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Life on ‘The Island'
July 19, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

A life-affirming film from Hollywood that actually made it through the development machinations at DreamWorks is called "The Island," and it's set to open in multiplexes on July 22.

The film is a sci-fi action thriller with an extraordinary cast, convincing futuristic sets and a host of innovative special effects. Its real value, though, lies in the thought-provoking issues that are raised in the story line.

Exposed in the movie is the covert immorality that lies behind today's embryonic stem cell research, which, in reality, is cloning in disguise.
The respect for the dignity of life shown in the movie has already raised the hackles of some folks in the critic community.

Evidently, the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt was bothered by the possible use of the movie by those on the right.

"What's troubling from a political point of view is that these filmmakers have, perhaps unwittingly, delivered a film certain to give succor to the religious right," Honeycutt writes.

"In this ethical horror story," Honeycutt adds, "scientists experimenting with human genetics to advance medicine and cure illness are cast as Dr. Frankenstein villains. The chief villain, Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), mouths platitudes about curing leukemia but clearly has greed in his heart."

Apparently, Honeycutt believes Big Biotech's motives are strictly altruistic.

Variety's Justin Chang belittles the ethical content. He muses that "Bay ultimately is interested in the science and ethics of cloning only insofar as they provide a backdrop for all the vehicular chaos he's set to unleash. (Ancillary moral: Clones are human, too.)"

CompuServe's Harvey Karten speculates that the film is one the president will probably enjoy.

"Maybe you can't blame President Bush if he refuses to see Michael Moore's documentary ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.'... Bush is likely, however, to take in ‘The Island,' a smart sci-fi piece by action director Michael Bay (‘Armageddon,' ‘Pearl Harbor'), whose theme mirrors that of the typical 1950s sci-fi/horror genre, ‘Maybe we human beings were not meant to tamper with nature.'"

Karten then editorializes, "If our chief executive will not allow even the generation of stem cells from embryos despite their putative use to find cures for diseases like Alzheimer's, he's certainly not going to be copacetic about laboratory-created adults for use by rich folks, each to use a clone as an insurance policy should the customer require organ transplants."

So, how did a positive, life-affirming message like the one in "The Island" make it all the way from DreamWorks' incubators to your friendly neighborhood theater?

It may have something to do with a ticking clock, and perhaps a chink in Steven Spielberg's otherwise liberal armor.

The script for the flick was originally written on spec by British screenwriter Caspian Tredwell-Owen, who also penned "Beyond Borders."

The life-oriented tone was present in the original script, for which Spielberg authorized a cool million dollars to obtain.

After the project was given to director Bay, he worked with Tredwell-Owen for a few weeks but was apparently unhappy with the way script development was proceeding. So Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci were brought in.

Kurtzman and Orci had written for the hit TV series "Alias," as well as features like "The Legend of Zorro" and "Mission: Impossible 3." The two writers were told that they had only four months to come up with a final product that DreamWorks would be happy with. The writers rose to the challenge, but the production's tempo was still pedal to the metal. The movie was shot in only 83 days, the pro-life message remaining intact.

It's reminiscent of the 1975 film "Logan's Run," which Bryan Singer plans to remake as soon as he finishes "Superman Returns" sometime next year.

Adding a tasteful soundtrack, Bay has elicited an intense portrayal from Ewan McGregor ("Star Wars: Episodes I, II & III," "Moulin Rouge") and a luminous performance from Scarlett Johansson ("Lost in Translation," "Girl With a Pearl Earring").

McGregor appears as Lincoln Six-Echo, a resident of a stark, highly controlled futuristic facility. Lincoln and his fellow residents long to win a lottery, where the prize is being chosen to leave the austere "institute" and go live on the "island."

In "Matrix"-like manner, Lincoln stumbles upon evidence that his life and surroundings are a lie. He and close friend Jordan Two-Delta (Johansson) break out of the facility and for the first time venture into the outside world.

The bad guy scientists give chase and also give Bay the opportunity to display his prodigious action scene chops.

Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou ("In America," "Gladiator") is a mercenary who is hired to hunt down Lincoln and Jordan. Sean Bean ("National Treasure," "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy) plays the appropriately depraved scientist. And Steve Buscemi ("The Sopranos") plays an employee of the institute with a semblance of conscience.

Interestingly, despite the powerful questions that the film raises about embryonic stem cell research, actress Johansson is on record as being in favor of embryonic stem cell research.

"I think that there's a lot of wonderful possibilities erupting," Johansson told Moviehole. "I mean, if they could eliminate diseases like Alzheimer's and polio that would be incredible."

Perhaps Johansson is unaware that adult stem cell research shows far more promise for curing the diseases that she mentions than embryonic research does. And new technology is on the horizon that can harvest the equivalent of embryonic stem cells without the destruction of human life.

Maybe after Johansson and others watch the film, and possibly read up on the assets of adult stem cell research and liabilities of embryonic, they'll find out what biotech companies have been up to — the justification of human cloning using the very same rationale the bad guys used in this flick.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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