Disturbing | The Island of Dr. Moreau (Unrated Director's Cut) | David Thewlis, Marlon Brando
The Island of Dr. Moreau (Unrated Director's Cut)
New Line Home Video, 1997
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Brando, Kilmer, Perlman, What More Can You Ask....Oh yeah A Decent Plot Would Be Nice
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Tell me, why you make the pain, if we are your children?
was based on an H.G. Wells novel written exactly five score (100) years before this 1996 version, which was the third attempt at capturing the novel on film. 1932's Island of Lost Souls, the first version, was a haunting film. Though in Black & White and made with much cruder special effects and make up, it nevertheless was the most successful in creating its macabre mood. Charles Loughton played the mad doctor and none other than Bela Lugosi was the Sayer of the Law. With Lost Souls indelibly etched in my brain the 1977 version, also called The Island of Dr. Moreau, seemed rather mediocre in comparison, in spite of featuring Burt Lancaster, Michael York, and Richard Basehart. It would be interesting to compare '77 instead with this version made less than one score years later, which easily made the list of The 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE® MOVIE GUIDE.
Richard Stanley, the original
, was fired by the studio after only a few days. Val Kilmer announced that he wanted nothing to do with the project, but was forced to fulfill his contractual obligations. He was supposed to play the lead, but took the role of Dr. Montgomery instead. David Thewlis was cast, and strangely, he had been the original choice for the part from fired director Richard Stanley. Among other mishaps, Thewlis broke his leg during the shoot when he fell off a horse. David Thewlis had such a horrible time that he refused to attend the premiere, and vowed he would never watch the film.
Dr. Moreau: I have almost achieved perfection you see, of a divine creature that is pure, harmonious, absolutely incapable of any malice. And if in my tinkering I have fallen short of the human form by the snout, claw or hoof, it really is of no great importance. I am closer than you could possibly imagine, sir.
The cast embarked on their doomed journey with high hopes. Val Kilmer vacationed with Brando in Ireland just prior to filming. Ron Perlman signed on mainly for a chance to work with the great Marlon Brando. But Brando gave such a silly and sissified performance that it made his controversially prissy Mr. Christian in Mutiny On The Bounty seem butch.
To be fair, Brando was dealing with his daughter's recent suicide, and the French had just conducted an underwater nuclear detonation near Tahiti and one of the atolls that Brando owned; but could even that excuse a performance this bad from the master thespian, who not only "coulda been a contender" but had been the holder of the heavy weight acting crown?
The role of Dr. Moreau did call for a brilliant but eccentric man who isolated himself on an island, with servants and underlings who catered to his every whim, and that would seem to be right up Brando's atoll, but the affect was comical, not tragic or dramatic, or, as befits a horror film, horrifying. The only thing frightening about his performance was how bad it was. Perhaps Marlon was going for White Plantation Owner, or, Would-Be Pope, playing God, but the resultant mixed metaphors had Brando being carted around in a throne; face painted white with sunscreen, an umbrella on his head, clutching a remote control/rosary that dished out the pain to stray members of his manimal flock. What should have been a climactic scene where he confronts Hyena-Swine and the others who have removed their pain inflicting implants was in danger of seeming more like a routine fight over the TV's remote. Another scene where Dr. Moreau plays the grand piano while a similarly attired Majai (the diminutive Nelson de la Rosa) plays atop the grand on a baby grand of his own was no doubt the inspiration for Dr. Evil's Mini-Me in Mike Myers' Austin Powers films.
Edward Douglas: Are you a doctor?
Montgomery: Well, I'm more of a vet.
Val Kilmer was dealing with demons of his own. Though he was initially enthusiastic about working with Brando he became disillusioned when he saw that his idol had feet of clay. He learned that his then wife, Johanna Whalley, was divorcing him when he saw it on TV. Being served with divorce papers, and dissatisfied with the direction the project was taking, he wanted out desperately. With his recent success playing Batman he was too valuable a commodity for the studio to release him completely, so he switched to the lesser role of Dr. Montgomery. Perhaps he felt a certain kinship with the brilliant neurosurgeon reduced to the role of shepherd for Dr. Moreau's flock of misbegotten manimals? Whatever his mood, he seemed to be either deliberately sabotaging the film, having a laugh at a private joke, or more likely, he just did not care. He plays a drug freak-out scene that is so Oliver Stoned that it would be laughed OUT of a Cheech and Chong movie, let alone The Doors (which was, in my opinion, a great film with a great performance by Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison, even if the surviving members of The Doors disliked it). This scene culminates in Dr. Montgomery seeming to have caught Dr. Moreau's contagious insanity, but it seems more like Kilmer is cruelly mocking Brando, biting the hand that fed him.
Hyena-Swine: There is no pain, there is no law!
When Director Richard Stanley was summarily fired after only a few days, it is fitting that John Frankenheimer was tapped to direct this Frankenstein monster of a movie. In the early 60's he directed The Manchurian Candidate, The Birdman of Alcatraz, All Fall Down, and The Young Savages; but by 1987, however, he had directed Riviera, a made-for-television movie that turned out so bad that it was attributed to Alan Smithee, the appellation affixed to films to escape blame when the director wants nothing further to do with it. Perhaps he should have blamed The Island of Dr. Moreau on Alan Smithee, too?
From the start he was at odds with Brando, Kilmer, and the studio exe
ives. The original shooting script by Richard Stanley was tossed, barely two words survived; but due to WGA (Writer's Guild of America) rules, Richard Stanley retained co-writer credit. Walon Green was a bit luckier and avoided any blame when he provided uncredited contributions to Hutchinson's draft. Ron Hutchinson's rewrites incorporated changes ordered by Frankenheimer, Brando, Kilmer and the studio. Frankenheimer wanted to alter the basic tone of the film and attempted to merge Brando's vision of Moreau with his version. Big mistake. Brando, though a great actor, needs a strong director to rein him in. Or at the very least someone who knows how to use his unique stage presence--like Francis Ford Copolla did in The Godfather or Apocalypse Now. Or Bernardo Bertolucci's in Ultimo tango a Parigi. 'Island' turned out as bad as the disaster that was 1961's One-Eyed Jacks, where Brando fired Director Stanley Kubrick and directed it himself.
Hyena-Swine: Fine man... please... tell them... that I am God.
Edward Douglas: You all killed the Father. You all ate his flesh. So who is the new Father? Who is God Number One? Who should they obey?
[indicating other rebellious Beast People]
Edward Douglas: Him? Him. You see, there must be a God Number One.
[Hyena-Swine roars and shoots at his compatriots]
Perhaps the strangest story associated with this production was that fired director Richard Stanley sneaked back onto the set in a dog mask and performed as an extra. Though uncredited, he is seen as a melting bulldog. He kept up the charade until the wrap party. Hearing this, one can only wonder, what might have been had his directorial services been retained? He obviously had an interest in the outcome of the project, and it would seem to be a perfect fit for his talents. The South African from the town of Fishhook had made two films previously that overcame many obstacles to become cult films, namely Hardware and Dust Devil. "I do not feel that at any time it was ever my decision to make any of the movies I made," said Richard Stanley, "although I don't regret them."
Sayer of the Law: It is a hard way, the way of being a man. Sooner or later we all want a thing that is bad. To walk on all fours. To suck up drink from a stream. To jabber, instead of saying the words. To go snuffling at the earth, and to claw on the bark of trees. To eat flesh, or fish. To make love to more than one, every which way. These are all bad things. These are not the things that men do. But we are men, are we not? We are men because the Father has made us men!
Though I have already spent the bulk of this review deriding the 3-car chain collision of Frankenheimer, Kilmer, and Brando, I have to say that in spite of it all, the manimals were often very good. Stan Winston is a man whose name often comes up in regards to creating creatures and special effects, and off the top of my head, I've noticed he's also done great work on AI: Artificial Intelligence and the recent 3D remake of Clash of The Titans. With Winston's help the actors under the heavy make up emoted in most cases much better than the ostensible stars. Daniel Rigney as Hyena-Swine was surprisingly poignant, bewildered to be caught between man's reason and animal's instinct, expressing his inchoate rage with words interspersed with yowls, yips, growls, and hyena laughs. Mark Dacascos as tiger-man Lo-Mai was as frightening and enigmatic as the Beast in poet Jean Cocteau's La belle et la bête. Ron Perlman was fully committed to his role, and went as far as having discs placed over his eyes since The Sayer of The Law was blind. The dénouement with the inevitable manimal rebellion went much better than would be expected, given the mess that preceded it. The falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. In an earlier scene in Dr. Moreau's mansion there was something fitting in (Marco Hofschneider) M'ling's choice and reading of The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
~William Butler Yeats from The Second Coming
Island of Lost Souls [VHS] (1932) This version starred Charles Loughton and Bela Lugosi
One-Eyed Jacks (1961) Directed by and starring Marlon Brando as Rio
Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) Marlon Brando was 1st Lt. Fletcher Christian
The Manchurian Candidate (Special Edition) (1962) Directed by John Frankenheimer
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) This version starred Burt Lancaster, Michael York, and Richard Basehart
The Big Lebowski (1998) David Thewlis was Knox Harrington
Wonderland (2003) Val Kilmer was John Holmes
Masked and Anonymous (2003) Val Kilmer was Animal Wrangler
Hellboy (2004) Ron Perlman was Hellboy
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) Val Kilmer was Stevie Pruit and Fairuza Balk was Heidi
Hyena-Swine: Tell me, why you make the pain, if we are your children?
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I saw this movie back when it came out in theaters, and it was very freaky, I just watched it again, and it was still disturbing. The makeups were very creepy,and realistic. The acting was top notch. You could just feel the dread building up. There is just an uneasiness about this movie. You know everything is not gonna be alright at the end. And it was clear that alot of deformed people were hired to appear in the monster costumes gives it a more horrible, genetically mutated look. And that little tiny dude, that plays the piano with Brando would probably give me a heart attack if he strolled across my living room un announced! This is a dark, well made movie that should be seen by all Horror & Fantasy fans. Oh yeah, I guess the CGI rat monsters in the boat were supposed to be the comic relief.
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Item number 16179-45, Grading is cover/record: EX using Goldmine standards. 1980 Please see seller profile for abbreviation descriptions.
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