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Island of Dr Moreau, The

Entry updated 21 June 2022. Tagged: Film.

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1. Film (1977). Cinema 77, American International Pictures. Directed by Don Taylor. Written by John Herman Shaner, Al Ramrus, based on The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) by H G Wells. Cast includes Barbara Carrera, Nigel Davenport, Burt Lancaster and Michael York. 98 minutes. Colour.

In this slow-moving and trite remake of Island of Lost Souls (1932), a young castaway (York) on a remote Island learns that Dr Moreau (Lancaster), resident Scientist, is carrying out experiments to give animals human characteristics; some of the resulting hybrids live in the jungle and worship Moreau as a god. Unlike the novel and the first film, where the hybrids were cruelly created by vivisection, these are formed by Genetic Engineering; thus this version's Wellsian references to the House of Pain become puzzlingly irrelevant. The novelization (so much for Wells!) is The Island of Dr Moreau (1977) by Joseph Silva (Ron Goulart). [JB/PN]

2. Film (1996). New Line. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Written by Richard Stanley and Ron Hutchinson, based on Wells's novel. Cast includes Fairuza Balk, Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, Temuera Morrison, Ron Perlman and David Thewlis. Theatrical version 96 minutes; Director's Cut 100 minutes. Colour.

This was a famously disastrous production. Original writer-director Stanley (see Hardware), on his first and last Hollywood production, had developed the project for four years but was sacked on the fourth day of shooting after his first run-in with an unprepared and resistant Kilmer (originally cast in the lead, but reassigned to Moreau's lieutenant Montgomery, whose role was expanded). Frankenheimer stepped in, scrapped most of Stanley's script (which was rewritten by Frankenheimer and Hutchinson, though much of the eventual dialogue was the actors'), and recast the lead (Thewlis replacing Kilmer's replacement, Rob Morrow), but himself struggled with both Kilmer and Brando in a chaotic shoot. In a bizarre turn, Stanley meanwhile borrowed a Stan Winston beast costume and returned to the shoot as an extra in the role of "melting bulldog man", with the cognizance of the cast but not of Frankenheimer (who had never met him).

Not surprisingly, the resulting film is disjointed and subject to strange ellipses of narrative and motivation, some of them bandaged with voiceover; but the sense of chaos, and the creeping madness of the cast and crew's protracted isolation in a remote jungle location (in Queensland), become part of the film's distinctive resonance, as effectively a Wellsian remake of Apocalypse Now (whose co-writer Michael Herr worked on Stanley's script). In this version Montgomery takes over after Moreau's death and descends into Kurtz-like madness, while the beasts inexorably regress to their animal nature and their village burns. Brando's strange performance visibly attempts to channel some of Charles Laughton's in Island of Lost Souls (1932), but the standout players are Perlman, as the beast-man Sayer of the Law, and Balk in the new role of a sensual but doomed cat-girl. The Director's Cut restores a few minutes of inconsequential footage, including some deleted gore. [NL]


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