After the success of Jaws, Zanuck/Brown were hoping lightning would strike twice with their adaptation of Peter Benchley’s pirate novel, The Island. On paper, it seemed all of the ingredients were there: they enlisted Benchley to write the screenplay, Michael Caine was cast in the lead, and noted director Michael Ritchie was brought on board to steer the ship. In the end, it was a recipe for disaster, as both audiences and critics dismissed the film during its original theatrical release in the Summer of 1980.
The Island (1980)
Studio: Shout! Factory (licensed through Universal Pictures)
US BD Release Date: December 11, 2012
Original Release Year: 1980
Running Time: 109 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Surround)
Subtitles: English (SDH)
Movie: 2.5 out of 5
Passengers and crews of pleasure boats have been disappearing within the Bermuda Triangle in the Caribbean. Newspaper reporter Blair Maynard (Michael Caine) convinces his editor to allow him to fly down to Miami to investigate. But there is a slight problem - his ex-wife left his estranged son, Justin (Jeffrey Frank), in his office for the weekend. Maynard brings his son along on the trip, reassuring him that he is taking him to Disney World (never mind that Orlando is nowhere near Miami). Following a lead, Maynard charters a cargo plane to Navidad, where they eventually become stranded after the plane crash lands on the runway, and while waiting for the next plane to arrive, they rent a boat to go fishing. They find a young girl floating in the ocean near an abandoned life raft, attempt to rescue her, but find it is a trap and get captured by a ruthless gang of pirates, descendents of a long line of buccaneers who colonized a nearby uncharted island, led by Jean-David Nau (David Warner). When Nau mistakenly believes Maynard and his son are descendants of the man that killed Blackbeard, he spares their lives, brainwashing Justin to be his son and sentencing Maynard as a breeding partner for Beth (Angela Punch McGregor), the lone woman of the group, to help balance out the depleting gene pool.
The choice of Michael Ritchie as director seems an odd one, since his specialty, at that time, was directing political satires (The Candidate with Robert Redford) and sports comedies (The Bad News Bears, Semi-Tough). Ritchie was not known for action or horror, and the action sequences in The Island are a bit flat, and the pacing is a bit too slow for a film in this genre. Cinematographer Henri Decaë’s use of shallow focus throughout much of the film can be annoying, with characters falling in and out of focus as they move through the frame (and makes this transfer even more problematic). And Ennio Morricone’s score adds a schizophrenic feel to the film, often romanticizing the pirates with a heroic theme as they pillage and plunder, while Ritchie (as well as the performances by Warner and other pirates) demonizes them. Benchley’s screenplay asks the audience to make some pretty big leaps in logic, particularly during the last ten minutes when Justin’s brainwashing almost magically goes out the window during the film’s final climax.
Video: 3 out of 5
The 1080p transfer, compressed using the AVC codec and retaining the film’s intended 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, is problematic, at best. Colors are slightly muted but consistent. Detail is often soft, making Henri Decaë’s narrow depth of field seem like vaseline had been smeared on the camera lens. Contrast is acceptable, with some crushing in the blacks during darker sequences.
Audio: 3.5 out of 5
Although not listed on the packaging, Shout! Factory has included a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack to complement the film’s original 2.0 surround mix. While the 5.1 mix provides a wider soundstage, the surround channels often sound too hot, sometimes overpowering the front channels. I double-checked my speaker settings, and they had not been altered. Other films still sounded balanced, so it is definitely part of this 5.1 remix. Dialogue occasionally sounds thin, mostly due to the technology available during the recording and mixing process. Bass response is adequate for a film of this vintage. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix fares much better, with a more balanced matrixed surround channel.
Special Features: 1 out of 5
The only bonus materials included are trailers for The Island, Death Valley, and They Live, all in standard definition, and a standard definition DVD containing the same content as the Blu-ray disc.
Overall: 3 out of 5
The Island has gained something of a cult following over the years, and fans who did not pick up Universal’s MOD DVD release last year will likely be pleased with this release. If you have never seen this film, I would recommend viewing this as a rental first.