Login

The Island of Dr. Moreau Review

Image for The Island of Dr. Moreau

After being rescued and brought to an island, a man discovers that it's inhabitants are experimental animals being turned into strange looking humans, all of it the work of a visionary doctor.

★★★★★

The third official adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel arrives with a troubled history. Kilmer, after initially agreeing to star, sidestepped into a supporting role, and was replaced by Rob Morrow. Then, after only four days’ shooting, the film’s original director Richard Stanley (who had toiled away on the project for more than four years) was fired, Morrow walked, the script was rewritten and Thewlis drafted in to replace the Northern Exposure star. The resultant movie is, understandably, something of a mess, as deformed and half-realised as any of the beast-men hybrids it features.
The sole survivor of a plane wreck in the south seas, UN lawyer Edward Douglas (Thewlis) is picked up by a schooner on which Montgomery (Kilmer), a vet, is travelling to the island where the Nobel Prize-winning recluse Dr. Moreau (Brando) has spent more than 17 years working on his “experiments”. Persuaded by Montgomery that he would be safer on the island than continuing on with the ship’s crew, Douglas soon comes to rue his decision as its inhabitants turn out to be beast-men genetically created by Moreau.
Despite Brando’s sad decline into embarrassing cameos, there is still an inherent excitement to any film featuring the great man. But any hope you may have held out for another captivating performance is soon dashed. When we first see him he’s caked in white make-up, and speaking with a weird British lisp that makes him sound like Robert Morley. Later he turns up wearing an ice bucket on his head, and performs a piano duet with a monster midget. It is not a dignified performance.
Frankenheimer (veteran director of The Manchurian Candidate among others) tries to keep things rolling along, but the incoherent script, like many of the characters, swiftly descends into madness, as Montgomery reveals himself to be as insane as the doc, sitting around, smoking dope, taking potshots at the creatures. Meanwhile, Moreau’s monsters begin to question their maker and strike back, and there’s a subtext to be had involving the nature of God and creation, but it’s better left alone. Frankenheimer has the gall to have Kilmer white himself up and do a parody (voice and all) of Brando, yet this is, ultimately, at the root of the film’s problem: it’s campy when it really should have been scary.

Choppy story and uneven performances

More from Empire