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<i>The Island</i> Explores Politically Sensitive Subject of Cloning

The hot button political issue of cloning provides the framework for a high-decibel, high-energy action movie from director Michael Bay. Alan Silverman has a look at The Island.

The time is the not-too-distant future; the place is a self-contained community, isolated from the outside world, where the residents, all in matching white jumpsuits, go about their carefully monitored daily routines.

Lincoln-six-echo and his fellow residents are told that they are among the few survivors of a global contamination. The hope they live for is to be relocated to last uncontaminated place on Earth: "The Island." That's what they are told; but Lincoln (played by Ewan MacGregor) and his friend Jordan-two-delta (played by Scarlett Johansson) accidentally learn the stunning truth.

The clones are high priced insurance policies for the super rich, who can afford to buy, perhaps not immortality, but at least a second chance by sacrificing the clones to harvest their transplantable organs. That, it turns out, is their true destiny - not the idyllic island. So Lincoln and Jordan escape and set out on a desperate run to reveal this secret to the world.

Twenty-year-old Scarlett Johansson has established herself as a dramatic star in acclaimed films like Lost In Translation and The Girl With The Pearl Earring. She admits an action film is something different for her, but she doesn't believe the cloning theme should get in the way of entertainment.

"When I come out of a film that I've just paid $10 to see and spent 15 bucks on popcorn, after all, you just want to be entertained," she says. "You just want to say 'that was cool. I had a good time and it was a fun experience for me.' I don't really feel that films always have to deliver the 'big picture.' That can be so preachy and boring. So I just hope people have a great time when they watch it. It's a trip."

On the other hand, Steve Buscemi, who co-stars as an outsider who knows the secret and helps the escaped clones, says the underlying theme is what attracted him.

"If it was just about explosions and car chases, I wouldn't have an interest in doing the film," he says. "Hopefully it's the story and the characters that are as compelling as the car chases. Still with the thought that this is supposed to be a fun, fantasy-type film, I like the dark aspects of it and that's what makes it doubly entertaining."

The Island director Michael Bay is today's leading creator of loud, action-packed, 'thrill ride' films; and Bay says putting story before action - at least for a little while - proved quite a challenge.

"On this story, I was trying to challenge myself by doing a much slower build to the movie," he says. "Oh, it hurt. I said 'I've got to do some action in the beginning.' I was forcing myself not to and a drew it out for 30 minutes. Then I just love how that switch happens and the movie takes off; but you think 'is the audience going to get bored?' This younger generation - do they want something faster? Hopefully they're going to like the beginning of this movie: the whole innocence and a lot of subtle subtext that's going on in it. I love when you watch the movie and you're thinking 'there's something wrong here, but I can't put my finger on it.' "

Is The Island a cautionary tale about the dangers of cloning? Executive producer Laurie MacDonald contends that's a stretch.

"Clearly it's a fantasy," she says. "While we try take the science seriously in the movie, it's beyond anything anyone can imagine and will happen, I think. It is interesting science fiction because it does connect to real world issues, but the movie, I think, just poses the questions. There's a kind of tradition in science fiction of looking at new technologies and asking 'how far will it go?' and what our responsibility is. 'We need to ask questions' is what you should come out of the movie thinking."

The cast of The Island also features English actor Sean Bean as the head of the clandestine cloning lab. Michael Clarke Duncan is another of the ill-fated clones; and Benin-born Djimon Hounsou plays a bounty hunter who has to decide which side deserves his deadly skills. But mostly, The Island features director Michael Bay's signature action sequences with car chases, gunfights, explosions and ear-splitting mayhem.