Film (1994; vt Penal Colony; vt The Prison Colony; vt Escape From Absalom). Pacific Western/Allied Filmmakers/Columbia Tristar. Produced by Gale Ann Hurd. Directed by Martin Campbell. Written by Michael Gaylin, Joel Gross, based on The Penal Colony (1987) by Richard Herley. Cast includes Kevin Dillon, Don Henderson, Lance Henriksen, Ernie Hudson, Michael Lerner, Ray Liotta, Ian McNeice, Kevin J O'Conner, Jack Shepherd and Stuart Wilson. 115 minutes. Colour.
Curiously, this is one of two future-privatized-Prison movies released in the early 1990s and shot in Australia, the other being the fractionally better Fortress (1992, but released 1993). Despite Hurd's impeccable credentials as an independent producer of action sf movies, this is a messy internationalized adaptation of a very British original novel. Apart from the first five minutes, there is nothing futuristic about this world of 2022 (1997 in the novel) in which private corporations run prisons, and the hardest cases are dumped on a high-security island (actually Queensland rainforest) to rot. Two tribes exist on the island, the civilized Insiders and the barbarian and psychotic Outsiders. (Among the myriad visible sources are Escape from New York, Lord of the Flies and Mad Max.) Captain Robbins (Liotta), imprisoned for killing his superior officer as a protest against the slaughter by US forces of 342 women and children, is the hero who battles the evil Outsiders, helps the Insiders, and eventually escapes to tell the world about governmental cover-ups, corrupt prisons and wartime slaughters. Narrative glitches abound, and little attempt is made to confront questions of future penology; there is, however, a genuine bid to characterize the two societies that have arisen on the island, and there are surprisingly contemplative moments in what is otherwise an adolescent action POW escape movie. But how could the corporation running this corrupt system possibly make money from it, since its elaborate security systems are clearly incredibly expensive? [PN]
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