The Island (1980) – A Review


A review of the 1980 thriller The Island, starring Michael Caine, David Warner, Angela Punch McGregor and Frank Middlemass, based on the book by Peter Benchley a reporter and his son are kidnapped by modern day pirates, directed by Michael Ritchie


Michael Caine is a reporter who is intrigued by the mysterious disappearances of boats in the legendary Bermuda Triangle. He travels off the coast of Florida with his son in tow to do some investigating and to find out the secrets to this strange phenomena. 

While out looking for clues on the open water, Caine and his son’s boat are suddenly attacked by a group of savage pirates. The two are brought to a remote island where the pirate leader David Warner believes the two of them will make welcome additions to this inbred pirate band. 

What a story this will make! Modern day pirates sailing the seas, killing and pillaging whoever comes into their sights! This will surely make headlines – if only Caine can survive this shanghaied ordeal and escape the nasty clutches of these pirates. 

Michael-Caine-in-The-Island-1980The Island is quite a strange flick. The film is adapted from the novel by Peter Benchley, and after the recent box office successes of films based on his pen (Jaws, The Deep), The Island was thought to be another Benchley hit just waiting to be made. The author was paid a then record breaking $2.1 million for the rights to the book and also lent a hand in the screenplay. 

The film was given a costly budget of $22 million. Michael Ritchie would direct, it would have a score by Ennio Morricone and it would star Michael Caine. The Island had high hopes that it would make off with a healthy loot of riches. It made it’s way to cinemas – and sunk faster than a fat man walking the plank.

Critics ripped it apart, audiences never showed up and it was said it was one of the “big disappointments” of the year, managing to only gross $10 million. The only notice The Island got was getting nominations in the first Golden Raspberry Film Awards. Caine got a nomination for Worst Actor and Ritchie for Worst Director. It didn’t even win those. Caine supposedly does not like talking about the film to this day.

The Island is meant to be a nail biting thriller, but it plays more like a fever dream with no real logic or reality attached. After a certain point, you have to accept not to look for any kind of believability from it and just hope it will deliver on some suspenseful thrills in its own way. I’ll save you the trouble and answer that for you – it won’t.  

The-Island-1980-pirate-movie-David-WarnerCaine and his son are meant to be estranged at the start and this little ‘vacation’ to Florida is meant to be vital time for them to reconnect in a way. When the pirates kidnap them and turn the son into one of their own and alienate him from his father it’s meant to be a personal goal to win his boy back.

Yet, the son’s brainwashing to be a little pirate happens way too fast to be even remotely believable. We’ve seen that the kid is smart, so that makes this especially unbelievable that he’s being all chummy with his captors so quickly. After one sleep deprived night he is ready to kill his father? It’s a real leap to accept it.

Caine’s son is played by Jeffrey Frank and he’s not very good in this. The Island is the only credit he has listed on IMDB. I don’t really find it very surprising that he wasn’t a very sought out child actor. The whole emotional hook of the film hinges on Caine and his son, but they really don’t click and I didn’t care if they were able to escape the island alone or together. 

Caine, meanwhile is kept alive to provide his seed to one of the few women on the island Angela Punch McGregor. Yep, Caine is kept alive to impregnate her. After a few centuries the groups gene pool needs replenishing, so forcing Caine to providers seed is a necessity.

The-Island-1980-action-thriller-Michael-Caine-Angela-Punch-McGregorCaine’s character Blair Maynard mistakenly is believed to have some kind of lineage to a famed pirate. He doesn’t really look like he comes from pirate ancestors, but they decide to spare his life. Anyway, he’s dragged around by a chain on his neck and makes a series of failed escaped attempts.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Frank Middlemass as an elderly doctor who knows all about these pirates and is their alley to the outside. There’s not much else to say about his character. 

I will say the start of the film is somewhat intriguing. What will Caine find out in the remote waters. When we first see Caine open his eyes to this nightmare scenario he’s just fallen into it momentarily looks like it could be a bizarre Lord of the Flies-type of survival yarn. Who is this strange band of buccaneers who are living in the past and surviving by raiding yachts on the high seas? Unfortunately, the more we learn about them the less interesting they become. I actually grew quite annoyed by them.

David-Warner-The-Island-1980-piratesThere are some nice locations and one plundering attack of a yacht is a highlight. One man onboard is forced to fight for his life against these pirates and luckily he’s a martial artist, so he does some swashbuckling ass kicking to fight for his survival. It’s a much needed moment of campy quality that the film really needed more of. Actually that guy seemed more worthwhile to be used as breeding stock than Caine.

Things take an even more unexpected ludicrous turn when the Coast Guard shows up to the island for the big finale. It’s somewhat amusing at how incompetent they appear to be. By then you’ve either accepted this loopy adventure for how its unfurled or have just vowed to see it through until the end. I didn’t much enjoy it.

Caine was famous for making a few ‘paycheck movies’. He’s admitted the only reason he signed up for them was for the money. The Swarm, Beyond The Poseidon Adventure and Blame It On Rio were paycheck movies. I think I would add The Island to that list that the lure for Sir Michael Caine was the money. Warner supposedly agreed to play the head pirate just to work with his old friend Caine.

Michael-Caine-The-Island-1980-horror-thriller-pirate-movieHe has also famously said the location where filming would take place could sway him on his decision on whether to sign up for a film or not. That was also probably what tipped him over to agreeing to do Rio and Jaws 4: The Revenge. Spending time in Rio de Janeiro or the Bahamas could trump having a bad script for his tastes from time to time.

Perhaps, both those were the incentives for him to make The Island – the money and the location. He made some nice cash and got to spend some time on the islands of Antigua, the Bahamas and Miami. Between enjoying himself, he managed to squeeze in performing for the camera to make The Island.

I hope Caine enjoyed his time and the money he made from it, because The Island is certainly not one of his career highlights. 

It’s no wonder he doesn’t like talking about it. 


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