Film Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

Release Date: August 23rd, 1996
Directed by: John Frankenheimer, Richard Stanley (uncredited)
Written by: Richard Stanley, Ron Hutchinson
Based on: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells
Music by: Gary Chang
Cast: Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis, Fairuza Balk, Temuera Morrison, Mark Dacascos, Ron Perlman

New Line Cinema, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Well, things didn’t work out. Moreau wanted to turn animals into humans and humans into gods. But it’s instinct and reason, instinct and reason. What’s reason to a dog?” – Montgomery

Well, here we are. I’ve already reviewed the other Dr. Moreau film adaptations and so I figured I’d save the best worst for last. Well, it’s considered the worst by many and in fact, it’s considered one of the worst films ever made. Well, that’s definitely not true, as there are many, many, many movies that make this thing look like a masterpiece.

The thing is, I actually kind of like this movie in spite of its issues, most of which were due to this legitimately being one of the most poorly managed productions in motion picture history.

Frankly, this is a “bad” movie but there’s so much about it that’s kind of cool and intriguing that it actually overshadows the bad shit, in my opinion.

To start, Stan Winston’s special effects in this are really good. I like how he designed the creatures and applied it, giving different humanoid animal species distinct features and fur, allowing the mind to easily differentiate between them. But the makeup also works so well in the moments where the creatures lose their humanity and slide back into their wild, animalistic tendencies.

Also, the cast is as good as it can be, all things considered. But if you want the full story of the insanity that was this production, especially regarding the personal issues between Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, as well as the two different directors, you should watch the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, which I reviewed here.

At times, the acting can be a mixed bag but it’s not any worse than similar mid-’90s sci-fi productions. This has a lot of characters, more than the previous adaptations, but it does a fair job of trying to balance them, even if the movie had to shoot around their temper tantrums and bullshit.

I like some of the narrative changes but this one is the bleakest of all the films, tonally and in how it ends. Although, it works for what this story deals with and the questions it raises.

In the end, this is certainly far from great but it’s not a total dumpster fire like people have claimed for decades now.

Rating: 5.5/10

Film Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

Release Date: July 13th, 1977
Directed by: Don Taylor
Written by: Al Ramrus, John Herman Shaner
Based on: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells
Music by: Laurence Rosenthal
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Nigel Davenport, Barbara Carrera, Richard Basehart, Nick Cravat, Fumio Demura

Major Productions, Cinema 77, American International Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“If one is to study nature, one must become as remorseless as nature. You should know that!” – Dr. Paul Moreau

I saw this once, when I was a kid. However, I thought it was a really cool movie and it was my introduction to H. G. Wells’ work beyond just “The Invisible Man”.

In fact, I was initially excited for the 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau but between the critics and my friends trashing the hell out of the film, I ended up going into the theater, prepared for disappointment. Needless to say, I was very disappointed but I also barely remember the movie now and plan to rewatch it in the very near future.

Anyway, this is about the ’70s adaptation, which I can now say isn’t as good as the ’30s version but I do think it’s closer to the source material and more fleshed out.

Additionally, I thought that Burt Lancaster and Michael York both put in really convincing performances and they had a good rapport in the film, until shit started to go sideways. The film reveals its mysteries like a slow burn and even if you know how this story is going to go, the reveals of what’s happening on the island are still effective.

Honestly, I’ve liked York for ages but this is one of my favorite performances by him. It’s also cool seeing him be able to hang with a legend like Lancaster.

I love the practical makeup effects in this, as well, and while they are vastly improved upon in the ’90s adaptation, there is something creepier about how they’re applied, here. You still see the humanity in the faces of the distorted creatures and their eyes are utilized well, speaking through their disfigurements.

This actually stands up to time, fairly well. In fact, it’s similar to how the original Planet of the Apes movies utilized similar effects that have also stood the test of time in spite of the limitations of the era in which they were made.

All in all, this was pretty damn cool to experience again, so many years later.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Also known as: The Island of Dr. Moreau (working title), H.G. Wells’ Island of Lost Souls (poster title)
Release Date: December 26th, 1932 (Scranton, PA)
Directed by: Erle C. Kenton
Written by: Philip Wylie, Waldemar Young
Based on: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells
Music by: Arthur Johnston, Sigmund Krumgold
Cast: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke

Paramount Pictures, 70 Minutes

Review:

“Have you forgotten the house of pain?” – Dr. Moreau, “You! You made us in the house of pain! You made us… things! Not men! Not beasts! Part man… part beast! Things!” – Sayer of the Law

For several years now, the name “Dr. Moreau” has been immediately associated with the 1996 film The Island of Dr. Moreau, which was plagued with incredible production issues that were so legendary that there’s a feature length documentary about it (I reviewed it here).

However, that 1996 movie wasn’t the first Dr. Moreau film and in fact, the first sound era adaptation was this film, which was released way back in 1932 and featured the talents of Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, who had just come off of Dracula.

For the most part, this was a decent adaptation of the ideas, concepts and general story of the original 1896 novel by H. G. Wells. Sure, there are certainly some differences and the movie is also limited by what was possible in 1932.

However, in spite of those limitations, this movie makes the best with what it is able to do and honestly, this was a hell of an achievement for its era. The special effects, especially in regards to makeup and the creatures, was top notch stuff. Being that this was the first time that I had seen this film, I found most of it to be visually impressive and really cool.

Now the acting was a mixed bag but Laughton gave a solid performance as Dr. Moreau and Lugosi was as enjoyable, as always. Lugosi just makes a great monster and in this, he was much better than what any other actor probably could’ve done, except for maybe Boris Karloff.

Additionally, Kathleen Burke was really impressive as Lota, the Panther Woman. I liked her look, she was incredibly expressive like she was playing in a silent picture and she really made a hell of an impact alongside talents like Laughton and Lugosi.

I was also impressed by the sets from the compound, the lab and the island itself, which was haunting, lush and tropical.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from this in the quality department, as I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid. I’m glad to say that I was really satisfied with it, overall, and wish it was as revered as some of the more famous horror pictures of its time.

Rating: 7.25/10

Documentary Review: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)

Release Date: August 24th, 2014 (London FrightFest Film Festival premiere)
Directed by: David Gregory
Written by: David Gregory
Music by: Mark Raskin
Cast: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Rob Morrow, Robert Shaye, Hugh Dickson, Oli Dickson

Severin Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

I saw the mid-’90s Island of Dr. Moreau film in the theatre. But it was so bad that I barely remembered anything about it other than how damn weird and terrible it was. I also didn’t really know the story behind it until years later when I read articles about the problems on the set and the ousting of director, Richard Stanley.

This documentary does a pretty good job of covering the details and allowing several of the people involved in this fiasco to tell their stories from their points-of-view.

Most importantly, it let Stanley tell his side of the story while also cluing the viewer in on what he had planned. Frankly, his ideas and his vision for the picture sounded incredible, even if what he wanted to do was probably unachievable even before the producers started meddling with his plans.

It also didn’t help that two massive egomaniacs, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, were hired to star in the picture. With that, they developed a rivalry that truly derailed the production and caused even bigger problems.

Even knowing what I did going into this documentary, I still wasn’t prepared for the whole story and the dozens of additional details I never knew. Fairuza Balk’s stories about the experience were really interesting and allowed you see how this unfolded through the eyes of someone who was trapped in this production and pretty powerless to do anything about it.

All in all, this was informative and it shed a lot of light on one of the most troubled productions in motion picture history. It’s a compelling story and certainly deserving of having that story told.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about failed films, as well as all the Dr. Moreau film adaptations.

Vids I Dig 419: The Critical Drinker: ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ – The Most Disastrous Movie Ever Made

From The Critical Drinker’s YouTube description: In a change of pace today, I thought it would be a laugh to take a look at one of the most infamously troubled productions in Hollywood history – the disaster that is The Island of Dr Moreau.