Well, I have come to the last of the Peter Benchley movies. That makes me a little sad to be honest. So just like every other Benchley book/movie, this one involves the ocean but unfortunately, there are no killer animals involved in this story. Instead, we get a bunch of pirates from centuries of inbreeding. Well, that just sounds like an interesting plot line so let’s see what today’s movie, The Island (1980), has to offer.
The plot: Three men have chartered a boat in the Caribbean for a fishing trip and during the course of the day, they pass by the wreckage of an ocean liner. Anchoring off the coast of a small island, the three men are having fun on deck while the crew work below deck. One of the men spots a canoe drifting towards the boat and the three men work on bringing it alongside the boat as there appears to be a body in it. Once they have it close enough, one of the men lifts the canvas to check on the body, only for the person in the canoe to reveal that he is holding an axe, which he uses to kill two of the men, while the captain and crew below decks hear the sounds of the struggling above. In New York City, journalist Blair Maynard reads about the missing ship and convinces his editor to let him fly down to Miami to investigate what is going on. When he gets to his office to grab his things, he finds his estranged son Justin waiting for him there, as his mother sent him there as she went on a business trip with her boyfriend. Since his friend Jimmy left to go to his grandmother’s, Blair tricks Justin into coming with him under the pretense of going to Disneyworld. When they reach Miami, Jimmy convinces Blair to stop at a gun shop, where they shoot at a few targets and Justin convinces his dad to buy him a gun. Heading down to the docks, Blair hears about two more ships that have recently gone missing and asks the location for the area. Justin hires a charter plane to fly them down to the Caribbean but the plane ends up crashing when it lands and they barely escape before it explodes. Knowing they brought an illegal gun to the island, Blair has Justin hide it in his pants as the customs official arrives and begins to question and search Blair. Learning that there won’t be another plane arriving for another day or two, Blair and Justin head off to find lodging and the next day, they head to the beach and Blair speaks with a man, Windsor, about the missing ships before they manage to rent a boat from him to go fishing. After Justin catchs a barracuda, Blair wants to head back as it is getting late but Justin convinces him to keep fishing. Suddenly, they see a life raft in the distance and as they get closer, see a young girl in the water. Blair steers the boat closer and Justin reaches out to pull the girl into the boat but the girl yanks on his arm and drags him into the water. As Justin struggles with the girl, Blair tries to throw a rope to them and get the boat closer but notices someone has climbed aboard the boat. Pulling out Justin’s gun, Blair shoots at the intruder as he charges at Blair, but the man’s momentum causes him to slam into Blair and Blair is knocked into the side of the boat and falls unconscious. When Blair regains consciousness, he finds himself and Justin tied up and held captive by a colony of pirates who live on the nearby island. The pirates are holding a trial for Blair for killing the pirate that had climbed aboard his ship and the pirates witness is the girl who had attacked Justin, and who happens to be the only survivor of the pirates’ last raid. When Blair tells them his name, the pirates change strategies, taking Justin away while giving Blair to the widow of the man he killed, in the hopes that he will give her a good baby. Meanwhile, Justin is taken and brainwashed into believing he is the heir to Nau, the pirate’s leader. After a few days, Justin and another captured kid are giving shooting lessons when the leader hands Justin a gun and has him shoot a melon from Blair’s hands, which Justin does so and the pirates cheer. Afterwards, Justin approaches Blair and Blair asks if he is ok but Justin tells him that he is not his father and heads off with the other pirates. As the days pass, Blair tries to figure out a way to escape and manages to pick the lock from his manacles. Slipping away in the dark, Blair attempts to swim to safety but is stung by some jellyfish and screams out in pain. The widow, Beth, saves him and when the other pirates approach, lies and says that she brought him there to bathe but the pirates are reluctant to believe her and dangle a jellyfish onto her as punishment for letting him slip away. The next day, Blair is working with Beth to dig up a mine when he sees Windsor approaching the island on his boat. Making a run for it, Blair makes it to where Windsor is landing and tries to warn him about the pirates but Windsor reveals that he knows about the pirates and has been helping them. Back at the camp, Windsor explains to Blair that the pirates are descendants of pirates that have stayed alive on the island for centuries. He explains that every so often, they kidnap people to infuse new blood into their tribe, as years of inbreeding makes the pirates idiots, which is why they are keeping him alive. Windsor tells the pirates that a schooner is approaching and the pirates gather in boats and head off to meet it, with Beth taking Blair with her. Heading out to the schooner, the pirates board it and begin killing the people on board and looting the place. Blair sees a flair gun and manages to smuggle it into the sack of items that Beth is grabbing and heads on deck where he sees Justin shooting a man that had tried to climb to safety. Returning to the island, Windosr notices the flare gun and takes it away from Blair. Beth approaches him and says that she is with child, and a wedding ceremony is performed for the two of them. Afterwards, Nau takes Justin as his heir and forces him to drink as part of the ceremony. That night, Manuel, the other candidate to be Nau’s heir, frees Blair and tells him he will help him escape if he takes Justin with him and Blair agrees. Blair sneaks up on a sleeping Justin and gags him, then carries him off but as they get to the boat Manuel made ready, Justin manages to slip away and starts screaming for Nau and Blair is forced to leave without him. As the pirates try searching for Blair, Blair’s boat starts sinking and he realizes that Manuel had double crossed him so he swims back to the island. The pirates find the sunken boat and believe that Blair drowned but Windsor says he is still alive as they have his son. The pirates begins searching the island for Blair when they see a Coast Guard ship off the cost, with a rescue boat nearby collecting cocaine from the scuttled schooner. Seeing a chance to get help, Blair sneaks back to the pirate camp and opens a barrel of gunpowder and leads a trail to the store room. As he goes to light it, he stops when he sees Beth pointing a spear gun at him but she shoots Windsor instead, then runs off as Blair lights the powder fuse and causes an explosion. Seeing the explosion, the rescue boat goes to the island to investigate but the men are killed by the pirates except for one. Donning the dead sailor’s uniforms and using the man to pilot the ship, Nau leads a band of pirates to attack the Coast Guard Cutter, then signals the rest of the pirates to join them. Blair swims out to the ship and sneaks on board, heading to the bridge to try and call for help but finds the radio has been broken. Heading back outside, Blair sees the majority of the pirates on the deck so he mans a 50 cal machine gun that was under a tarp and begins firing, killing the pirates on the deck as well as the ones in the boats. Nau, Justin, and Manuel manage to survive the carnage and Nau tells Justin to shoot Blair. Justin refuses and Manuel attempts to grab the gun from Justin to kill Blair but as the two kids struggle, Justin ends up shooting Manuel. Blair heads below deck as Nau grabs the gun from Justin and ties him up, then goes after Blair. The two men eventually find each other and begin struggling but Blair manages to kill Nau by shooting him in the chest with a flare pistol. Blair frees Justin, who is glad to see his dad alive and the two wait for help as a Coast Guard helicopter approaches the ship and radios to their headquarters what they see on board.
The Island (1980) met with mixed to poor results from the critics, holding a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, most of the critics did not care for the acting or the pacing of the movie. The names of some of the characters are actually related to famous people connected to pirates, such as Blair Maynard (who shares the last name of Captain Robert Maynard, who killed Blackbeard) and Nau (who shares the same name as Jean David Nau who founded the enclave of french Buccaneers of Hispaniola). The movie was expected to be a summer blockbuster but ended up being a dud, earning $15.7 million off of a $22 million budget but wound up getting something of a cult following through the years.
This wasn’t as bad as some of the critics said it was, but it was still kind of a disappointment. The acting was ok, with Michael Caine doing a decent job, but the pirates gibberish was almost impossible to understand at times. The story was pretty good but the pacing in the movie was incredibly slow as, aside from some brief moments showing the pirates attacking boats, it takes almost an hour before you get to anything important as far as the story goes. I also didn’t care for the somewhat open-ended ending to the movie, as you don’t really see or know that Blair and Justin were rescued and you are left wondering what happened to Beth and some of the other pirate women that were on the island. The special effects were pretty cheap looking at times when it came to some of the early pirate attacks, but the explosions were done pretty well. Can be an interesting time killer, but not necessarily something that is a must see.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5