Blair Maynard (Michael Caine) is a reporter who decides to do a little investigative reporting on boats going missing in the region famously known as The Bermuda Triangle. Also going along for the trip to the Caribbean is Blair’s 12-year-old son, Justin. Blair soon finds out that there are no supernatural forces to blame for the missing ships but something just as fascinating. The ships are going missing because of a group of modern day pirates that have been operating in the area undetected for over 300 years. Blair and Justin are taken prisoner by the pirates for different, but equally disturbing reasons and taken to their secret hideaway. Now Blair must save himself and his son, and find a way off of - The Island!
I saw this film when I was 11-years-old with my brother. My Dad did not feel like babysitting and decided to drop us off at the theater for a couple hours. The teen at the ticket window wasn’t checking ages, and we decided to watch the movie that had a poster displaying a hand coming out of the water holding a knife. We were not disappointed with our choice as the movie had blood, violence, pirates, nudity, killer jellyfish, mayhem…it was everything we could have ever dreamed of. But that was almost 30 years ago. I was 11. I liked Any Which Way You Can at 11. How would the movie fare now? I decided to find out and took the time to watch this film again, and I have to say that I still like it, even though I fully understand why people think it is pure rubbish.
This was the third in Peter Benchley‘s “ocean” novels that were adapted to the big screen, proceeded by Spielberg’s Jaws, and Peter Yates’ The Deep. With a price tag rumored to be around 22 million dollars, a pretty hefty price tag for 1980, The Island ended up flopping at the box office. Where Spielberg and Yates opted to stick with the core story of Benchley’s novels, director Michael Ritchie did not and was nominated for a 1981 Razzy Award – along with lead actor Michael Caine - for his efforts. Watching the film I can understand a bit of why there was so much dislike for the film. It is an odd movie. The best I can describe it is if The Goonies periodically had scenes of the Fratelli gang graphically slitting throats of innocent people while cracking jokes.
The violence becomes apparent right out of the gate, the opening scene is extremely violent and is still a bit shocking, even with the dated effects. Future scenes do not get as graphic as this, but remain just as disturbing – most of this because of the tone. See, Ritchie directed Bad News Bears, and if any of you remember it was a pretty dark comedy, at times having the humor peppered with scenes of kids playing on a baseball team who also regularly cussed and smoked. This type of contradicting subject matter is a LOT more apparent in The Island, though not in the beginning of the film which follows Blair as he investigates the the cause of the missing boats while showing a rocky relationship with his son. Ritchie uses a less-is-more approach by not revealing too much about the pirates as they hijack and murder individuals unlucky enough to meet them out at sea. Once the pirates are revealed, and Blair and son are captured, the film completely shifts gears – focusing on the pirates and their way of living on the island along with Blair’s attempts at escaping. This is also where the film loses a lot of it’s viewers.
You are introduced to the pirates, a gaggle of British actors that include Dudley Sutton and Colin Jeavons all of them led by their leader, John David Nau (David Warner). You learn how they live, reproduce, marry, and just overall survive. At 11, I had yet to see such a motley crew as ruthless as this, and even now as I watched the film again after all these years, I still feel that the ensemble of old, toothless, pasty-faced pirates are a formidable bunch of characters. But it is in the way they are shown during this second half, that I feel The Island heads into waters that leaves a lot of viewers scratching their heads. These are not your Pirates of the Caribbean type of pirate. These are your Road Warrior type of pirate. But instead of inbred mutants roaming the barren landscape in their vehicles, raping and pillaging innocent travelers – they are in boats on the open ocean. While they have no regard for human life aside from their own, and are ruthless in the ways they murder innocent men and women and abduct their surviving children, it is all done with comedic elements. Pirates crack jokes, and scenes of cold-blooded murder are played out like comedy sketches. All of this backed by Ennio Morricone‘s excellent score that relays a since of high adventure and great achievement during these scenes which turns The Island into some sort of dark comedy.
Even though the film showcases some entertaining work from the pirate actors, David Warren remaining dignified (if not a little embarrassed) and Michael Caine and Frank Middlemass both chewing the scenery like bubble gum, the constant shifts in tone (horror, adventure, comedy), absurd plot and sketchy editing may leave a viewer asking themselves just what in the hell are they watching. I have even seen some reviewers questioning why the pirates make some of the stupid decisions they make throughout the film, but it is shown quite prominently that they live their lives via a Pirate Bible of some sort that like most ancient books, contain some absurd instructions for the reader to follow. But for me, the oddball marriage of genres in The Island still intrigues me and if you are a fan of film oddities – bonus if you like pirate violence, sarcasm and dark humor with your celluloid – you may get as much enjoyment out of this film as I do.
This is not available on a Region 1 DVD yet, even though there is a cult following that would love to see it. The only DVD release being a German Region 2 Import that I hear looks pretty good and shows off Henri Decaë’s cinematography.
Had to add, thanks to one of our members, I was alerted that this can be watched via Amazon for a 3 dollar rental. So if you are feeling brave enough to watch a film that could either become one of your favorites, or make you wonder what the hell I am smoking, Click Here To Check It Out. It’s 3 bucks for God’s sake.
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