The Island of Dr. Moreau Reviews
I love Kilmer's Brando impersonation amongst purple/green sci-fi light. His entrance to the creatures this way amidst lightning, descending down the elevator, surrounded by their desperation, is classic.
I love the evolution of David Thwelis in this film, he's such a storyteller, where he brings Douglas from a straight-laced guy looking to get home, devolved into a gun-wielding crazy man totally absorbed in the business of this god-forsaken island he never asked to be a part of; there's savagery growing in him.
With 20 minutes to go, Kilmer and Brando are both gone, the creatures are taking over, Kilmer has said that everything has failed before dying. It's an escape film, a survivor story from here. Forget about regaining control, it's time to get out of here... or join them? What's to become of Douglas and Moreau's daughter, who is changing into another form?
What a treasure that this film exists, it almost feels as lost as the island Moreau himself inhabits.
Based on a screenplay penned by Richard Stanley and Ron Hutchinson, The Island of Dr. Moreau originally had the former on board as the director. But like the many actors who left the production shortly before filming began and Rob Morrow who left after a day, Richard Stanley ultimately departed his duties having disappeared to cope with a mental breakdown. He left a week into principal photography due to the self-obsessive on-set antics of Val Kilmer who made the production hell for everybody. So The Island of Dr. Moreau was doomed before it began, a broken production left for John Frankenheimer to piece together. It doesn't take long before viewers can conclude that he was no saviour, largely because the production is beyond rescue.
There isn't much of a great mystery behind the titular Dr. Moreau. It's mentioned in passing that he disappeared and was presumed dead, but the actors seem hardly interested in this. The characters aren't that interesting in the first place as characterization takes a back seat to spectacle, and so the script is left to be oversimplified with rare references to any profound themes of intellect.The concept of a mad scientists attempting to convert animals into people has good potential for science fiction and thrills with even ethical concepts paving the way for potential drama. Instead, The Island of Dr. Moreau takes its concept and churns out a half-assed drama about general life on the island and the way it is run without any insight into profound themes. There is no telling what Richard Stanley might have done with the story, but John Frankenheimer has proven on many occasions that he is a visual artists first and a storyteller second. Bringing him in last-minute to a hellish production with faulty special effects puts his testicles straight into a bear trap, and the limitations imposed on him results in meandering elements of visual grace and a story with no social commentary whatsoever.
Visually, the scenery in The Island of Dr. Moreau is marvellous. With Richaerd Stanley's keen eye for imagery, the cinematography works to capture the beauty of the Australian scenery with gracefully moving wide-screen cinematography. There is a lot of colourful life the surrounds the story in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Alas, the grace of the locations is blunted by the creatures that inhabit them. The creatures in The Island of Dr. Moreau are supposedly human-animal hybrids, but they instead look like burn victims with pubic hair taped to their face. Seemingly an inspiration for the incredibly awkward design of the Psychlos from the catastrophic science fiction box office bomb Battlefield Earth (2000), there is nothing impressive about the makeup work in The Island of Dr. Moreau. I am reminded of a scene in the action-comedy satire Team America: World Police (2004) where a facial reconstruction of one of the puppets is undertaken with the result being little more than paint and hair being stuck on his face as part of the joke. As if Academy Award-winning makeup artist Stan Winston is playing a joke on audiences, the creatures from The Island of Dr. Moreau are of little more convincement than the actors in gorilla suits from Congo (1995) the previous year. The makeup effects in the low-budget horror film The Howling (1981) were superior, even though that film preceded The Island of Dr. Moreau by 15 years and cost a meagre $1.5 million. Viewers will get so caught up in the incomprehensible ugliness of the creatures in The Island of Dr. Moreau that they may forget about the overtly shallow nature of the story, but it drags the credibility of the production out the door and leaves it with no chance of achieving an intense mood that it may desire. Frankly, the greatest mark The Island of Dr. Moreau made on history was inspiring the creation of the South Park (1997-present) characters Dr. Alphonse Mephesto and Kevin.
The one aspect I will give consistent credit to is the musical score. Though the film has no hope of achieving intensity, the work of Gary Chang manages to combine elements of the jungle setting and simple thriller elements. It's not transcendent, but amid the countless flaws in The Island of Dr. Moreau it is the one thing I would call good. When considering the music and the sound effects, I would almost conclude that The Island of Dr. Moreau is better on the ears than the eyes if not for the weak dialogue and lacklustre cast responsible for delivering it.
Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer battle for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Both deliver poor performances, but it ultimately goes home with the more deserved of the two, Marlon Brando. The films made by Marlon Brando during his post-The Godfather (1972) proved mostly to be glorified cameos and supporting roles intended to bring him more money than credibility. The Island of Dr. Moreau is of course no exception to this since he doesn't bear his face until 30 minutes into the film. Returning to the role of an insane Jungle man after playing such a part to iconic results in Apocalypse Now (1979), the two roles beg for comparisons. Yet while Colonel Walter E. Kurtz was a psychotic genius buried beneath shadow, Dr. Moreau is an overweight bumbling fool with more of a pretentious nature than an insane one. When he goes into his monologue about his passion for animal experimentation, all I could hear was the voice of Ian McDiarmid telling me the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise as he did in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). The two-time Academy Award winner is little more than an overweight bumbling fool in The Island of Dr. Moreau, a role that could be called the absolute worst of his career. Anyone looking at this film without a knowledge of Marlon Brando's prior history would never have guessed that he is considered a screen legend.
Val Kilmer's casting in The Island of Dr. Moreau was as a last-minute replacement for James Woods. While the character Dr. Montgomery is hardly interesting in the first place, the intrinsic nature of James Woods could have been enough of a gimmick to add mild entertainment to The Island of Dr. Moreau. Val Kilmer has none of that, he is simply a decent actor in the right role. However, Dr. Montgomery is not the right role. Val Kilmer has few iconic traits about him, and in The Island of Dr. Moreau he has to rely on them to carry the lifeless role that he made the entire production hell in an effort to play. It's odd that nobody saw fit to fire the man when his behaviour was so outlandish or even when his performance was so poor, but I guess the entire production was in too deep by this point. The fact is that Val Kilmer has no feeling of dramatic charisma or psychosis in The Island of Dr. Moreau and gave Richard Stanley a mental breakdown for nothing.
David Thewlis also fails to make an impact. Though he is the protagonist, Edward Douglas is reduced to being a forgettable supporting character who spends the entirety of the film looking at the surrounding world with the same confusion as viewers. In that sense he is the most sympathetic character of the film, but he is still generic. David Thewlis has little to say so there is nothing pretentious or potentially dislikeable about him, he is simply a shell of a character pushed through a series of meaningless plot dynamics so that the film can pretend it has a protagonist. It's simple a waste of his time.
The first thing Fairuza Balk is seen doing in The Island of Dr. Moreau is dancing around awkwardly to repetitive music in an attempt to capture some kind of mystique, but there is nothing there. She seems as confused by everything as David Thewlis, and though she has her own dramatic subplot it is never truly realized. There are moments of meandering flair where you can see she is trying, but everything around her works to destroy her talents. It is a true shame since she was a talented star of the 90's decade having played such roles as the gothic antagonist Nancy Downs in The Craft (1996) during the same year. She's the one cast member who is really any good.
Lastly, The fact that Ron Perlman is one of the many actors beneath the pathetic makeup is incredibly insulting to the man's credit as an actor. Having played the role of Vincent the titular Beast on Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990) and winning a Golden Globe in the process, the man his revealed his natural talents for acting as an anthropomorphic creature beneath good makeup effects. Since The Island of Dr. Moreau has none of those but still puts him in such a role, he is condemned to be one of the many poorly designed creatures and cannot push his charisma beyond it. He isn't given much time to try anyway, and the script doesn't care enough to help him.
The Island of Dr. Moreau has an interesting idea at heart and some nice scenery, but with the production of the film being a ticking time bomb, it explodes into a lifelessly slow collection of meaningless incomprehensible drama, poor prosthetics and a distinct lack of thrills