THE ISLAND (Blu-ray/DVD combo) (1981)
Director: Michael Ritchie
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Five years after they brought JAWS to the screen, David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck mounted another Peter Benchley adaptation (minus Spielberg) with the R-rated modern-day pirate yarn THE ISLAND.

A trio of doctors on a fishing trip off is the latest in a long string of disappearances of boats in the Caribbean – staggering enough that one would have assumed that here would have been an official investigation by now, although we are told that there are over 1200 charted and uncharged islands in the area – but journalist Blair Maynard (Michael Caine, ASHANTI) isn’t ready to jokingly write it off as yet another casualty of the Bermuda Triangle. When his ex-wife takes a sudden business trip, Maynard is forced to take his son Justin (Jeffrey Frank) with him down to Florida on his investigation (under the pretense of visiting Disney World). After crash-landing in Navidad (for no other reason than to inject some more action into the first half of the film), Maynard hires a fishing boat from British ex-pat Windsor (Frank Middlemass, BARRY LYNDON) to go marlin fishing with his son (and investigate the area of the crash). They come across a life boat and a young girl who turns out to be a decoy for an attack on the boat by buccaneers out of the seventeenth century. Maynard manages to shoot one of the men before getting knocked out, and wakes to find himself on trial by the buccaneers for the man’s death. They find him guilty and sentence him to death, but the group’s leader John David Nau (David Warner, TIME AFTER TIME) – who believes that Maynard and his son are descendants of Robert Maynard, the man who killed Blackbeard – decides that Maynard should give the dead man’s widow Beth (Angela Punch-McGregor, THE SURVIVOR) a son (“Puta need hombre.”) while deciding to make Justin his own heir since three hundred years of inbreeding has resulted in almost complete infant mortality. When Maynard tries to escape, he finds that the buccaneers have managed to brainwash Justin who offers to lead the hunt to capture and kill him (“He kill his father, he kill his past”).

JAWS author Peter Benchley adapts his own novel this time around, but there’s plenty of blame to go around for THE ISLAND’s failure to thrill. It’s also difficult to gauge exactly what audience Brown and Zanuck were aiming for since the meager bits of R-rated dialogue, nudity, and gore – uncredited but reportedly the work of Stan Winston and restricted to one scene that may have been reshot to up the violence since the later larger scale attack scenes later in the film lack any gore highlights that come close to the opening – are few and far between. It probably would have done better as a PG film with the darker aspects present but downplayed to an extent. Caine seems a rather noncommittal lead, so his character’s relationship with his son doesn’t exactly pull at the heartstrings in the first place; and then, we cut to the ensuing attack on a schooner which – despite Maynard’s glum countenance – seems out of tone with Ennio Morricone’s stirring accompaniment and the manner in which one hapless victim’s attempts to defend himself with karate seems to be played for laughs (as if the film has forgotten who the villains are simply because they’re doing something exciting). In any scenes not anchored by Caine or Warner – who seems slightly embarrassed at having to utter lines in broken English – the buccaneers seem more like older versions of the desert children in MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (or, more to the point, “assholes playing Long John fucking Silver” – as Maynard puts it – than “living history” as another describes them). One other questionable element is how quickly the child characters here are brainwashed (two of the child characters seem to have been grabbed in attacks only days before the story proper, and Justin seems to have transformed overnight). Jean-Pierre Melville’s cinematographer of choice Henri Decae contributes some attractive landscape vistas while Ennio Morricone supplies some beautiful cues (as well as some very un-Morricone big movie bombast bits for the action scenes).

THE ISLAND was previously released on DVD by Universal as part of their barebones burn-on-demand series, presumably from the same HD master that was provided to Shout! Factory for this release. The high bitrate dual-layer DVD and single-layer Blu-ray encodings sport an attractive if not spectacular 2.35:1 widescreen transfer (those hoping that the Blu-ray will reveal a wealth of detail and textures in the night scenes will be in for disappointment). While the back cover lists only mono audio, the discs sport both the original Dolby Stereo mix in 2.0 as well as a 5.1 upmix (Dolby Digital for the DVD tracks and DTS-MA for the Blu-ray), as well as English SDH subtitles. The sole extras are a fullscreen trailer (2:05) – pilarboxed on the Blu-ray – as well as trailers for DEATH VALLEY and THEY LIVE. (Eric Cotenas)