Blu-ray Review: 'The Island' (1980)

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So there was that one time that Michael Caine starred was in an 80's movie where he was being terrorized by inbred pirates in the middle of the Caribbean based on a novel by the author of "Jaws" from the man who would go on to direct "Fletch" and "The Golden Child." And it's hard to imagine the movie in anyone's mind conjured up by the description synching up with 1980's "The Island," the latest thriller unearthed by Scream Factory and released to Blu-ray.

The action begins on a chartered boat, where three middle-aged doctors fish out in the middle of the Caribbean when they notice a canoe floating in with what seems like a dead body under a tarp. It's no dead body and before the scene is over we get the first unexpectedly gory bursts of violence from the film. In a New York magazine office, we learn from investigative reporter Blair Maynard (Caine) that over the years, hundreds of ships have gone missing in the region, and he's intent on finding out just what's going on.

With his son Justin in tow (Jeffrey Frank in one of only two roles for the young actor), they fly down to Ft. Lauderdale where a series of misadventures results in Blair being taken captive as a sex slave for one of the pirate women while 12-year-old Justin is indoctrinated and groomed for leadership given how un-inbred he is.

More than anything, "The Island" seems hell-bent on de-mythologizing the pirate, from their hardscrabble, violent lives to their secondhand, pidgin language, to the pretty much how filthy, vicious, nasty, and horrible they are. "Jaws" author Peter Benchley, working from the screenplay based on his own 1979 novel, lays out some backstory for the pirates but for the most part allows to pick occupy their grimy struggle for a kind of survival over the 300 years on their island hideout.

Still, I could never get the sense of how the movie was supposed to operate tonally. Director Michael Ritchie, working this one and only time in the thriller genre for the big screen, plays some scenes like they're part of an action-comedy, like the band of pirates' encounter with a karate-kicking crewman on a cocaine yacht, while the jaunty score by "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" composer Ennio Morricone jumps back and forth from swashbuckling adventure to something more sinister.

Caine is pretty game for whatever "The Island" throws at him, spending much of his time in chains, plotting an escape while watching his son swiftly come under the sway of pirate leader John David Nau (David warner, "TRON," Ra's al Ghul in "Batman: The Animated Series"). We keep waiting for John David to make Justin (given the excellent pirate name of Two Barb") on his father as the final bit of indoctrination, and overall the arc of Justin's conversion to piracy felt a little rushed (it takes place with something like five days of sleep deprivation).

An interesting historical note: Hollywood flirted with pirate movies a couple more times in the first half of the 80's with varying levels of success, from the big budget adaptation of "The Pirates of Penzance" to the spoof "The Pirate Movie," and again with "Ice Pirates" (they were pirates, it says it right there in the title).

Special features and presentation

This is a good-looking disc--the image is sharp and the colors are natural throughout. I noted one tiny flaw in the print during the scene where Blair and Justin are fishing, but it's onscreen for less than a couple of seconds (if that).

Beyond its theatrical trailer, "The Island" comes to Scream Factory's DVD/Blu-ray combo with no special features. Like "Death Valley," the cover art is based on the theatrical poster with the interior made up of stills.

"The Island" is available now in a DVD/Blu-ray combo from Scream Factory.