Memo from Planet Hollywood

JohanssonA film featuring exploding vehicles, men with rippling biceps, lots of gunfire, women of the big bosom -- it must be the latest work of Michael Bay film, or a project aimed at "giving succor to the religious right." Come again?

Bay's latest film, The Island, raises questions about cloning, you see, and it engages in the shallow character development that one critic concludes only a right-wing True Believer could applaud. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter explains:

For a while, the dystopian story about human cloning by Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci seems more likely to inspire viewer games of Spot the Movie Clone as the filmmakers shuffle through any number of old science-fiction movies for plot points and design ideas. These range from "Coma" to "Logan's Run." Since human cloning itself has become such a hot-button topic, the film feels contemporary. Even Kazuo Ishiguro's recently published novel, "Never Let Me Go," deals with a similar story minus, of course, the chases.

What's troubling from a political point of view is that these filmmakers have, perhaps unwittingly, delivered a film certain to give succor to the religious right. In this ethical horror story, scientists experimenting with human genetics to advance medicine and cure illness are cast as Dr. Frankenstein villains. The chief villain, Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), mouths platitudes about curing leukemia but clearly has greed in his heart.

Claudia Parsons of Reuters used the review as the seed for a reasonably informative feature story:

Several of the actors in the film also said they did not see it as a cautionary tale against research.

"I certainly hope we don't get to the point that we're cloning whole human beings and harvesting them for body parts but I do believe that stem cell research should be funded and supported and continued," said [Steve] Buscemi.

"I hope no one would use this film to make the case against stem cell research," he said. "Of course the technology is probably there. If we can clone an animal we can probably clone a human being," he added. "Should we? No. But that doesn't mean we should stop research in trying to cure diseases."

Paul Levinson, a professor of media and communications at New York's Fordham University, said historically movie audiences had proved their ability to discern fact from fiction.

"These kind of movies serve a very important public service, which is getting these issues before the public in a vivid and dramatic way," said Levinson, author of five sci-fi novels. "It's better than another movie about a cartoon fish that isn't contributing anything to the intellectual debate."

British actor Sean Bean's character provides the most complex insights on the issue. He plays the director of the institute who pioneers the technology for birthing adult human clones, or "products" in the terminology of the movie.

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