The Film: The Island (1980)
The Principals: Michael Caine, David Warner. Directed by Michael Ritchie. Written by Peter Benchley.
The Premise: Blair Maynard (Michael Caine) is a big city journalist dying to uncover the mystery behind decades worth of boat disappearances in the Caribbean. He finally gets the go ahead from his editor to investigate the same day he gets sidled with watching his son (he’s divorced), so he brings the boy along. Well, his mother wouldn’t be too happy, because after renting a ship Blair and his son are attacked by some ol’ timey pirates. The pirates aren’t immortal or ghosts, they’re merely a secret clan who has kept the vintage pirate way of life improbably alive all these centuries. Blair and his son are kept alive partially because the pirates need to offset the negative effects of inbreeding. Blair is forced to impregnate a chick and his son is brainwashed and assimilated by the pirate leader (the awesomely awesome David Warner).
Is It Good: It’s savory vintage 1980 b-movie cheese, and it features a superbly over-the-top exploitation ending. Plus it has a delightfully retarded high-concept. I mean, after all, this does come from the mind of Peter Benchley, crusader of the high-concept marine-based action thriller. A legacy member of a famous family of writers, Benchley’s whole career sustained a major uptick in respectability because of Spielberg’s wildly unfaithful adaption of his somewhat boorish novel Jaws. Failing to realize that Spielberg had wisely removed the crime element from Jaws, Hollywood was briefly interested in carrying on with Benchley and his high-concept oceanic thrillers, clenching out The Deep and The Island before deciding to call it quits on the author. Fortunately this bit of mad silliness managed to eek its way out.
Michael Caine is a rare actor that I relish in both good and bad cinema equally. And as he loves to admit himself, he’s in a lot of “lesser” cinema. A lot of that garbage is pretty delicious though, especially from this general time period. The Hand. The Swarm. This bad boy. Praising Caine is pretty boring at this point, cause he’s always good-to-great and we all know he’s always good-to-great. We also all know that David Warner is always awesome, but I never seem to tire of slobbering praise on Warner. David Warner! As a pirate king! Come on! The parental love triangle that forms between Caine, Warner and the boy is the most ridiculous and fun aspect of the movie, as the kid is pretty easily converted into a murderous lil’ bastard with zero love for his father.
The film teases you a bit with gore during the prologue, in which a boat of vacationing businessmen get slaughtered by the pirates. The scene features a spectacular gutting by ax, that could easily lead one to believe the film was going to be a veritable slasher flick of pirate massacres, but alas, such is not the case. Though the film isn’t light on action and eventually we get the gore back too. The highlight of The Island, and what makes it worth keeping the film’s memory at least partially alive these decades later, is the big climax in which – SPOILER ALERT – Michael Caine turns a US Navy ship’s turret gun on a deck full of pirates, laying bloody waste to the whole lot. Great fucking scene. High five Michael Ritchie!
Speaking of Ritchie, despite its dead serious concept – or possibly necessitated by its dead serious concept – film is humorful (to coin a word), which one should expect from Michael Ritchie. Though he started his career off with the dour Downhill Racer, Ritchie went on to make a name for himself with dark yet surprisingly upbeat and charming comedies, like The Candidate, The Bad News Bears, and Fletch. And he infuses the film with a sly wink that it desperately needs to survive.
Is It Worth A Look: Sure. If you think you might enjoy this than you’re likely the kind of person who will enjoy it. Good luck finding it though. I believe you can “rent it” from Amazon’s streaming function. I also think there might be a PAL DVD floating out there somewhere.
Random Anecdote: The film was nominated for Worst Actor and Worst Director, but not Worst Picture, at the very first Razzie Awards (fuck the Razzies; they’re even stupider than the Oscars). Also, Anthony Hopkins was originally asked to play the lead. But this was 1980 and he hadn’t decided to start accepting any film that was offered to him. If they remake The Island now then he’s all set.