The Island Of Dr. Moreau


I don’t think there’s a film out there with a more volcanically troubled production history than John Frankenheimer’s The Island Of Dr. Moreau. It wasn’t even supposed to be helmed by him, rather an upstart named Richard Stanley, who’s control on the creative reigns was violently yanked away by the studio and given to notoriously fiery Frankenheimer, who, lets face it, could never really get his genetically altered ducks in a line when he took over. Between Val Kilmer acting like a lunatic and very nearly being replaced, Marlon Brando being an even bigger lunatic because he knew no one would ever replace him (the big guy had an ego to match his girth) and raging budget problems as a result of the antics, the making of this film was, in short, a fucking disaster. So now I’ve said my piece on the most talked about aspect of this film, I want to shift gears into an area that just doesn’t get covered a lot in discussion: the final film itself. Because of the maelstrom of bad PR circling the film like the storm that maroons our heroes on Moreau’s isle, many people just assume it’s a shit movie, which is not the case. I happen to love it, and if anything the level of obvious behind the scene chaos seeping through just gives it an organic unpredictability free from shackles of a script that I imagine was fairly generic in the conception phase. This is a bonkers film, no denial from me there, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t love every certifiable, furry prosthetic adorned, opulent, disorganized minute of it. David Thewlis took over from Kilmer as the lead, when Val had behavioural issues, but they’re both present and accounted for as the wreckage of a ship meets Moreau’s isle, a twisted Eden where human animal hybrids live under the delirious monarchy of the good Doctor, played with reliably laconic mania by Brando. He’s been playing god, the old codger, and his island is now home to a host of varied zoological wonders, and no narrative would be complete without it all going tits up in a giant mutiny later on. The practical effects are delightfully excessive and elaborate, packed onto specifically chosen actors who already have an ethereal, animalistic aura on their own. Ron Perlman is the sagely Sayer Of The Law, Marc Dacoscas the leopardly Lo Mai, Temuerra Morrison the lion like Azazello and wild eyed Fairuza Balk is feline goddess Aissa, who happens to be Moreau’s daughter. ‘She’s a pussy’ Kilmer quips in one of many candid slips of the tongue on his part. The inmates eventually run the asylum, or whichever clever parable you want to apply, and it hurtles towards a third act full of flying fur and fangs that releases the floodgates on Frankenheimer’s lack of cohesion, the mad scientist workshop of Stan Winston’s special effects, Brando’s bug eyed dementia and Kilmer’s ADHD riddled performance, in one scene going so off far off the rails that Thewlis has to literally break character and tell him to ‘quit fuckin around’, an unintentional laugh riot. Brando has a midget Mini Me, too, which is never fully explained but always good for a nervous laugh, as the thing looks like a fetus that vaulted out of the womb a few month too early, although I suppose that’s the point. Look, it’s a mess, but it’s a beautiful one, a kaleidoscopic parade of grotesque costumes and cartoonish performances wrapped up in a story so overblown and off the map it almost takes on a pulse of it’s own. For insight on what went down behind the scenes you can read Ron Perlman’s autobiography, watch the recent documentary on the film or simply check out IMDb trivia, but whatever went down for real, it ended up branding one of the most bizarre and wonderful creature features of the 90’s, and I love every feral, freaky minute of it. 

-Nate Hill

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