21 February 2021

John Frankenheimer’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

I only found out about this film from the French newspaper Libération, which this week published an article on the South Africa-born film director Richard Stanley, who now lives in tiny Montségur in the Pyrénées, and is currently experiencing a welcome return. Good criticism wasn't always there though. Stanley – who made a promising start with Hardware (1990) and Dust Devil (1992) – fell from cinematic grace with a resounding bang with The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Stanley had been fascinated by H. G. Wells's novel of (almost) the same name for years, and was eager to make (another) filmed version of it. But big name actors' egos got in the way, as did the weather and Stanley's personality, etc, and in a few days Frankenheimer took over the film version from Stanley. In 2014 David Gregory released a film about the film: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau.

So, we have Frankenheimer's film, which lasts a full ninety-six minutes, and has a very low score with both critics and viewers: is this deserved? Unfortunately, yes. UN official Edward Douglas (David Thewlis) is rescued on a dinghy after a plane crash by Montgomery (Val Kilmer), who is a neurosurgeon gone mad and now a kind of vet, but that's not really the issue: Montgomery takes Douglas to an island ruled by Dr Moreau (Marlon Brando), who has been thrown out of the USA for his experiments on animals.

On the island are a number of semi-human creatures and also Moreau's daughter Aissa (Fairuza Balk), and Douglas later learns that Moreau has been implanting human genes in animals to create his ideal being: someone with humanity, but none of the human imperfections. About halfway through though, Moreau is savagely killed by his own creations, and then we hit chaos: lashings of blood, terror, cannabalism (is that the right word?), and an all-round mess. I can understand why some would find the whole thing amusing, but not for me.

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