50 Things We Learned from Michael Bay’s ‘The Island’ Commentary

Michael Bay‘s filmography is filled with big blockbuster hits, and of his thirteen feature films all but two of them grossed more than twice their budget — with most earning 3 – 5x the budget. 13 Hours (2016) failed to find an audience, but before that gung-ho military debacle Bay’s only real box-office misstep was 2005’s The Island. It’s a shame too as it’s a fun movie. Seriously. Sure it’s over-edited, illogical, and fairly cheesy at times, but the action is stellar, the score is fantastic, and it has just enough of an ethical argument at its core to make it thought-provoking. And again, it’s fun!

Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…

The Island (2005)

Commentator: Michael Bay (director)

1. “I was adamant that we do this bizarre dream sequence,” he says referring to the opening scenes showing Lincoln (Ewan McGregor) on a boat before being tossed in the water and drowned by unexplained mutants.

2. The opening landscapes were filmed off New Zealand while the boat scenes were shot near Italy.

3. That’s a real boat called the Wally Power. It came from Italy and cost the owner $25 million. “A little too modern for my taste, but at least I got it before Michael Mann got it for Miami Vice.”

4. “Art, story, and design have very much to do with when I’m working on a script,” he says, adding that they worked to develop a visual language and studied architectural references from Japan and futuristic designs.

5. Bay “called in a favor” to get Michael Clark Duncan in the film for two days of filming. “I figured since I discovered him in a gym and put him in Armageddon, and he went on to do Green Mile and get an Academy Award nomination.”

6. Part of his sales pitch to Duncan when casting him in Armageddon apparently involved the line: “You are going to be the first black man that does not die first. You are not going to die, and that is a twist.” It’s unclear if this is Bay being funny or if he really just needs to watch more movies.

7. The underground compound design is based on ideas regarding bunkers made to keep the president and other government officials alive after an attack for up to two years. That bled into the story too as the company is meant to be in business with the Pentagon studying how to clone an army. “You’ll see little references to that fact in the movie later.”

8. He told the actors playing the clones that they were essentially children. “That’s why a lot of them have this kind of childish innocence here, and it was something fun for the actors to play.”

9. Bay’s office kept getting yachting brochures sent to them for some reason. “I’m not going to go on a yacht trip and rent it for a quarter million dollars for a week, you gotta be out of your mind.” They weren’t for him, but it did make him recognize how beautiful the boats were and decided to make Lincoln a boat designer. “That’s how you get ideas in movies, they just right from your real life.”

10. The shot starting at 15:53 of the nano trackers crawling into Lincoln’s eye was accomplished with a special bellow lens that required a tremendous amount of light. The closeup on his eye being held opened involved ILM digital work and string glued to McGregor’s eyelids and then pulled. “Quite painful process, fun scene to do though.”

11. “Certain people” at Dreamworks wanted him to take out the scene with Jones (Ethan Phillips) showing Lincoln his scribbled conspiracy notes. “I opted to keep it in because to me this is the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest scene. This is the patient trying to figure out that something is wrong here, and I couldn’t have Lincoln be the only guy wondering.”

12. The scenes with Lincoln visiting James (Steve Buscemi) in the bowels of the facility were filmed in an old and unused power plant in Los Angeles. “Wouldn’t you know, the day we start shooting there, LA has some power outages and they called this generator plant to provide backup power.” It all powered on, and in addition to becoming so loud they had to wear “ear muffs” it also raised the interior temperatures to 110 degrees.

13. Bay felt that Caspian Tredwell-Owen‘s original script was missing a scene showing how the clones are birthed and grow. “He thought it would be opening up Pandora’s Box to show that stuff, but I just think as a viewer it’s some of the cooler stuff to see.”

14. He credits Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who came on for rewrites, with adding a lot of great work to the second and third acts. The only specific example he gives, though, is the butterfly bit in the first act.

15. Some people seemed to think that all the product placements meant they “were whoring out the movie and making a commercial, but let’s face it guys, the world is focused on products. Products surround us, and for us to think in the year 2019 that we’re not going to still be focused and have products and labels flying at us from every different vantage point is just unreal.” That’s his official statement on accusations that he’s a whore.

16. The club scene took four hours to light, but when Bay arrived on set he felt it was “the unhippest place I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” The gaffer (Michael Bauman) and cinematographer (Mauro Fiore) were both new parents and were apparently unfamiliar with clubs. It’s at this point where Bay proceeds to mimic Fiore’s Italian accent.

17. The “dude” bit was an improv at his suggestion after realizing that the word has more than a dozen meanings.

18. Steven Spielberg said McGregor “looked like a young Harrison Ford when he saw the dailies.”

19. He thinks Scarlett Johansson is going to have an amazing career. “Not only is she a pain in the ass to work with, and I mean that in the best way, she is classy, she’s feisty, she’s just very daring.”

20. The original script was set one hundred years in the future, but they kept bringing it closer to the present for budgetary reasons.

21. The location where they filmed the medical hallways were shot in an unused headquarters built for a high-tech company for $250 million. They presumably went bust before being able to use the building.

22. The post-birth scene — the clone has given birth and the doctors are taking the baby and euthanizing the woman — was a major reason why Bay took on the film.

23. Editors for the airline version wanted to cut the scene above, but Bay said absolutely not. He insisted it stay, and they said at least remove the stirrups. He again said no, and they compromised by blurring them out.

24. McGregor improvised the slide along the floor at 40:23.

25. He was “the first guy in the country” to have the compact Arriflex 235, and he goes on to sing its praises for handheld shots.

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