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Stay Off, and Away From, 'The Island'

'The Island' | DreamWorks Insider Trading? | Byron Preiss

Stay Off, and Away From, 'The Island'

Michael Bay seems like such a good guy in person. But his movies get worse and worse, each new one defying the odds.

How much worse can they get than "Pearl Harbor," "Armageddon" or "Bad Boys II?" A lot.

For one thing, "The Island" doesn't even have a cheesy theme song. Where the heck are Diane Warren and Celine Dion when you need them? It just has a pulsating and obnoxious score that consists mostly of electronic bass.

But seriously, "The Island" is the kind of movie DreamWorks was supposed not to make. Wasn't that the idea? It's the kind of cynical schlock that is a specialty of the big studios.

There are constant explosions and lots of exposition, but no story, no plot, lots of logic problems, etc. The main character's name gives it all away, too: Lincoln. You just know he's going to free someone before the two hours are up.

What makes "The Island" a little bit worse than usual are the underlying themes.

Of course, there is no island, but the bulk of the movie takes place in an underground bunker that is too reminiscent of a concentration camp for comfort.

Late in the film, some of the people trapped in this bunker are actually herded into a gas-chamber device.

If "The Island" hadn't been made by the same studio whose principal owner made "Schindler's List," you might not care so much. But where was Steven Spielberg when this script was green-lighted?

"The Island" also shares a couple of unfortunate Sept. 11 references with Spielberg's "War of the Worlds."

Call me sensitive, but I watched the real Sept. 11 from my living room. It's almost as if the folks in Hollywood think that the whole thing was a movie. It was not.

I do not want to see planes exploding through office buildings, nor do I want see to downed planes, having crashed through buildings, split open, with dead bodies thrown about. No more, Hollywood, thanks.

Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson do their best to keep "The Island" going from one implausible cliché to the next. They are attractive and smart, but there is nothing they can do to overcome the inanities that pile on as the movie lumbers to its paint-by-numbers conclusion.

"The Island" reads like a cross between "Coma," "Logan's Run" and "Blade Runner," but with more money thrown at it.

Only Steve Buscemi, in an all-too-brief sequence, breathes any life into the stale proceedings. When he goes, you might as well take a nap.

"The Island" is set around 50 years in the future, when there are supposedly subways floating through the air in big cities. There are also flying motorcycles.

Alas, according to Bay, there is also Calvin Klein perfume, Budweiser, Ben & Jerry's, Mack trucks, Cadillacs, AquaFina water, and, most importantly, Johnnie Rockets.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I have never seen so many product placements in one film. The subliminal message I got from them was: Don't use these things.

Don't worry, I won't.

DreamWorks is in trouble (see below). But I worry that they think this kind of movie is the remedy.

This little studio has already given us "American Beauty," "Almost Famous," "Gladiator," the "Shrek" movies and "Saving Private Ryan," among others. It should stick to its mandate and aim for quality.

Unfortunately, I think "The Island" will teach it that lesson.

DreamWorks Insider Trading Scandal?

Suspicious sales of DreamWorks Animation stock could be at the core of the Securities and Exchange Commission's look into the studio's dealings.

Monday morning, in a planned conference call for investors, DreamWorks Animation officials conceded that the SEC had questions about the way the company's stock was traded. (DreamWorks recently spun off its animation company, thus creating stock and a public entity open to scrutiny not accorded the main company, which is privately held.)

The company also announced that it had dropped plans to pursue a new stock offering to raise $500 million. Officials also said that for the last eight weeks, they'd been conducting an analysis of their DVD sales.

On the conference call, which is available on the Internet, DreamWorks Animation officials said that things were so bad that even if the company's planned fall release of "Wallace and Gromit" made a projected $170 million at the box office, it still wouldn't help the bottom line.

But industry insiders apparently knew this was coming because of a class-action suit filed against DreamWorks on June 10, 2005.

The lawsuit named DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg — who is not accused of profiting from stock sales — as well as company officers Ann Daly and Kristina M. Leslie as defendants. Katzenberg is named because he is the head of the company.

The suit claims that the defendants "flooded the market" with DVDs of "Shrek 2" last fall, and followed the release with false claims of success, thus inflating the newly formed DreamWorks Animation company's stock price.

The suit alleges that the company's insiders knew this, and that when the "truth" was revealed on May 10 of this year, the stock price tumbled. By then, according to the suit, all the principals had cashed out and made handsome profits, leaving holders of the common stock to fend for themselves.

For some reason, just about no one covered this story in the mainstream business press or Hollywood trade publications. But the suit — filed on behalf of the class by Milberg Weiss, the same law firm that represented Disney stockholders in the Mike Ovitz suit — is eye-opening.

It alleges what this column and just about any business analyst could confirm: that major sales of stock by DreamWorks insiders look timed to predate announcements of bad news and tumbling stock prices.

This could be construed as insider trading, which is what the lawsuit suggests. But insider trading would have to be alleged either by stockholders who bought or sold stock on the same day as the principals, or by the SEC itself, says a well-placed source.

Publicly available records show that the company's two chief operating officers, defendants Daly and Leslie, as well as another officer, Katherine Kendrick (who is not a defendant), sold DreamWorks Animation stock totaling $4.5 million on April 27, 2005, when the stock price was at a high.

Two weeks later, after news that the sales of "Shrek 2" DVDs had not been as strong as promised, the stock began a downward slide.

More surprising is a monumental sale of stock last November by Paul Allen , Microsoft co-founder and investor in DreamWorks from its inception in 1995.

Allen cashed in 4,901,858 shares of stock on Nov. 4, 2004 and pocketed an astounding $137,252,024. (The Milberg Weiss lawsuit claims Allen actually made almost $184 million that day.)

That was only a week after DreamWorks Animation had been spun off into a public entity, but around the time the "Shrek 2" DVD went on sale to much hoopla.

Allen, an outside director, is not named as a defendant in the class-action suit.

Also on Nov. 2, 2004, Lee Entertainment — owned by the same Korean family that owns Samsung — sold 775,213 shares of DreamWorks Animation stock and claimed $21,705,964.

When Allen and Lee sold in November, the stock was at $28. When the three officers took their money in April, the stock had gone up to $37.62.

But on Monday morning, DreamWorks Animation stock was selling at $23 a share.

Ironically, DreamWorks' live-action studio, run by David Geffen and not part of the class-action lawsuit, is on the verge of a big summer.

On Sunday night, the studio premiered "The Island," directed by Michael Bay ("Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor"), starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson (see above).

This fall it'll release what's said to be Woody Allen 's best movie in almost a decade, "Match Point."

And Steven Spielberg is now filming his movie about the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and the Israeli assassinations of Palestinian terrorists that followed, due in time for Christmas.

Sad to Say Goodbye

You may have read about the horrific traffic accident on Saturday morning that claimed the life of 52-year-old book publisher Byron Preiss.

He will be remembered this morning at Sutton Place Synagogue. My condolences go out to his loving wife, Sandi Mendelson, whom I've known for a good 20 years.

I actually met Byron when I was 23 and I guess he was around 27. We both worked in a small building on East 56th St. It's still there.

The trick at this place was that the elevator stopped short a floor at the top. You had to walk up to the fifth floor. But to come down to the fourth floor you could slide down a fire pole.

I am not kidding. If you did this successfully, a troll-like man at the front desk handed you a pen. If you shook it, it showed a girl coming down a pole and her dress going up. I still have it.

I worked on the fourth floor for a literary agent named Nat Sobel. On the fifth floor, above us with the fire pole, was Bernie Geis. He was a famous book packager who had discovered Jacqueline Susann. I believe Byron was renting space from him at the time.

Every once in a while over the years, I would run into Byron at some event or other. He would become quite successful and we would just stop and share a private laugh. Only the two of us really knew how we'd started out. I think he still had a pen, too.

Back in 1981, Byron was just starting his business, still thriving today, called Byron Preiss Visual Publications. He was kind of a visionary, perhaps realizing — unlike me — that traditional book publishing held no real future for people of our generation. That ship had sailed.

It was every man for himself and Byron was going to make it on his own. He did and then some.

Taken much too soon, he will be sorely missed.