The Island (1980)

Director: Michael Ritchie

Starring: Michael Caine, David Warner, Angela Punch McGregor, Frank Middlemass, Don Henderson, Dudley Sutton

Written by: (based on the novel) Peter Benchley

Running Time: 109 mins

Original UK Cert: X

Original UK Release: 13th June 1980

Peter Benchley must have felt like the luckiest man alive when his best-selling book, Jaws, became a movie phenomenon. He also must have felt like he had a Midas touch and everything else would turn to gold. So his next novel, another watery saga, The Deep, was picked up, it didn’t have half the attention or box office numbers as his shark story, even with Jacquelyn Bissett seen in a wet tee-shirt. Lightning, so it seems, doesn’t always strike twice. Still he had a third novel, just completed and already snatched up by Universal, the makers of Jaws. Another water-based adventure/horror, this time around pirates with Michael Caine in the lead and a Benchley screenplay. A sure-fire hit? No, more a big, fat turkey and Benchley only has himself to blame.

Investigative reporter Blair Maynor heads off to Florida with his son, Justin, to cover a story on the disappearances of ships in the area of the Bermuda triangle. Heading to a near-by island, their plane crashes, leaving them stranded. With some time to kill, Blair and Justin do some bonding by hiring a boat and going fishing. While out in the water, their craft is invaded by pirates and the pair is taken to a desolate island they call home. Blair is forced to replace the husband he killed during the ambush while Justin is taken under the wing of the chief pirate, John David Nau. Blair has to figure out a way off the island if he is to save his son from being brainwashed.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the premise. A tale of forgotten pirates who capture a report sounds like a rip-roaring adventure with added gore for those who like a touch of violence. All in the more than capable hands of the 1970’s quietly impressive directors, Michael Ritchie, who had scored big with such critical and commercial successes as The Candidate, The Bad News Bears and Semi-Tough?

So what went wrong? The main problems is that no matter how persuasive the script sounds on paper, on film it is laughably bad because instead of vicious, blood-curdling killers as the pirates, we get a cast of middle-aged British character actors speaking broken English while looking like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys heading for retirement. Terrifying, they are not!

It then makes everything else completely unbelievable. How can this band of drunken thespians manage to take over both a boat full of youngsters and, even more implausible, the US Coast Guard! As soon as you see them, when Caine’s Blair, strung up, there is almost an air of disappointment. Then to top it off, their ridiculous language, which sounds like they have lifted dialogue straight from the pages of Treasure Island.

The rest of the film becomes almost an unintentional comedy as Caine is forced to mate with Angela Punch McGregor, a highly established and respected Australian actress, cast by Ritchie after seeing her in the award winning Newsfront, only for her to deliver one syllable words and be covered in mud on her first appearance.

Caine is on auto-pilot, in that period of his career where if it pays the rent and he got a nice holiday out of it, he was on board, no matter how bad the material. David Warner, usually reliable, seems to be sleep-walking through the whole thing and as solid a director Ritchie was, here it’s nothing more than workmanlike.

Even Ennio Morricone’s score feels misguided, especially during the violent attack of the US Coast Guard’s ship, the music sounds like the heroic overtures you’d expect from a Douglas Fairbanks or Burt Lancaster salty adventure.

An enormous flop on its initial release, it has built up a cult following, falling into the ‘so bad its good’ category. It is funny for all the wrong reasons but scary and horrifying, it ain’t.


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