Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) awakes in his room after another nightmare which leaves him shaken. But there's a lot that bothers him nowadays; as a survivor of dramatic, near-Apocalyptic event that almost wiped out the human race, Lincoln lives in a huge city with the other survivors where his day to day life is regulated by those in charge, and the head man is Merrick (Sean Bean), who is concerned about his behaviour. Every so often a few of the denizens of the city win the Lottery, and a chance to leave their sterile environment for the Island, a utopia where all their troubles will be solved. Lincoln hasn't been selected yet, and neither have his friends, but surely it's only a matter of time before it's their lucky day...
Scripted by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Caspian Tredwell-Owen from Tredwell-Owen's story, The Island was co-producer-director Michael Bay's first film without the might of Jerry Bruckheimer behind him, and some saw this as the reason it pretty much flopped at the box office. But really, it wasn't much different from his previous films, with its mixture of extravagant action sequences and high concept plotting, which was perhaps the real reason it failed: we'd seen it all before. The producers blamed the stars, saying they weren't big enough to open a movie, and it's true McGregor and Scarlett Johansson (as Jordan Two Delta, Lincoln's companion) had more of a cult reputation than the likes of Will Smith, but it's not as if they were complete unknowns.
The film is a hark back to the science fiction of the sixties and seventies, notably Logan's Run and THX 1138 - but even more notably an obscure 1979 movie called The Clonus Horror, and that film's creators protested loudly when The Island was released. Rightly so, because take away the surface gloss and millions of dollars of effects budget and the two are remarkably similar, and this hackneyed air never lifts from the unofficial remake. Lincoln's world is, of course, not as benign as it seems, and after making friends with engineer Mac (Steve Buscemi in an overfamiliar performance), he gains hints that Mac knows more about the outside than he's allowed to let on.
After capturing a butterfly he finds in a maintenance room he isn't supposed to be in, Lincoln has his suspicions confirmed - there is life outside the city. Feeling brave, he goes adventuring, ending up in what looks like a hospital, and is shocked when he catches sight of two of the Lottery winners on operating tables. One woman gives birth and is executed by lethal injection, and another man (Michael Clarke Duncan) is being opened up by surgeons - suddenly he awakes and runs screaming from the room only to be brought down by the security guards. Lincoln then realises that all is not well if this is what awaits the lottery winners, and is especially worried when Jordan is next in line.
In these paranoid times, it's only to be expected that science fiction should explore the mistrust that the general population has for its superiors, and here the innocents are being ruled by a sinister authority who fool them into believing that they are perfectly safe when in fact they are being horribly exploited. However, this film doesn't exploit this storyline into anything particularly unexpected once the initial revelations are out of the way, and settles on a shallow satire on the modern obsession with the body beautiful and the lengths the rich go to to secure it rather than a more potent theme of slavery. Sure, there are the big action scenes, and McGregor has a nice bit of business as his own sleazy alter-ego, but it has a hollow sound, the sound of thundering away, caught up in its own excitement, without really engaging the viewer on the level it thinks it is, at least during the first half. Music by Steve Jablonsky.