Six hundred boats in three years: that's how many journalist Blair Maynard (Michael Caine) estimates have disappeared or been found abandoned off the coast of Florida, and he is keen to persuade his editor to allow him to head off down south and write up his investigations. He can take his unimpressed twelve-year-old son Justin (Jeffrey Frank) with him in an attempt to make him proud of his dad for once as a trip to Disney World should do the trick. But Justin's interests turn out to be more violent when that plan hits a snag...
When Peter Benchley wrote the bestseller Jaws, and it became a massive blockbuster of a movie which changed modern popular filmmmaking, this success also had an unforseen result: gangs roaming the seas to slaughter every shark they could find. Benchley's story had made sharks look like the villains of the deep, when really they were more industrial strength vacuum cleaners, and what he must have noted was that it was mankind who were the true threat. Therefore while he continued to write ocean-based thrillers, in many of them it was not some gigantic beast which it was best to avoid, but humanity.
Such was the case here, where the reason for the vanishings in the Caribbean is not some ravenous behemoth, and neither is it a supernatural event like the mythical Bermuda Triangle, it is actually a band of pirates. Now, piracy on the high seas is nothing new and never died out after its perceived heyday in the seventeenth century, but these bad guys are descendents of those "classic" individuals, and act as if three hundred years had not passed at all. It's a novel idea as well as an idea for a novel, yet while the book did well for the author, when he wrote the screenplay for this things started to go wrong.
Not so much during filming, as it seemed to be more or less the film they wanted to make, but afterwards when it resoundingly flopped at the box office, not making back its then-huge twenty-two million dollar budget and sabotaging director Michael Ritchie's heretofore prosperous career. This gave The Island the reputation as one of those all-too-renowned Michael Caine turkeys, the sort of thing he would do for the mighty paycheque and a nice holiday into the bargain, damn the consequences for his career or the state of modern cinema. However, after a few years this amassed a following of those who saw its adventure and thought it had something interesting to say about violence and its place in society, both as entertainment and as the corrupting influence the real thing had on the soul.
After some convolutions, including a trip to a gun range Maynard semi-reluctantly takes Justin to on the boy's insistence and a plane crashlanding on one of the islands he needs to get to for his story, the two of them are captured by the pirates. Led by David Warner, they have a worrying effect on Justin as he likes the idea of being brought up by these ne'erdowells more than his weaker-willed father, and Maynard, who is spared when the men think he is a descendant of a pirate himself, has a battle on his hands. He finds himself eyeing the exits and finding them blocked as he is unofficially wed to the community's only non-inbred woman, Beth (Angela Punch McGregor), and watches his son lapse into savagery. With a weirdly convincing society the buccaneers exist as, slangy dialogue and all, this was a better film than given credit for; perhaps the disgust in the final scenes for supposedly cathartic bloodletting that gave audiences food for thought, or maybe the premise, were too hard to take? Music by Ennio Morricone, as with much of this unsure whether to play for thrills or chills.
American director, from television, whose films of the 1970s showed an interesting, sardonic take on America. After sour skiing drama Downhill Racer, he had an unhappy experience on the bizarre Prime Cut before a run of acclaimed movies: political satire The Candidate, the excellent Smile, coarse comedy The Bad News Bears, and another sporting comedy Semi-Tough.