailed mid-range, maintaining outstanding clarity in the upper frequencies during an action-packed third act. Low bass is equally robust and appropriate, providing gunshots and explosions with a hearty oomph. Whatever the choice, both high-rez tracks make for a swashbuckling good time.
The only available bonuses are three theatrical previews for 'The Island,' 'Death Valley' and 'They Live.' All three are presented in standard definition.
Based on a novel by 'Jaws' author Peter Benchley, 'The Island' is an entertaining thriller about classic 17th Century pirates still terrorizing the Caribbean Seas and amusingly meeting their match in Michael Caine. Directed Michael Ritchie, it's an enjoyable and well-made little film that shatters the romanticized image of the swashbuckling outlaws of legend. The Blu-ray arrives with strong video and an excellent audio presentation, but the overall package is a disappointing bare-bones release which only fans will find worth collecting.