Forty years ago following the highly successful Jaws and to some degree The Deep, Hollywood was still keen to tap into the mind of their creator, Peter Benchley and create more scares from the ocean. Fortunately Benchely had not long produced a novel called The Island.
Starring Michael Caine still riding high from the fame that film success brought during the 60s and 70s, and David Warner, who equally had shown his acting chops through Straw Dogs, The Omen, and Cross of Iron, which detailed the strength on display in the cast. The concept would show Caine as a journalist, Blair Maynard, who gets a scoop on some boats that have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle, and is lured by the mythology surrounding it. Maynard is a workaholic with his eyes on getting the latest newsworthy revelation. He also happens to be divorced with split custody of his son, Justin and decides to drag him along with him despite false promises of taking him to Disney World. He gets more than he bargained for however, when his plane not only crash lands on a remote island, but also he is commandeered while on his fishing boat by a hoard of pirates. It’s here that the movie takes a notable shift in tone and becomes a story of survival as Maynard tries to escape his captors, but also rescue his son who has been subjected to their ways as a means to lure him into their tribe.
Upon its release however, The Island sank heavily at the box office and caused film critic Leonard Maltin to cast his lowest rating, a BOMB, on the film, and bagging both director Michael Ritchie, and Michael Caine with Raspberry nominations for their contribution.
So, what went wrong? Was it a case of misdirection? Misinterpretation?
Or just a plain misfire?
The first thing that struck me upon revisiting this film was that the plotline was incredibly messy, and there were too many themes at play that by the time it settles on the island in question, we’re beyond caring too much about the plight of Maynard and Son. It comes across as an incredibly convoluted dream jumping from hard-hitting news theory with a mystical twist into a family drama and then into survival horror.
The father son relationship feels forced too and doesn’t ever gel, which is partly down to the set up, as they are supposed to be estranged. The issue is that the script needed to offer a kernel of a connection for us to want them to be brought together throughout their turmoil. Justin’s leap into the arms of Warner’s island leader, Nau, is all too quick and with it any strip of humanity is buried, even when into the film’s conclusion.
It’s fair to say that this isn’t Caine’s finest moment either, casting his Maynard as a cross between Charlie Croker and Harry Palmer, which doesn’t work and leaves the character either too cold or jovial in the wrong places.
It’s not clear the tone that Ritchie was going for as there are moments that it could go dark, but he’s also striving for that sense of adventure and the danger that comes with it, and in doing so ends up a little lost at sea which probably accounts for why this film has been forgotten over time.