Movie Notes: The Island Of Dr. Moreau
= 1 star
Starring Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis
I’m not sure how I got into yet another Netflix rut, but The Island Of Dr. Moreau is a scary genetic experiment of a flick. It’s similar other “clone” movies I’ve seen recently (The 6th Day, The Island). This 1996 version of an HG Welles story is car-crash bizarre and seriously tested my ability to swallow its science fiction. I can only recommend this strange brew of sci-fi, horror, Apocalypse Now, and The Labyrinth if you’re having a “bad movie” festival, or if such film making horrors make you laugh.
We first see Edward Douglas (David Thewlis), plane crash survivor, in a life-raft fighting with two other survivors over remaining scraps of food. There is no dialogue, explanation, or sanity between the men as they pummel each other until Edward is the sole survivor. His two pals have fallen overboard to be eaten by sharks.
From there things get worse. Edward is picked up by Montgomery (Val Kilmer), aide to the mad scientist Dr. Moreau (Marlon Brando), who runs a remote island laboratory. He performs genetic experiments – fusing human genes with various animals – giving them intellect, language, and consciousness but little else.
Dr. Moreau keeps control over the human beasts via electroshock implants, fear, and drugs. Ruling over the island like a dictator, he insists the beasts call him “father” and deals out pain-punishment from a pope-mobile. His home life is even odder, with half-cat daughter Aissa (Fairuza Balk), several hybrid wolf / monkey / sons, and a tiny red fetus sidekick that inspired the Mini Me character in the Austin Powers movies.
I did enjoy the film’s first part as Edward gradually discovers this tropical freak show. Brando’s performance with an English accent and a mouth prosthetic is bizarre but entertaining. But I threw in the towel when one of the animal-slaves decides the whole “father” set up is horse-poo and removes his electroshock implant. Soon, Dr. Moreau, the film’s most interesting character, is mauled by beasts and the story devolves into a gore fest shoot up with little explanation or reason behind anything – just like the opening scene.
I often wonder how strange movie like this ever get made, and the behind the scenes stories are more entertaining than the film. The original director was fired. Actors including Fairuza Balk walked off the set. The script was rewritten while shooting. This chaos was an ideal home for Brando’s notorious antics and in one scene he wears an ice bucket on his head because… well, he was bored and nobody dared say no to the great actor. I wonder if other ideas like the white clown makeup or the piano duet with Mini Skinless Chicken were his, too. Val Kilmer was going through a divorce, called the shoot “crazy,” and improvised much of his performance, phoning in a mouthful of marbles Brando impersonation at one point. The original director sneaked back on set just to participate, as an extra in furry makeup. Is there an Island of Dr. Moreau in Second Life?
It’s all a shame, because The Island Of Dr. Moreau has some good ideas at its core – the nature of human vs. beast, the human desire to control all living things, and if people can ever be responsible with God-like science and technology. But this movie fails to provide any satisfying answers to these questions.
As the credits roll, the narrator says he fears going back to society as he’s not sure if humankind is any wiser than the man-beasts he encountered on the island. The Island Of Dr. Moreau also made me fearful – of watching any more sci fi clone movies, as the bad variety seem busy cloning themselves in my Netflix queue.