Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Battle of the Island Prisons

The movie "Shutter Island," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is opening this month. It depicts a fictitious mental hospital for the criminally insane, located on an island that bears no small resemblance to San Francisco's own Alcatraz. (It's also set in the 1950s, when Alcatraz was still going strong as a prison.)



This got me thinking: How does Alcatraz measure up against the greatest island prisons captured on film? Well, let's take a look.

1. CHATEAU D'IF



This is the island prison featured in the fictional "Count of Monte Cristo," but it's the real-deal-holyfield — located about a mile off shore near Marseilles.
Opened: 1531
Size: 30,000 square meters
Famous inmates: Edmond Dantès (aka the Count of Monte Cristo) and a bunch of Huguenots
Screen time: Dantès was most recently played onscreen in 2002 by James Caviezel, in a non-Jesus role. The island also appears in "The French Connection" (1971).
Awesome Index (out of 100): 85

2. RIKERS ISLAND



This Bronx facility holds about 14,000 prisoners, most of whom are pretrial detainees. That's why it features prominently in "Law & Order."
Opened: 1932
Size: 413 acres
Famous inmates: Sid Vicious, a crapload of "Law & Order" characters
Screen time: Aside from being mentioned regularly on every Dick Wolf show, Rikers hasn't been spotlighted in many movies (here's one called "Shackles"). Maybe its sweeping view of Queens isn't picturesque enough.
Awesome Index: 60

3. ALCATRAZ ISLAND



Welcome to The Rock, an island prison so bad-ass that Michael Bay, a Creed concert and millions of Fisherman's Wharf tourists haven't managed to sully its reputation.
Opened: 1934
Size: 22 acres
Famous inmates: Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Robert Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz), John Patrick Mason (played by Sean Connery), Frank Morris (played by Clint Eastwood)
Screen time: "Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962), "Escape from Alcatraz" (1979), "Murder in the First" (1995), "The Rock" (1996)
Awesome Index: 90

4. EREHWON PENITENTIARY



Erehwon ("nowhere" backwards) is a secret prison hidden inside an off-shore oil platform off the California coast. (If we built more of these, we could solve the state's revenue and prison-overcrowding problems in one fell swoop!) Warning: Erewon Penitentiary doesn't abide by the Geneva Conventions, and you might wake up one day with someone else's face.
Opened: Unknown
Size: Secret
Famous inmates: Castor Troy (played by Nicolas Cage)
Screen time: "Face/Off" (1997)
Awesome Index: 100

Sorry, Alcatraz — it's hard to compete with Erehwon's magnetic boots.