Although never acknowledged as such, ‘The Island’ is clearly a re-make of the classic film, ‘Logan’s Run’.
I was intrigued by the trailer for the 2005 adventure film, The Island, so when I saw the DVD on my local library’s shelves I was quick to pick it up. One attraction of the film was that there was something familiar about the premise, a suspicion that was confirmed when I watched it. The Island was a twenty-first century version of the 1976 classic, Logan’s Run. However, while the plots of the two films are very similar, there are striking differences in the premise and execution.
The basic elements of both films are the same. In a self-contained domed city, we have what seems to be a utopia where young people live only for pleasure, but they are being deceived about their ultimate fate. A young man and a young woman decide to escape from the city in order to save their own lives but are unprepared for what they discover in the world outside. Meanwhile they are being relentlessly pursued by representatives of the establishment.
Spoiler alert: this review may reveal more of the plot than you want to know.
In Logan’s Run, the secret is that, in order to keep the population stable, the citizens are not allowed to live beyond the age of thirty. On their last day, they go to the Carousel, a rotating arena where they float up into the air towards a giant white crystal. Anyone who reaches the crystal will be Renewed. What the passionate participants of this ritual do not know is that no one ever reaches the crystal and everyone is killed before they get there. However, a small minority refuse to die in the Carousel and attempt to escape the city. These Runners are hunted down and eliminated by Sandmen like Logan and his partner, Francis.
When Logan is assigned to go undercover and hunt down a dissident Runner movement, he gets involved with Jessica, a suspected member of the group. His feelings for Jessica lead him to question the status quo and, pursued by Francis, he and Jessica escape the city together in search of the legendary Sanctuary. However all there is outside is a desolate landscape destroyed by war. There is no Sanctuary, but they do find love and freedom, a true Renewal.
In The Island, the secret is that the citizens of the city are clones whose only purpose is to be harvested for spare parts for their originals who live out in the real world. The citizens believe that they are the only survivors of a terrible catastrophe and that the only liveable space is their own city and a pristine Island. Their dream is that one day they’ll win the lottery and be chosen to go to the Island. What they don’t know is that the lottery is a fake, and the winners are being taken away to be harvested.
However, Lincoln has his doubts. He has dreams about another world, dreams his doctor recognises as the memories of his original. His restlessness leads him into exploring the bowels of the city and into the harvesting clinic where he sees the winner of the previous night’s lottery pleading for his life. When his best friend Jordan wins the lottery, Lincoln grabs her and runs. Pursued by a security team, they escape the city together and discover a sophisticated modern world where their originals are living… and dying.
The differences in the films reflect the different preoccupations of the generations they were made for. Logan’s Run was made in the seventies, at the height of youth culture when turning thirty was a terrifying thought, and the major fear was the outbreak of all out nuclear war. The Island was made for a generation preoccupied with their own health and well-being and whose greatest fears are genetic engineering and global warming.
Both films have their strengths and weaknesses. Logan’s Run is a sensitively made, stylish film. However, it left me with a lot of questions and loose ends. There were quite a few important aspects of the story which did not come out very clearly in the script and which I only understood after listening to the commentary. And there were several unanswered questions like: What do they live on? What do they eat?
As Logan and Jessica make their way through the bowels of the city, they find long unused food processing plants, but we never learn what the citizens are currently living on. And we are never sure why Runners are pursued so relentlessly. The Powers-that-Be, who, again, remain unexplored, would surely know there was nowhere to run, and in fact Logan and Jessica are the only ones to ever escape into the outside world. If we suspected that the citizens were actually living off the dead, this might provide an answer, but it is made clear that dead bodies are completely destroyed.
In The Island all questions are very neatly answered. We know, for example, that the city belongs to a private corporation. The clones are created as full grown adults, but it has been discovered that if they are to survive, they must have some kind of inner life, so they are fed false childhood memories and given a community to live in. However, the originals, the corporation’s clients, are told that their clones are just vegetables with no inner life. If the clients were to know the truth the cloning business would collapse. So we have a good reason why the runners are so relentlessly pursued.
However, while Logan and Jessica are pursued by one man, making the battle between Logan and Francis a human-scale one-on-one fight, Lincoln and Jordan are pursued by a hi-tech team with endless mechanical resources. Eventually their pursuit degenerates into just another Hollywood over-long, over-the-top car chase that completely detracts from the actual meaning of the story. The original script writer — for I cannot imagine that such a sequence would have been in the original script — must have been cringing in his seat when he saw the final product.
Why Hollywood does this I cannot tell. These car chase sequences must cost millions. I presume that the producers expect to recoup this in the box office. But what on earth would make then believe that the kind of viewers that like car chases would want to see a film like The Island? What is their reasoning? Have they decided that it is the woman who chooses the film based on the premise, however she would only ever go with her boyfriend, and he will only agree to go if there’s a super-duper car chase in it? What a narrow view they must have of the world.
So, despite the fact that the premise for The Island is so much more satisfactory than that of Logan’s Run, in the end Logan’s Run is a much better film. It deserves to become the classic it now is, while The Island will sink into an oblivion that could have been avoided.
© Pauline Montagna 2016