HOT DESIGNER GENES

Along with hundreds of other strangely docile folks in white leisure outfits, Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson) live in an underground, rigidly controlled environment in the not-too-distant future. They are told they are the survivors of an ecological disaster that has contaminated the world. A few lottery winners will get to leave these sterile quarters to live on an idyllic island. It's the dream they live for.

And it's all a lie, as Lincoln and Jordan will eventually discover in Michael Bay's high-octane sci-fi thriller "The Island." There is no contamination. There is no island. What Lincoln and Jordan don't know--and here we come to a few spoilers, though nothing that isn't given away in trailers--is that they are not humans but clones, paid for by rich clients who want to extend their lives by having genetic doubles whose body parts can be harvested. Cursed with a curiosity they weren't programmed to have, Lincoln and Jordan escape to the outside world. Can they survive? David Ansen sat down to share his opinions of the movie with Michael Bay, director of "Armageddon" and "Pearl Harbor."

DAVID ANSEN: I have to say I had a lot of fun at your movie. It's a very intriguing concept.

MICHAEL BAY: I'm telling you, if this facility existed today, there are people that would be invested in it. Lots of sci-fi movies are much ado about nothing. What I liked about this is that it's a universal thing: we all want to live longer. But how selfish would you be to achieve that? You could get a liver, a heart, kidneys, essential things. But I wanted to show people going for things that were just so crass, like fresh skin for a face-lift. For some woman who doesn't want to go through the pain of childbirth and have stretch marks, why not have your clone birth for you? How disgusting is that?

At first, the acting gave me some trouble. Even McGregor's accent--he can do any accent, but his American accent seemed unnatural. Then you discover not just that he's a clone, but that he's only 3 years old or something, and that they're all very childlike.

The clones are all educated to a level of a 15-year-old.

Then their behavior started to make sense to me. But it's a daring thing to do.

[Laughs] The first scene I shot in this movie that involved acting was Ewan and Scarlett in their white suits, running by that old bank. Her first line is something like "It's all dead, it's all dead. What if we are contaminated?" I'm thinking, "Oh, my God, this is horrible! I can't do this movie." It's only when you see the combined total that it works, do you know what I'm saying?

There's a scene where a woman gives birth to a baby. Is the woman a clone or a real person?

She's a clone.

But you have established that clones don't have sex.

Exactly. So they're inseminated.

But since you can clone an adult, why can't you clone an infant? Why have a real birth when you can do it the other way?

[Pause] David, you bring up a very interesting point there. I'm trying to think. Sometimes, it's a complete logical loophole. Usually we have answers for them. This is very unique. [Laughs] Oh, wait a minute! Wait a minute. There was something that got cut out of the movie. I showed these gnarled babies in these jars. Merrick [the head of the cloning company] explains how they would genetically misfire.

Some of your action sequences are really spectacular. There's a chase on the highway where a pile of enormous train wheels fall off a truck and smash into the oncoming cars.

I write my own action. That thought came to me as I was driving next to a truck that had rail wheels. My mind is very fertile, so I'm, like, "That's very dangerous." I sent someone to do some research, and found out those train wheels weigh a ton each.

You really take the action to slapstick levels. The sequence where Lincoln commandeers a sort of flying motorbike, with Jordan on the back, crashes through a glass building and ends up dangling off a giant red sign on the other side. It's like Harold Lloyd. It is so preposterous that they survive.

This movie is fantasy. It's science fiction. It's not like "Collateral," where it just feels dead-real. I want to make entertainment, but the core of the movie is something that makes you think. There's a place now that's cloning dogs up in San Francisco. It's where our society could be headed very quickly.

Tell me if I'm wrong: this seems to be a slightly calmer movie stylistically. Certainly in the first half--in the underground city--you don't do as much cutting within scenes as you did in "Armageddon," "The Rock" or "Pearl Harbor."

It was a choice to start the movie slow. It was tough for me, I must say. Am I going to lose an audience? Especially during the summertime. Can I hold their attention?

Once Jordan and Lincoln are out in the real world, the style changes. You play it several different ways. There's a scene where they go to a country bar, which you play for comedy. They don't know how anything works. The bartender asks if Jordan wants her drink "straight up," and she looks up at the ceiling. All of a sudden it's sort of like "Big."

Right, right, right. [Laughs]

But then you completely drop that. Which is odd: in one scene they have no idea what's going on in the world, and then they get very savvy. It's one of several points in the movie where you have to simply suspend disbelief.

You do, you do. You can't make Lincoln and Jordan idiots, or it's not going to be fun to watch. You had to take a leap of faith to make them smarter and more intuitive at certain times to keep the story going.

I felt you missed some opportunities, like in the scene when Lincoln and Jordan make love. Here's two people that have never even heard of sex. You had a little fun with their first kiss, but you filmed the love scene in the most conventional, two-models-in-beautiful-lighting way. If you really thought about what it would be like for two people who had never thought about sex before--that's a fabulous scene, funny and touching and sexy.

[Pause] You're right. I should reshoot that right now. You could have actually made it really funny. David, that pisses me off. You're so right. You could make it much more memorable. I kept saying to [Scarlett and Ewan], I want you to feel like you're two 16-year-olds kissing for the first time. I don't know if you heard it, but when they are bouncing lips, they go, "Wow."

There was a nice little moment there. I just wish they had taken it further.

Well, this is a depressing interview, because you've got me thinking where I can improve the movie. It's still not out yet.

Generally speaking, some critics have been very tough on your movies.

I know they have. And that's why I've taken Jerry Bruckheimer's advice: I don't read them, I really don't.

When did you stop?

On my last movie, "Bad Boys II." Oh, I knew they would be pissed about that one.

Do you have imaginary arguments with critics in your head?

I do. What was highly offensive was Roger Ebert [on "Pearl Harbor"]. He commented on TV that bombs don't fall like that. Does he actually think that we didn't research every nook and cranny of how armor-piercing bombs fell? He's watched too many movies. He thinks they all fall flat. The armor-piercing bomb falls straight down. That's the way it was designed. But he's on the air pontificating and giving the wrong information. That's insulting.

Some critics have even said you're responsible for the Death of Cinema.

[Laughs] Now how could that be? Come on.

Cinema seems to have survived.

Quentin Tarantino called me once. Someone had written "Is Michael Bay the Devil?" Quentin said, "Don't worry, last year they called me the antichrist."

I've got to warn the reader that there's a spoiler in this next comment, although I won't use the name of the character in question. One thing that I really didn't like was a certain character's change of heart. He's a bad guy mowing people down, then suddenly he sees the light and becomes a good guy. Maybe if you'd cast the role differently. No one would cast that actor as a bad guy.

Maybe you're remembering him from other movies.

I'm bringing baggage to it.

[Laughs] David, maybe you just see too many movies.

I won't argue with you about that.

Join the Discussion