50 Things We Learned from Michael Bay's 'The Island' Commentary

"Normally on a movie I'll break about 2 or 3 megaphones."

The Island
Paramount Pictures

26. Spielberg felt he missed the beat where Lincoln and Jordan first exit the tunnel and see real sunlight. Bay agreed but felt the tunnel setup prevented him from finding that opportunity.

27. An average film, per Bay, manages 15 to 20 shots per day. He heard that J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible 3 (2006) — filming around the same time — was managing up to 6 per day. “I generally like to shoot about 30 to 40 a day. First couple days I think I shot 73 and 78 setups the second day. That’s basically just to show the studio that we’re not playing around here.”

28. He met his friend Djimon Hounsou years prior when Bay was a music video director with Propaganda Films and Hounsou was a model with Omar’s Modeling Agency which was located across the street. The model wanted to be an actor so Bay told him to work on his accent.

29. Bay had doubts on the third day of filming. The first true scene of the film they shot sees the escaped Lincoln and Jordan run up to the old, half-destroyed building in the desert, and Bay was not feeling great about it. “I’m thinking ‘Oh my god they’re in dirty white suits, oh this is a very funny sci-fi movie, how is this gonna work.’ Anyway, it was a little tough.”

30. He wishes they had a bigger budget so they could have afforded to design and make futuristic cars, but he had to settle for modifying/building three at a cost of $120k.

31. “I guarantee there are people out there who would have this,” he says, adding that some among the wealthy would do this even knowing the clones were living, breathing people too. He believes that China’s high rate of capital punishment — up to 10,000 people per year — “has to do with the ordering of black market organs.” So yes, Bay might be a conspiracy nut. He also goes on to say that he knows about a wealthy prince, who he won’t name, who has his own 747 jet complete with a surgery unit on the top floor. Inside there at all times is a 24 year-old man with the same blood type whose family has been paid off so that when the prince’s heart gives out surgeons can perform a transplant from the younger man. “I can credibly tell you that this is dead true,but I’m not gonna tell you the country where it’s from, but I know people who’ve actually been on the plane, and I know people who’ve actually met the kid.”

32. “I must say this is a problem shot,” he says at 1:11:19 as our heroes board the giant train. He blames it on production designer Nigel Phelps saying the man did some bad math resulting in a train that’s “just too big. Why is a train that big going to a little shit desert town?” Bay didn’t see it until the CG was complete, and it was too late to turn back.

33. He says “new rules in Hollywood” have led studios to handling filmmakers who go over budget by deducting the overage from their paychecks. “It can be the start of an ulcer.”

34. They shot the city sequences in Detroit both because it’s rarely used and because “they were nice enough to shut down eight blocks” for the shoot.

35. One of the camera cars is nicknamed the “Bay buster” for obvious reasons, and the shot at 1:21:53 is one of its accomplishments. The car can “crash into vehicles at 60 to 70 miles per hour without getting cameramen killed or hurt.”

36. He had to fight the studio for the money to do the Wasp chase (the flying motorcycles), and he’s glad he did. Spielberg apparently approved despite the studio — Dreamworks, aka Spielberg’s studio — thinking it was too cheesy and sci-fi. Bay has the last laugh, though, adding that the military is currently working on bikes like these.

37. Bay came close to dying during the shoot — the shot where Lincoln grabs the chain — when a pipe he didn’t know was there flew past his head at 45 miles per hour. One of his cameramen had told him to move back a foot just moments before, and if he hadn’t the pipe would have struck his skull. The pole took out a $600k camera right afterward.

38. The stunt guy who gets hit by the Wasp in the office building at 1:25:27 wasn’t supposed to be knocked through the glass desk. It was an accident, but thankfully the effects team popped the glass before he hit and he only suffered a minor cut. “He was told specifically do not stop and look back and of course he looked back which slowed his body down.”

39. Bay acknowledges the absurdity behind both Lincoln and Jordan surviving that ludicrous fall from the side of the skyscraper, but he says what saves it is the line from the construction worker — “Jesus must love you, that was the craziest mess I’ve ever seen. Come on girl, I know Jesus loves you.”

40. The scene where Merrick (Sean Bean) kills Gandu (Brian Stepanek) was added late in production because the producers decided that the doctor had to do something despicable. And what’s more despicable than overseeing the lives and deaths of hundreds of clones? Killing one clone I guess.

The Island

41. “So let’s talk,” he says, clearly ready to get real. “The Island opened to the lowest opening in my career. All my movies have been smash hits. They all made a fortune at the box-office for what they cost, and The Island did a pitiful $35 million.” He says there were numerous reasons for that. “One, a very big summer. Two, The Island, just the title itself, it’s a very complicated title, it’s something that’s very hard to market because instantly you’re thinking of something it is not.” The marketing ended up being the biggest failure in his view, and while Warner Bros. did very well with it internationally the domestic advertising never nailed down a tone. “We should have sold it more as an action movie,” he says, adding that they instead tried going a more intellectual route. He takes partial blame as he did like some of the ads, but he says Dreamworks ignored his repeated suggestions that they use WB’s campaign from overseas. He polled 500 people just a few weeks after the film opened, and roughly 450 of them didn’t even know the movie had been released. “The ball was dropped, big time.”

42. He’s a big fan of the scene where McGregor fights himself after the car chase, but he won’t reveal the location where it was filmed. “I’m not gonna tell you where we shot it because I was the first person to shoot it, so I’m not gonna let you know because I’m gonna go back.”

43. Bay had McGregor add the line “Wow that tongue thing is amazing” after Johansson French kisses him on the stairs because that’s what he actually said to the first girl who ever French kissed him. Her name was Meg. “Imagine what a geek I was when I said that.”

44. Johansson wouldn’t come out of her trailer when it came time to shoot the sex scene, and Bay assumed it was the “typical woman not coming out of the trailer” thing. He went to her trailer prepared to tell her “she looks beautiful and yadda yadda ya” but she surprised him by saying the issue was the wardrobe. “I’m not wearing this fucking ghetto-ass fucking bra! I’m going naked!” He had to explain to her that wasn’t an option as the film was set to be PG-13.

45. He thinks sound mixer Kevin O’Connell was robbed when he was nominated but failed to win the Oscar for Pearl Harbor (2001), one of four Bay films for which he was nominated. He holds the record for the longest Academy Award losing streak with 20 nominations — but he finally won on the 21st for his work on Hacksaw Ridge (2016).

46. Bay figures 40 percent of your experience and enjoyment of a film comes from the sound. “It’s amazing when you shut off the sound how little value it has,” he says suggesting that he is no fan of cinema’s silent era.

47. The extra playing the doctor at 1:57:00 wrote Bay a letter asking for a screen credit for the non-speaking performance. “Featuring Tad whatever,” says Bay in his announcer voice… suggesting he did not reply to the guy.

48. “If I were to do anything on this movie again it would be the ending,” he says adding that while the opening is cool and the middle is fun and exiting, he wishes the ending was bigger and featured something more “mano to mano.”

49. “You always find these extras that will mug for the camera,” he says before recalling a visit to James Cameron’s Titanic set where the self-proclaimed King of the World told Bay that “there’s always one extra that will fuck the whole shot up.”

50. He lasts just fifteen seconds into the six minutes of end credits before peacing out.

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“Of course this opening scene is something the studio didn’t want because they couldn’t afford it.”

“I was invited to a think-tank meeting with probably twenty of the smartest people you’ve ever met in your life.”

“This set was intimidating because it was so large.”

“I wanted Merrick to have impeccable taste, that’s why we put the Picasso right there.”

“Steve Buscemi’s one of my favorite actors.”

“I wanna see these things in sacks, I mean, like a breast implant. Imagine a breast implant but adult-size.”

“There’s something beautiful, bizarre, and something not right about this scene.”

“I wanted these guys who are birthing this thing to just look like truck drivers from the desert.”

“I figured if I could make Martin Lawrence an action hero in Bad Boys I could make anybody one.”

“What’s very typical in the way I do movies is I do some things that are tragic, scary, or odd, and then I juxtapose it with a comedy scene.”

“The job is for me to make Scarlett likable besides her cuteness and sweetness.”

“That’s always been my strength as a director, shooting stuff very fast and making it look big.”

“I hope the prince doesn’t ever hear this DVD commentary.”

“I write all my own action scenes.”

“Some people think I ripped off my own movie Bad Boys 2.”

“Often times the stuff that I really want is the coolest in the movie, but they never want to pay for it.”

“I must say, I will never do another clone movie for as long as I live.”

“There’s just so much shit going through a speaker, it can only handle so much, so you gotta be really selective in what you choose to focus on.”

“I said ‘Scarlet, I need that one little sexy look.'”

“Pardon the French, but I had to pull this out of my ass right now, on the day, spending a quarter million dollars a day.”

Buy The Island on Blu-ray from Amazon.

Final Thoughts

As under-appreciated as The Island is, this commentary track is every bit as entertaining. Sure Bay has a fat head, but the guy knows his shit and is highly entertaining. He gets highly technical at times while also sharing plenty of anecdotes, and regardless of what you think of his films it’s abundantly clear that he loves making them. Give the movie another shot, and then listen to this track.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

"Rob is great. He likes movies. He writes about them. And he's a good person."