Director/Screenplay/Photography – Mark Atkins, Producer – David Michael Latt, Music – Christopher Cano, Chris Ridenhour & Eliza Swenson, Visual Effects Supervisor – Glenn Campbell, Production Design – Ray Wahl, Tenju Kaiju Concept Design – Matt Frank. Production Company – The Asylum.
Adrian Bouchet (Billy Ford), Eric Roberts (General Horne), Natalie Robbie (Sarah Murray), Donna Cormack Thomson (Cherise Ramon), Chris Fisher (Riley James), Margot Wood (Rene Hangaroa), Jonathan Pienaar (Captain Mato), Toshi Toda (Lieutenant Maxwell)
Technology entrepreneur Billy Ford is exploring the Kermadec Trench off the coast of New Zealand for potential mining. His technicians are operating an ROV in the trench when they see a monstrous creature rise. Billy, his technicians and government official Sarah Murray, an expert in geo-mythology, descend in a submersible to investigate what Sarah calls a mythic kaiju. The kaiju emerges up out of the trench and they are lifted to the surface on its back. They then come under attack as the New Zealand Navy bombs the kaiju. They realise that the kaiju’s blood is made of magma and it is heading inland to the Taupo Super Volcano, something that could cause a massive eruption that would alter worldwide weather patterns. The only hope would be finding some means of reactivating the legendary Tenju creature that is, according to mythology, able to stop the kaiju.
The Asylum is a low-budget US company that specialise in producing films with sound-alike titles that are designed to sound like other recent big-budget hits in the hope that people do not look too closely at the title when selecting. A sampling of titles includes the likes of The Da Vinci Treasure (2006), Snakes on a Train (2006), AVH: Alien vs Hunter (2007), The Hitchhiker (2007), I Am Omega (2007), Transmorphers (2007), Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls (2008), The Day the Earth Stopped (2008) 100 Million BC (2008), Sunday School Musical (2008), The 18 Year Old Virgin (2009), Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012), Age of the Hobbits (2012) and Atlantic Rim (2013), among others.
In this case, Monster Island was a mockbuster that was released one day after the high-profile, big-budget Godzilla, King of the Monsters (2019). It should be noted that Godzilla on Monster Island was the US retitling for the twelfth Japanese Godzilla film Godzilla vs Gigan (1972) and Monster Island had been established as the place where all the Japanese monsters had been banished in earlier entries. Furthermore, Monster Island steals the idea from Pacific Rim (2013) of calling the monsters kaiju (a Japanese term for ‘strange creature’ that has come to refer to their entire output of monster movies) – the term seems to be so accepted in English now that Monster Island never even bothers to explain it.
I liked Monster Island far better than most films from The Asylum. The principal reason for this is that it has some extremely good effects. The effects in most Asylum films are frequently cut-price and tatty. That said, they have been getting better over the last few years and reach a peak here. Indeed, some of the monster effects could easily pass muster in a theatrical release. Mark Atkins – who is certainly guilty of some of the other shoddy Asylum entries (see below) – often hits the modestly epic with some of the scenes of monsters battling, of giant tentacles emerging from the ocean and the like.
The film makes a claim to take place in New Zealand (but was actually shot in South Africa). Mark Atkins gets full marks for incorporating the Maori legend of the taniwha – which is usually a friendly guardian spirit that inhabits rivers and lakes but can also be monstrous – and reference to the existing and active Taupo Super Volcano. On the other hand, a good many of the other elements don’t click – all of the New Zealanders we meet speak with standard American accents and travel about in left-hand drive vehicles on the right-hand side of the road rather vice versa as New Zealanders do. There is also the rather ridiculous notion of Eric Roberts commanding the New Zealand Navy against the monster, which is seen to consist of several large-scale warships when in fact the NZ Navy consists of only two frigates.
Mark Atkins usually works as an Asylum editor but has also directed a number of films with Halloween Night (2006), Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls (2008), Dragonquest (2009), The Haunting of Winchester House (2009), Princess of Mars (2009), Battle of Los Angeles (2011), Alien Origin (2012), Sand Sharks (2012), Jack the Giant Killer (2013), Knight of the Dead (2013), Android Cop (2014), Dragons of Camelot (2014), P-51 Dragon Fighter (2014), A Perfect Vacation (2015), Road Wars (2015), Planet of the Sharks (2016), Empire of the Sharks (2017), Jurassic School (2017) and 6-Headed Shark Attack (2018).