It is described as a pastiche of "escape-from-dystopia" science fiction films of the 1960s and 1970s such as Fahrenheit 451, THX 1138, Parts: The Clonus Horror, and Logan's Run. The film's plot revolves around the struggle of McGregor's character to fit into the highly structured world he lives in, isolated in a compound, and the series of events that unfold when he questions how truthful that world is. After he learns the compound inhabitants are clones used for organ harvesting and surrogate motherhood for wealthy people in the outside world, he escapes.
The film cost $126 million to produce. It earned only $36 million at the United States box office, but earned $127 million overseas, for a $162 million worldwide total. The original score for the film was composed by Steve Jablonsky, who would go on to score Bay's further works. It was also the first film directed by Bay that was not produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.
In the year 2019, Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta live with others in an isolated compound. Their community is governed by a set of strict rules. The residents believe the outer world has become too contaminated for human life with the exception of one contagion-free island. Every week, a lottery is conducted and the winner gets to leave the compound to live on the island.
Lincoln begins having dreams that he knows are not from his own experiences. Dr. Merrick, a scientist who runs the compound, is concerned and places probes in Lincoln's body to monitor his cerebral activity. While secretly visiting an off-limits power facility in the basement where his friend, technician James McCord, works, Lincoln discovers a live moth in a ventilation shaft, leading him to deduce the outside world is not really contaminated. Lincoln follows the moth to another section, where he discovers the "lottery" is actually a disguise to remove inhabitants from the compound, where the "winner" is then used for organ harvesting, surrogate motherhood, and other purposes for each one's sponsor, who is identical to them in appearance.
Merrick learns Lincoln has discovered the truth, which forces Lincoln to escape. Meanwhile, Jordan has been selected for the island. Lincoln and Jordan escape the facility, where they emerge in an Arizona desert. Lincoln explains the truth to her, and they set out to discover the real world. Merrick hires Burkinabé mercenary Albert Laurent to find and return them unharmed to the compound.
Lincoln and Jordan find McCord, who explains that all the facility residents are clones of wealthy and/or desperate sponsors, who are kept ignorant about the real world and conditioned to never question their environment or history. McCord provides the name of Lincoln's sponsor in Los Angeles, and helps them to the Yucca maglev station, before mercenaries kill him. In New York, Jordan's sponsor, model Sarah Jordan, is comatose following a car crash and requires transplants from Jordan to survive. Lincoln's sponsor, Tom Lincoln, gives Lincoln some explanation about the cloning institute, causing Lincoln to realise that he has gained Tom's memories. Tom agrees to help Lincoln and Jordan but secretly contacts Merrick, who sends Laurent and the mercenaries to their location. Lincoln tricks Laurent into shooting Tom, allowing him to assume Tom's identity.
Merrick surmises that a cloning defect was responsible for Lincoln's memories and behavior, resulting in him and every future clone generation to question their environment and even tap into their sponsor's memories. To prevent this, he decides to eliminate the four newest generations of clones. Lincoln and Jordan, however, plan to liberate their fellow clones. Posing as Tom, Lincoln returns to the compound (allegedly to have a new clone created) to destroy the holographic projectors that conceal the outside world. Jordan allows herself to be caught to assist Lincoln's plan. Laurent, who has moral qualms about the clones' treatment after witnessing their fight for survival and learning that Sarah Jordan may not survive even with the organ transplants, helps Jordan. Lincoln kills Merrick and the clones are freed, seeing the outside world for the first time. Lincoln and Jordan sail away in a boat together.Ewan McGregor as Lincoln Six Echo, the clone of Tom Lincoln, a Scottish automotive experimental designer who sponsored his clone for a new liver since his viral hepatitis is destroying his own. While Lincoln Six Echo is kind, gentle, polite, generous and brave, Tom Lincoln is rude, aggressive, greedy, cowardly, and a womanizer. Six Echo speaks with an American accent while Tom speaks with McGregor's native Scottish accent.Scarlett Johansson as Jordan Two Delta, the clone of Sarah Jordan, a supermodel who has a young son. Two Delta was to be harvested for organs after her sponsor was injured in a car crash, leading her to consider sacrificing herself for the sake of Sarah's child. Sarah is seen only in advertisements.Djimon Hounsou as Albert Laurent, a Burkinabé private military contractor and GIGN veteran hired to bring back Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta.Sean Bean as Dr. Merrick, owner of Merrick Biotech and creator of the cloning technology.Michael Clarke Duncan as Starkweather Two Delta, cloned from a football player.Steve Buscemi as James "Mac" McCord, a maintenance supervisor at Merrick Biotech and friend of Lincoln Six Echo.Kim Coates as Charles Whitman, an employee at Merrick Biotech.Ethan Phillips as Jones Three Echo, a nervy clone who works with Lincoln Six Echo.Brian Stepanek as Gandu Three Echo, an easily frustrated clone repeatedly disciplined for his frequent volatile outbursts.Noa Tishby as community announcer, who makes public information announcements to the clones.Siobhan Flynn as Lima One Alpha, a pregnant clone who works with Lincoln Six Echo and is being used as a surrogate mother.
The ruined buildings where Jordan and Lincoln sleep after leaving the subterranean compound are in Rhyolite, Nevada. The city parts were shot in Detroit, Michigan, with Michigan Central Station one of the notable locations. Other portions of the film were shot in the Coachella Valley, California.
The computer in Merrick's office at the Institute, which features a large, tabletop touchscreen display capable of detecting several forms of input, was rumored to be a large version of Microsoft PixelSense. The design was actually proposed by a technology adviser at MIT, who aimed for the production of a believable vision of futuristic technology.
The Island grossed $12,409,070 in over 3,100 theaters its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $35,818,913 domestically and $127,130,251 in foreign markets, for a worldwide total of $162,949,164.
Ultimately, the film was considered a box office bomb, which Edward Jay Epstein of Slate blamed on poor publicity. Epstein notes that research polls showed little awareness of The Island's impending release amongst its target audience and that trailers bore little relation to the film's plot. He writes, "What really failed here was not the directing, acting, or story (which were all acceptable for a summer movie) but the marketing campaign."
The film received mixed reviews from critics. It has a 40% "Rotten" rating (based on 185 reviews) at Rotten Tomatoes, and scored 50/100 (based on 38 reviews) at Metacritic. Critical consensus was that the film was well acted and had impressive special effects but did not deal with the ethical issues it raised as well as it could have. Many reviewers noted that The Island seemed like two separate films.
Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert said, "[the first half] is a spare, creepy science fiction parable, and then it shifts into a high-tech action picture. Both halves work. Whether they work together is a good question." He gave the film three out of four stars and praised the performances of the actors, in particular Michael Clarke Duncan: "[He] has only three or four scenes, but they're of central importance, and he brings true horror to them." On the critical side, he said the film "never satisfactorily comes full circle" and missed the opportunity "to do what the best science fiction does, and use the future as a way to critique the present."
Variety's Justin Chang called the film an "exercise in sensory overkill" and said that Bay took on "the weighty moral conundrums of human cloning, resolving them in a storm of bullets, car chases and more explosions than you can shake a syringe at." He noted McGregor and Buscemi as highlights of the film, along with Nigel Phelps' production design. However, he felt the story lacked in surprises and blamed "attention-deficit editing by Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner" for action sequences that he thought lacked tension and were "joltingly repetitive".
Salon's Stephanie Zacharek also praised the actors but felt that when the film "[gets] really interesting, Bay thinks he needs to throw in a car crash or a round of gunfire to keep our attention." She felt the film had enough surprises "to make you wish it were better." Similarly, The New York Times' reviewer A.O. Scott said, "[the] film is smarter than you might expect, and at the same time dumber than it could be."
Reviewers were critical of the excessive product placement in the film.
The creators of the 1979 film Parts: The Clonus Horror, which was also about a colony that breeds clones to harvest organs for the elite, filed a copyright infringement suit in 2005. DreamWorks attempted to have the suit dismissed but a federal judge determined that there was indeed a copyright infringement case to be heard and scheduled the case to go to trial in February 2007. However, DreamWorks then settled the case out of court in late 2006 for an undisclosed seven-figure sum.
Michael Marshall Smith's 1996 novel Spares, in which the hero liberates intelligent clones from a "spare farm", was optioned by DreamWorks in the late 1990s, but was never made. It remains unclear if the story inspired The Island, and so Marshall Smith did not consider it worthwhile to pursue legal action over the similarities.
The Canadian DVD release of The Island was advertised to include both English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio tracks; however, it only contained English Dolby Digital 2.0 and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (the packaging was later revised to indicate that the English audio on the disc was only in stereophonic sound, or "Two channel"). Beginning in March 2006, new copies of the DVD were distributed with 5.1 Surround audio for both English and French.