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Film / The Island (1980)

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The Island is a 1980 American slasher film directed by Michael Ritchie and starring Michael Caine and David Warner. The film was based on a novel of the same name by Peter Benchley who also wrote the screenplay. Ennio Morricone composed the score.

Skeptical journalist Blair Maynard (Caine) is assigned to explore the area known as the Bermuda Triangle, where thousands of boats have disappeared in a three-year span. When he leaves the Florida coast with his adolescent son, Justin (Jeffrey Frank), their boat is shanghaied by a group of pirates led by the tyrannical John David Nau (Warner). The pirates, who have lived undisturbed in the area for centuries, see father and son as new blood for their increasingly inbred clan.

Not to be confused with the 2005 sci-fi film about cloning.

Tropes in The Island:

  • Badass Bystander: One of the sailors on the schooner turns out to be a martial artist and takes down several of the pirates, before one of them gets sick of his antics and guts him with a cutlass.
  • Bermuda Triangle: Blair Maynard is a British-born American journalist who was once in the Navy and who decides to investigate the mystery of why so many boats disappear in the Bermuda Triangle of the Caribbean. He takes his estranged son Justin with him to the area on the "vacation" and, while fishing, both are attacked by an unkempt man and forcibly brought to an uncharted island. On the island, Blair discovers that the inhabitants of the island are a centuries-old colony of savage French pirates.
  • Burial at Sea: The pirates do this for the members of their crew who died in the assault on the cutter.
  • Child Soldiers: John David Nau takes pride in taking children like Manuel and Justin and converting them into loyal pirates who are willing to kill at his command. Maynard is horrified when he witnesses his son Justin shoot a man dead at Nau's command.
  • Coast Guard: The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dauntless stumbles on the pirate island while investigating the cocaine that had been dumped overboard from the schooner. The crew is ambushed by the pirates and massacred. Maynard uses the weapons onboard the cutter in his final showdown with the pirates.
  • Dad the Veteran: While at the gun range, Maynard mentions to the proprietor that he was in Korea and that you never forget those skills. Presumably, this explains how he knows how to operate a Browning .50 caliber machine gun later in the film. Doubles as Actor-Shared Backgroundinvoked as Maynard's actor Michael Caine is an actual Korean War veteran.
  • Deus Ax Machina: During the final fight against Maynard, Nau finds himself weaponless in the engine room of the cutter. He snatches a fire axe off the wall and uses it to attack.
  • Dies Different In Adaptation: Dr. Windsor has his throat slashed by L'Ollonais in the novel, after stupidly trying the pirate's patience and giving him orders. In the film, he tries to ambush Maynard with an axe to kill him only for Beth to shoot him dead with a crossbow to save the Maynard.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": After seeing his son shoot a man out of the mast of the schooner, a horrified Maynard shouts out his son's name: Justin. Justin replies that there is no "Justin", just "Tu-Barb": the pirate name Nau had given him.
  • The Dreaded: This helps save Maynard's life, at least in the novel. He has the same last name as the man who killed Blackbeard and this revelation leaves the buccaneers in awe.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Nau and his crew dress in uniforms taken from the murdered coast guardsmen so they can use the launch to approach the cutter without being suspected.
  • Famous Ancestor: John David Nau—leader of the pirate settlement—is the descendant of infamous pirate Jean-David Nau a.k.a. François l'Olonnais.
  • Flare Gun: After killing most of the pirates with a machine gun, Maynard goes to claim his son back from their captain. A short confrontation ensues, which ends with the captain getting shot in the chest with a flare gun.
  • The Gunfighter Wannabe: Justin is obsessed with firearms and even emotionally blackmails his father into buying him one, despite the obvious discomfort that Maynard (who is a veteran of The Korean War) has with the idea of his son owning a gun. When forcibly recruited into the pirates, he sees this as an opportunity to live out his gunslinger fantasies. He is actually an excellent shot but starts to crack under pressure after he kills his first man.
  • Gun Struggle: When Justin refuses to shoot his father, Manuel yells that he'll do it and tries to grab the gun off Justin. In the ensuing struggle, Manuel gets shot through the middle of the forehead.
  • Handy Cuffs: When Maynard has his hands manacled in front of him, he is able to reach the padlock and undo the combination lock.
  • Historical Character's Fictional Relative: John David Nau—leader of the pirate settlement—is the descendant of infamous pirate Jean-David Nau a.k.a. François l'Olonnais.
  • Hope Spot: Maynard sees Dr. Windsor’s boat coming around the island, and tries to get help from him. Turns out he not only knows about the pirates, he’s in league with them, sending travelers to them and forewarning them of ships passing their way in order to keep them alive for study as “pure survivors.”
  • Inbred and Evil: The colony of bloodthirsty pirates has largely cut-off from the outside world for 300 years. Suffering from inbreeding, most of the women have become sterile and the pirates are starting to abduct outsiders to refresh their bloodline.
  • Inexperienced Killer: Justin is The Gunfighter Wannabe, and thinks becoming a pirate will allow him to live out all of his fantasies. However, he has never given any thought to what the emotional toll of killing another human might be. After making his first kill, he is shocked and sickened, loses his nerve, and starts to crack up.
  • I Read It for the Articles: Maynard comes back to his office to find his son Justin reading a Playboy. He asks if he's been reading it long, and Justin replies there is an interesting article.
  • Kangaroo Court: After being knocked out by the pirate on his boat, Maynard awakens to find himself tied to a tree and being tried by a pirate court for the murder of the pirate.
  • King of Thieves: John David Nau is the undisputed ruler of a pirate settlement on the uncharted island in the Caribbean: the descendant of the buccaneer who first founded it.
  • Karmic Death: Dr. Windsor helps the pirates in order to study them as “pure survivors.” He’s killed by Beth, a pirate woman, when he tries to kill Maynard with an axe.
  • Little Useless Gun: When Maynard is attacked by a pirate on his fishing boat, he unloads multiple shots from his son's target pistol into the pirate. The pirate isn't even slowed down and knocks Maynard out. Only when he wakes up does Maynard learn that the pirate had subsequently dies of his wounds.
  • The Ludovico Technique: John David Nau performs a low-tech version of this when he brainwashes Justin into believing he is one of the pirates. He straps Justin to a chair and props his eyelids open with sticks and reads him the history of the pirate colony and the lineage of the Nau family for several days until Justin believes that he is a pirate called Tue-Barbe and Nau's son.
  • Made a Slave: After Maynard kills a pirate in self-defense, a Kangaroo Court of pirates sentences him to be the slave of Beth, the dead pirate's widow.
  • Man on Fire: One of the pirates has the habit of coating himself in pitch and setting himself on fire before raids to terrify his victims. When Maynard shoots him with a machine gun at the end of the film, he goes up in flames, runs around the aft deck, and then throws himself into the sea.
  • Molotov Cocktail: Maynard uses a Molotov cocktail to ignite the Powder Trail he uses to blow up the magazine.
  • More Dakka: While most of the pirates are gathered on the aft deck of the cutter, Maynard discovers a deck-mounted M2 Machine Gun hidden underneath a tarp. He opens fire on the pirates and continues to fire even after they are all dead.
  • Never Bring A Knife To A Gunfight: Here it is a case of "never bring your fists to a swordfight". A Badass Bystander on the schooner the pirates board is a martial artist and wipes the deck with several of the pirates, who have presumably never encountered this style of fighting before. The other pirates watch on in amusement at their shipmates' discomfort until one of them decides that this is wasting time, draws his cutlass, and promptly guts the unfortunate martial artist.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Dr. Windsor is the pirate tribe's liaison with the modern world. Having stumbled upon them years ago, Windsor admired their primitive brutality and formed a partnership with them, sending vacationing boats towards the tribe, resulting in men and women being butchered and raped, and children kidnapped and brainwashed into joining the tribe. He describes the tribe as an "anthropologist's dream" and a Petri dish.
  • Outlaw Town: On an uncharted island in the Bermuda Triangle is a colony of pirates inhabited by the descendants of the French Buccaneers of Hispaniola. This secret enclave has been in existence since it was established by Jean-David Nau a.k.a. François l'Olonnais during the seventeenth century.
  • A Pirate 400 Years Too Late: The plot centers on a long-isolated band of Caribbean pirates who prey on 20th Century boaters.
  • The Place: The Island
  • Powder Trail: While the pirates are out of their settlement, Maynard breaks open a barrel of gunpowder and lays a trail out of the powder store. He then ignites the powder trail with a Molotov Cocktail and blows up the magazine.
  • Raised by Rival: After making Maynard a slave, Pirate King John David Nau takes Maynard's son Justin from him and starts raising him to become a pirate and his heir.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The standard tactic for the pirates is to sneak up on an isolated pleasure craft and stealthily board it; murder everyone on board; loot anything of value; and then burn or blow up the boat to hide all evidence of the crime. Their actions towards the woman on board the schooner indicate that they may indulge in rape as well if time allows. (This particular woman is shot while trying to escape before any rape can occur.)
  • Ruthless Modern Pirates: Although they wear the trappings of their pirate ancestors, the pirates survive by preying on pleasure craft plying the Caribbean, and they never leave any survivors.
  • The Social Darwinist: Dr. Windsor is the pirate tribe's liaison with the modern world. Having stumbled upon them years ago, Windsor admired their primitive brutality and formed a partnership with them, sending vacationing boats towards the tribe, resulting in men and women being butchered and raped, and children kidnapped and brainwashed into joining the tribe. Afterwards, Windsor helps cover the disappearances up and takes some of the spoils for himself. He sends hero Blair Maynard and his son Justin to that fate, and later mocks Blair about his slavery and impending death and how Justin will be made the next pirate captain, describing the tribe as an "anthropologist's dream" and a Petri dish.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: During the sequences when the pirates board the schooner and the Coast Guard cutter, music styled after the scores for classic swashbuckling pirate films are played to underscore the contrast of the romanticized image of pirates from those films with the savage murderers shown here.
  • Stab the Scorpion: When Maynard is leaning over, about to ignite the Powder Trail to destroy the magazine, Beth walks out holding a crossbow that she levels at Maynard. She then raises the crossbow several inches and fires: shooting Windsor who is standing behind Maynard with an axe.
  • Surveillance Station Slacker: A Coast Guard launch is sent to investigate an explosion on a supposedly uninhabited island. The guardsman left to guard the launch and decides to tip his hat over his eyes and take a nap. Unsurprisingly, he is captured by the pirates.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Manuel pretends to help Maynard escape, and provides him with a small skiff and directions to the open ocean. Once he is sailing, Maynard discovers water coming in through the bottom of the boat and realizes that Manuel had drilled holes in the boat and plugged them with molasses, which dissolves once in the water.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happens to Beth? She is last seen running into the jungle after shooting Windsor. While it seems likely that Maynard and Justin would have signaled the Coast Guard helicopter when it arrives to investigate the Dauntless, or taken Windsor's boat back to civilization, did they find Beth and take her with them, especially as she might be pregnant with Maynard's child? Or did they leave her on a now uninhabited island to fend for herself? And, if they do take her with them, how is she going to adjust to modern civilization?
  • William Telling: To show how much of a pirate he has become, Justin shoots a fruit out his father's hand with a black powder musket. Afterwards, he calmly adds that if he had wanted to kill him, he would have.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: The pirates find a fortune in cocaine onboard the schooner, and throw it overboard because they have no idea what it is.
  • Would Harm a Child: When Justin refuses to drink from the goblet Nau offers him, Nau shoves him violently to the ground.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Maynard kills a pirate when they capture his boat. Because the pirate was married to Beth, a Kangaroo Court convened by John David Nau sentences him to be Beth's slave and to impregnate her.