Blu-ray Release: October 10, 2023
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Mono and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 100:52
Director: Marleen Gorris
A commercial airliner crashes for mysterious reasons, killing most of its passengers. Only eight survive the wreck -- five men, two women, and one dog -- who discover their new home is a deserted island. Together, they develop various plans for survival or rescue, but personal and ideological differences between the various members of the group quickly reveal themselves and start to grow. Unable to locate any kind of radio signal or see any evidence of humanity at large, they become convinced of a terrifying possibility: whatever caused their plane to crash is a global phenomenon, and that together, they represent the last hope for the human race. Before long, a dangerous desperation quickly sets in...and it becomes clear that they pose a bigger threat to each other than their situation.
The Last Island is the third and final Marleen Gorris film that has been restored and released by Cult Epics, following her debut film A Question of Silence, and her sophomore theatrical feature, Broken Mirrors. The film also marks Gorris' English-language debut. To be quite frank, I would have to say that it is probably the least-interesting of the three Cult Epics films, with the backbone of the film being a familiar "microcosm of society" story involving the survivors on the island, but the film is still well-made and interesting even if it doesn't feel as unique or specific as Gorris' first two movies.
Right from the start, the premise of The Last Island calls to mind other media. A pull-quote from the cover mentions Lord of the Flies, for example, and an obvious contemporary reference might be "LOST," with the wreckage of the plane and the distinct personalities of the survivors calling to mind the pilot episode of the show. The group consists of Sean (Paul Freeman), a gay businessman; Joanna (Shelagh McLeod), a young lawyer; Ms. Godame (Patricia Hayes), an elderly woman; Nick (Kenneth Colley), a pious soldier; Pierre (Marc Berman), a nervous animal-lover and researcher; Frank (Mark Hembrow), a soft-spoken blonde man; and Jack (Ian Tracey), a hot-headed 20-year-old (as well as the dog, mourning a dead owner). Sean and Joanna naturally emerge as de facto leaders and voices of reason, having the coolest heads and most drive among the lot. Early in the film, they share a funny conversation on the beach, acknowledging their own flaws and natures. He explains his sadness when his proteges and lovers move on from his wisdom, and she snorts with recognition. "You're a paternalistic snob!" she says, playfully. "Yes!" he replies, laughing.
Unfortunately, after one major attempt at rescue fails miserably, morale starts to falter. The group has salvaged what they can from the wreckage of the plane, but resources are naturally limited, and even if rescue is coming, it could be quite awhile. Jack is the first to get antsy, hoping Joanna will sleep with him, despite his obvious arrogance and immaturity. An attempt to jump her ends with Nick chopping off one of Jack's hands, a wound that quickly starts to fester and rot. Jack starts to withdraw from the group, claiming the plane crash was caused by sinful and deviant behavior, and it is no surprise when his suspicious eyes turn to Sean, who has begun an island romance with Frank, as well as Joanna, who is in his eyes resisting her womanly duties to raise children and live in servitude. To make matters worse, the group finds themselves wondering if they are all that is left of society, after they are unable to raise anything other than static on either the plane's radio or a commercial radio. Even the kinder and gentler men begin looking to Joanna as the last hope for humanity, the only one who could potentially birth a child and save the human race.
If there is a weakness to The Last Island, it is that last aspect of the plot, which is quite intriguing but feels poorly established. It would make more sense if there were at least, in the memories of the survivors, something unusual or even supernatural about the crash to better establish why they might believe the world had been wiped out. They are isolated, and it is odd that they cannot find a single radio station or broadcast, but it still feels like quite a leap to suggest that humanity has ended. To be fair, it is not really important whether or not society has ended, just that the characters believe it, and Gorris is only using the idea as a springboard for her ideas as to how Joanna is treated (and to a lesser extent, Sean and Frank). In that sense, the performers are left to pick up the slack, which they do...to some extent. In and of themselves, the characters are not especially interesting, but they are established well-enough that they can become interesting as Gorris changes or subverts them. For example, Jack is an ugly character, and his behavior toward Joanna is horrifying, but a scene where she tries in vain to offer him a certain measure of sympathy after his fate is sealed is quite compelling. Frank hardly has a personality or defining characteristic, but after a major development with Sean late in the movie, he transforms into someone totally different. Even Nick, who simply gets more aggressive and blinded with his righteousness, becomes more interesting as the film goes along.
As The Last Island comes to a close, the movie remains interesting but feels like it's only managed to scratch the surface. Obviously, the media landscape was much different in 1990, but it feels as if the more expansive canvas of a limited series would have allowed Gorris to explore her characters and their nuances in a more interesting and satisfying way. This is a good movie, but it feels like it could've been great, and what we've got left is like the CliffsNotes for a longer story.
Like A Question of Silence, Cult Epics has had no choice but to use a 35mm release print for The Last Island's new 2K remaster. As is to be expected, depth is basically non-existent, black crush is an issue during nighttime scenes, grain is chunkier, and there is visible damage from time to time, including scratches, nicks, and lines. That said, colors look relatively nice, and the overall look of the film is solid, with a rich texture that is far preferable to a noise-reduced look, and there's also no question this is still an HD image with additional detail that would be lost in standard def. In fact, during some of the well-lit daytime scenes, I would say most viewers would be hard-pressed to notice this was a print, aside from the damage. I do not remember there being a warning screen about the image quality on A Question of Silence, like there is before the film here, but I wouldn't say the two presentations vary so much for a warning to be necessary (or they could've put the same note on both).
Two audio tracks are included, an LPCM 2.0 track and a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, both in English. I watched the film with the LPCM 2.0 track, and it sounded fine. There is a bit more depth to it than there is the image, with dialogue offering a satisfying crispness. Music also has a pleasing clarity. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
Optional introduction to the film by producer Dick Maas (0:28) - a brief, fairly perfunctory audio introduction to the film that plays over a black-and-white photo of Mr. Maas.
Commentary by Peter Verstraten, Assistant Professor in Film and Literary Studies at Leiden University - Those who have checked out Cult Epics' other two Gorris releases will probably remember that Verstraten was also enlisted for a commentary on Broken Mirrors. Once again, he demonstrates an impressive depth of knowledge right off the bat, telling an amusing story about the plane chassis used for the film, and its connection to firemen in Trinidad. As Verstraten states openly, his main goal with the track is to distinguish Gorris' work from the feminist films of the 1970s (namely Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away), as well as other similar movies, such as Hell in the Pacific, Cast Away, and Triangle of Sadness. He also talks about related literary works, such as Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies. He explains that his approach is to make sure the three commentaries don't cover the same ground, with the other two tracks having plenty of information about Gorris' work from a historical or factual perspective. The discussion starts with Gorris' decision to identify less with a character and more with a conflict, and goes from there. Another worthwhile listen.
Interview with Politica Columnist Annemarie Grewel (11:37) - Like the interview on Broken Mirrors, this is sourced from the TV show "Cinema 3." This is probably the most straightforward of the TV pieces that have been included on these discs, with Grewel simply offering her own opinion on the film, but it also represents a fairly complex discussion about the film, touching on the movie's feminist bonafides in terms of both the characters and the themes, the movie's exploration of religious fanaticism, and incorporating some of Gorris' previous comments about her movies. If there's a real complaint, this is quite clip-heavy, with something like four or five minutes taken up by scenes from the movie.
Behind-the-Scenes of The Last Island (16:51) - This fairly significant chunk of B-roll is great in terms of showing how many people actually worked on what seems like a small, low-budget movie and how the production pulled off some of the more complex sequences, as well as the camaraderie of the cast and crew. However, the entire 17 minutes is nothing but edited videotape footage set to music, with no interview clips or notable audio from the set.
Promotional Gallery - 15 still images.
Theatrical Trailers - The Dutch theatrical trailer for The Last Island is included, as well as trailers for Cult Epics releases of A Question of Silence, Pastorale 1943, The Debut, Mysteries, and Julia.
The Last Island is good, but easily the least essential of the three Gorris films released by Cult Epics. Those who have bought the releases as they've come out will have to decide whether or not it's worth collecting the third, but those who have waited can also get the three movies in an exclusive box set, which also includes a booklet with an essay by Anneke Smelik, which I think makes the decision easier (kind of odd that they chose to release the individuals first and the set second, rather than vice-versa).
The images on this page are taken from the Blu-ray and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images.