“I’m just prepping a Victoria’s Secret thing,” super-director Michael Bay reported, calling in from a commercial. “I’m scouting around.”
It’s not easy being the current king of Hollywood, the go-to guy for big-budget action flicks like “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor” and the “Bad Boys” films. Now with his new adventure, “The Island,” currently unspooling in theaters, the director/producer finds himself in the unusual position of having to sell what might just be the quietest blockbuster of his career.
“I personally think we have huge marketing challenges on this movie,” Bay conceded. “I think ultimately it will hurt the movie, because I don’t think a lot of people will find [it].”
As one might expect, the longtime critical piñata is simultaneously finding himself with the best reviews of his career. “I’ve heard so many people say, ‘God, I never heard about this movie,’ and then in the next sentence they’ll say, ‘I love this movie,’ or ‘I’ve never liked your movies, but I love this movie,’ ” lamented the former music-video director, who recently turned 40.
“You see, what’s going on in the studio system … we’re making reruns of bad TV shows now. I think it’s a confusing time in Hollywood. This movie’s riskier, because … we have great actors, but they’re not what you’d call ‘movie stars.’ I’ve got to tell you — it’s really frustrating that there aren’t a lot of fresh ideas out there.”
Referring to “The Island” as his “non-remake remake,” Bay insists that it’s his intention to create a fresh, topical, plausible science-fiction tale, even if it’s threatened with being buried under such easier-defined fare as “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” While he concedes that audiences may recognize evocations of such classics as “THX 1138″ or “Logan’s Run,” his movie might just be the most original idea you’ll see this summer.
“When I get a script, I kind of go into movie sabbatical. I don’t go and watch a hundred sci-fi movies,” Bay said. “I’ve seen all the sci-fi movies; I saw ‘Logan’s Run’ when I was a kid. I just wanted to make my own, but my whole thing was the human aspect of this thing, and to make a fun ride for people. We’re not preaching to people, it’s just a cautionary tale.”
“The Island” concerns a resident (Ewan McGregor) of a futuristic utopia who discovers that he is actually a clone manufactured for the purpose of providing spare parts to his real-life doppelgänger (see “Rewind: ‘The Island’ Brings The Clone Flick ‘Round Again” ). When he grabs a charming young co-clone (Scarlett Johansson) in an attempt to escape, the two begin a chain of events that threatens to destroy, rather than simply harvest, them both.
“There is a proximity-regulation in this facility,” Johansson recounted while talking about the unique forbidden love story within the film. “They don’t want clones mating, it wouldn’t be good, so we take libido suppressants which keep us from one another. But the sort of romantic and sweet thing about it is it goes to show you that even with all of this, we’re attracted to each other … not sexually, but that we [have a common bond]. Whether it’s fate or destiny, it kind of brings us close.”
This libido-suppressing subplot, coupled with the demented notion that a clone is worth more dead than alive, makes this one of the more thought-provoking films that will be invading your local megaplex. But don’t worry — Bay did manage to sneak in plenty of enormous action scenes.
“It was exhausting,” Johansson said of the film’s shoot. “Michael was asking a lot of you. He was asking you to be so physically active and not just that, he’s got this huge imagination and you’re just like, ‘Where does this fit into the movie?’ and he’s just like, ‘Play along. I promise it will all fit together.’ It was exhausting, but it was huge. A huge experience.”
“Action is always tough,” Bay responded to those who don’t give his films enough credit. “Audiences are continually demanding more. I’m from the old school of action, where I try to do as much real in the camera as I can. I think audiences feel the difference. That requires trying to top what I’ve done in the past, and it takes a lot of coordination. Things can go out of control when you’re going 70, 80 miles per hour.”
That action will keep a smile on the audience’s faces, but Bay wanted to tackle topicality with this film while making the future feel all too close. “We already live in a weird world,” Bay declared. “We live in a dark world. This is, to me, science fiction, but I have spoken to some wacky DNA scientists who say, ‘Well, if we did this, this and this, we could birth adults.’ We’re talking way out in the future. But this is all hyper-probability.
“I guarantee you someone in the world is mucking around with humans right now,” Bay continued. “Just after finishing the movie, a human embryo was created in Korea … you can have your dog cloned.”
The possibilities are as terrifying, it seems, as they are intriguing. “I’d probably treat it as an equal,” Johansson laughed when asked what she’d do with a real-life clone. “We’d probably shop together, eat together, watch movies together, compliment one another and hang out. I’d have her run out and trick the paparazzi as I stepped into my car. That kind of thing.”
“I’d have him wash my cars,” Bay supposed when asked about his ideal clone. “My cars are quite messy all the time, and I’d have him fill them up with gas.”
Yes, it’s not easy being Michael Bay. In a summer that has so far found Hollywood offering up ill-advised clones of everything from “The Honeymooners” to “Bewitched,” however, perhaps it’s time to give him some credit for stepping off the beaten path. Maybe, just maybe, cloning a few more copies of the king of Hollywood wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.
Check out everything we’ve got on “The Island.”
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