The Island (2005) (part 2 of 3)
As someone who’s seen Parts: The Clonus Horror more times than I care to count, I was trying my best not to deliberately look for similarities between Clonus and The Island. For the sake of fairness, I wanted to imagine two writers working independently, both beginning with the same basic concept of “a clone farm for the rich and powerful”. Given that, could they conceivably have come up with two scripts this similar?
Probably not. In fact, the plot outline of The Island is identical to Clonus, except with a few key scenes rearranged. And there may be a number of plot points that are new to The Island, but as I learned from the DVD commentary, almost every scene without a Clonus counterpart was the idea of Michael Bay. So Tredwell-Owen’s original script was probably even more like Clonus than the finished film. I won’t go through all ninety points of contention from Fiveson’s complaint, but here’s what I think are the key similarities between the two movies.
This is the biggie. In both films, all the clones want is to reach a magical place where they’re promised happiness and fulfillment. It is their only goal in life. But it turns out to be a cover-up for when clones are killed and harvested for their organs. Frankly, I don’t see how this idea logically flows from the basic clone farm concept. In 1971’s The Resurrection Of Zachary Wheeler, for instance, the clones in the “clone farm” never achieve consciousness. In Kazuo Ishiguro’s recent cloning novel Never Let Me Go, clones are fully aware of what their true purpose is, and accept their life lots as organ donors. Granted, if this were the only similarity between the two films then I could possibly accept it as coincidence, but there’s a whole lot more.
I’ll admit, in a clone farm, obviously a common activity would be exercise. The people in charge would want to keep those clones in shape, after all. So I suppose it could naturally follow that clones would frequently wear track clothes. But where did The Island get the idea that clones would always wear track clothes, even when relaxing, if not from Clonus? Worse yet, in both films the track clothes are used as obnoxious product placement (for Adidas in Clonus, for Puma in The Island).
In Clonus, the clones are closely monitored by guards who talk on earpieces. At one point, they have to separate the two leads, Richard and Lena. In The Island, clones are monitored by “censors” who talk into earpieces. At two points in the movie, censors receive “proximity warnings” and have to move in to prevent Lincoln and Jordan from actually touching. This part didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I understand the clones in The Island weren’t aware of sex, and perhaps touching could lead to sex, but what exactly was the reasoning behind preventing sex in the first place? It’s never really explained, and as such it just stands out as another Clonus reference. The censors even wear black track suits, echoing the dark blue running suits of the Clonus guards.
On the commentary track, Bay describes telling his actors that they were to act “like children”, and talks about a “childish innocence” to the clones that was “fun for the actors to play”. I immediately flashed back to Robert Fiveson’s commentary for Clonus, where he remembers instructing his cast to act mentally challenged, including the infamous “clone blink” where they had to hold their eyes closed for a beat on each blink. I can appreciate that in this situation, you wouldn’t breed clones to be very smart, but that fact that it becomes a plot point in The Island is what makes it suspicious to me. There’s even a scene where Lincoln sees new arrivals reciting Fun with Dick and Jane in unison, and it’s very similar to the clones in the auditorium saying “Lesson Ten!” in unison in Clonus.
In Clonus, we’re told Richard and Lena have been deliberately bred to be smarter than the average clone. This abnormal intelligence eventually leads Richard to escape from Clonus. It’s the same situation for the main characters in The Island, with the only difference being Lincoln’s intelligence is an accidental defect in the Echo generation of clones. In both films, we see these “smarter than average” clones questioning authority. (Richard angrily wonders aloud who the guards talk to on their earpieces, while Lincoln angrily wonders aloud who cleans his clothes and puts them in his dresser every night.) Lincoln raises these questions in a workplace conversation with Jones, which echoes (no pun intended) a lunchroom scene between Richard and a clone I called “Fred” in my review of Clonus.
In both films, an object from the outside world is discovered, eventually provoking the main character to question the truth. In Richard’s case, it’s a can of Old Milwaukee that washes up in the river. In Lincoln’s case, it’s a butterfly (though it looks more like a moth to me). I’ll admit, the butterfly is a far classier plot device than a can of cheap beer, and I did like the added layer of the clones being told the outside world was contaminated. But whereas Clonus at least has a little bit of resolution (when Richard finds Milwaukee on a map and realizes he’s been lied to), the butterfly thing seems somewhat superfluous to the happenings in The Island.
In both films, there’s lots of physical sparring going on, usually with an audience of other clones. In Clonus, George wrestles with another clone, and has a push-up contest with Richard. The Island‘s version has Lincoln and Jordan standing near a cage where their virtual clones (hah!) have a fight. (I’m not sure of the sport, but it sure isn’t boxing. It seemed more like ultimate fighting… of the future!) At best, this would be a mildly conspicuous similarity, except for one thing: In both films, the lead’s best friend is told right after the match that they’re going to the Island/America. See what I mean when I said the plot outlines match almost exactly?
In both films, the lead clone sneaks out of bed at night and ends up in a building resembling a hospital, with long white corridors (in Clonus, the “Main Building” or “Round Building”; in The Island, a nameless facility). In this building, the lead clone learns all the secrets of the colony. In both films, green fluid is injected to kill a clone here. In both films, the dead clone is then covered with a plastic tarp. I have to say, it’s this last point that gets me. I guess both movies wanted to play up how the clones were treated as garbage, but a clear plastic tarp in both movies?
And if that’s not enough, in both films a “dead” clone wakes up at the very last moment to scream and struggle before finally meeting his fate (George in Clonus, Michael Clarke Duncan in The Island). The only difference between the two is that what happens to George is split across two characters in The Island.
Also seen in Michael Clarke Duncan’s surgery is a bone saw, used prominently in Clonus lobotomies.
Both films have their leads escaping through corridors of pipes and across catwalks, occasionally meeting and scuffling with guards/censors on their way out. In The Island, Lincoln and Jordan run through a dark, steam-filled corridor, and the camera is titled at the exact same angle (albeit reversed) used to show Richard running through corridors in Clonus. (Perhaps this is what Fiveson referred to in the interview when he claimed Bay had copied shots from Clonus.) I doesn’t seem like Caspian Tredwell-Owen would have been in a position to suggest camera angles, but who knows? Perhaps a description in his screenplay inspired Bay in that direction.
Ah, but there’s more. In both films, the escape ends with the leads running through a drainage pipe, and then ending up out in the remote desert. To cap off the chase, Lincoln and Jordan stand atop a tall rocky bluff and survey their surroundings, just like Richard did in Clonus.
In both movies, the lead clone goes directly to the person he’s a copy of. Rather stupidly, one would think, they both appeal for help from the one person who most wants to see them dead. And in both movies the sponsor agrees to help, but ultimately turns on the clone. The only real difference is that in Clonus, Older Richard honestly wants to help Younger Richard at first, but has a major change of heart after talking to his brother. Whereas Tom Lincoln appears to have been a jerk from day one. Another conspicuous similarity is that in both films, everyone decides that going to reporters (instead of, say, a government or law enforcement agency) would be the best thing to do.
In Clonus, Older Richard’s brother is a senator running for President of the United States. In The Island, Lincoln notices that the President of the United States looks exactly like one of his friends back at the facility. This is so totally random and unnecessary that I can’t think of any reason it’s in there, other than as some sort of homage to Clonus.
In both films, the movie ends when the lead returns to the clone colony. At least in The Island it makes some sort of sense, because the movie actually gives them a reason to go back. In Clonus, all we’re told is Richard “misses his girl”. But of course, the downbeat ending of Clonus has been replaced with a happy ending that includes a fistfight to the death between Lincoln and Dr. Merrick. I think I prefer the Clonus ending, though seeing Tim Donnelly smack Dick Sargent around might have been interesting.
Of particular interest are the elements of The Island that were more or less the idea of Michael Bay: Showing clones being born, showing new “survivors” being introduced to the colony, showing the clones get their memory imprints from video screens, these were all things we never saw in Clonus, and Michael Bay takes full credit for all of them appearing in The Island. In fact, it became something of a running joke as I listened to the commentary, because I was able to predict with amazing accuracy whenever Bay would take credit for a scene or idea.
And this list, if you can believe it, contains just the obvious similarities. It could be argued (and I’m sure it will be argued) that a lot of this is coincidence. And it’s true; I could buy most of these similarities naturally flowing from the basic idea of a “clone farm”. But when you’ve got dozens of them, all occurring at exactly the same moments in their respective movies, it really does beggar belief.
The sad part is that people (myself included) have been saying for years that Clonus could have been a great movie, if only it had had a bigger budget. And essentially, that’s what he have here in The Island: a big budget remake of Clonus. And yet, people are still complaining.
The plagiarism stuff is probably what’s most bothersome, but even ignoring all that, The Island is far from what it could have been. It’s a better movie than Clonus, to be sure, but it’s apparent that a great clone movie is still out there, waiting to be made. Hopefully, when that movie does get made, it’ll be a lot more original than The Island.