Islands in the Stream(Paramount Home Entertainment, 3.29.2005)
Based on Ernest Hemingway's posthumous novel, Islands in the Stream is an extremely unusual, emotionally flat film from actor George C. Scott and director Franklin J. Schaffner, the team that made Patton 7 years earlier. It tells the story of Thomas Hudson (Scott), a sculptor who leads a reclusive life on an isolated island in the Bahamas. Early in the film, he is visited by his resentful sons -- who soon warm up to him -- and he must deal with the outbreak of World War II, as its influence is felt all around him.
Broken into three distinct sections -- weightily titled "The Boys," "The Woman," and "The Journey" -- Islands in the Stream desperately strives to achieve the significance of a great literary work but falls way short. The film is too preoccupied with being important and meaningful to really come alive. It has no discernible narrative, nor does it have a worthwhile alternative. It's really just a run-of-the-mill, not-particularly-insightful character study, the prototypical "serious drama."
More than anything, Islands in the Stream is weighed down by the squeaky clean, old-fashioned performances of the child actors that play Hudson's sons. Also, the macho Hemingway routine is a little tired at this point. For whatever reason, I don't feel chills when Hudson and his kids wreak havoc on creatures of the sea, in order to prove their manhood.
In a few instances, the film drops its pretensions and becomes a full-blown action movie and, in these moments, it's at its best. But the film's primary strength is the extremely serious, contemplative performance by George C. Scott, re-visiting the world of aquatic filmmaking only 4 years after his previous experience, Mike Nichols' The Day of the Dolphin. Needless to say, he is far less compassionate toward sea life in this film.
While a little background on the novel or Ernest Hemingway would have been nice, Paramount includes no extras. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is very good, although any transfer of this film would be marred by Schaffner's static visual style. Schaffner was never very good at bringing material to life. He was at his best when his material had some liveliness or originality of its own (ie. Planet of the Apes) but, in this case, he's all out of luck.
Not a high point for anyone involved, Islands in the Stream isn't a low point either. Although there isn't terribly much to recommend about it, it's a worthy rental for curious fans of Hemingway, Scott or Schaffner (if he has any), nonetheless. -- Jonathan Doyle