The disappointment of that Planet of the Apes remake nonsense got me thinking about the old days. How you used to be able to make movies about talking gorillas that were still intelligent type pictures. You got all the rubber makeup and the spaceships and the fighting and what not that the nerds love but you also got some social commentary in there or some politics or some insights about our world and what not. You got vietnam and the civil rights movement going on in the real world and the apes really strikes a ball or whatever with people because of the obvious parallels. These were expensive studio movies but they were willing to give something back instead of just selling a product and then running like hell.
Then out of the blue I got an anonymous tip, telling me Vern, there was a movie in the mid-’90s which attempted this same thing. You got the rubber makeup and you got the sci-fi nonsense. It’s even a remake of an old movie based on a classic book, just like the apes picture. The one catch is that everyone in the world claims this movie is a worthless piece of utter garbage. but you should still watch it, Vern.
Well all I gotta say is that the world is wrong. Dr. Moreau’s Island is one of the greatest genre type pictures I have seen in my post-incerceration catchup period. And I’m gonna explain why. And you’re gonna sit here and you’re gonna keep your yap shut and you’re gonna just listen.
This is a picture that opens with a knife fight on an inflatable raft.
I repeat. THIS IS A PICTURE THAT OPENS WITH A KNIFE FIGHT ON AN INFLATABLE RAFT. Two minutes into the picture, a guy has been eaten by a shark and David Thewlis has beat another guy’s face in with a plastic oar. And then we find out that he is the last survivor of a “U.N. Peace Keeping Mission.”
Admittedly the narration in this scene is a little heavy handed. We didn’t need it pointed out that these men were “behaving like beasts.” But just bear with us here.
Next thing you know Mr. Thewlis is rescued by Val Kilmer and brought to an island where maybe this “U.N.” organization whoever they are can go pick him up. Val picks up a wild bunny rabbit and shows it to Mr. Thewlis. Thewlis thinks it’s so cute he gives it a little kiss, and then Val breaks its neck and says it’s for dinner.
(This one act leads to the downfall of the island when mutant animal people start killing the bunnies and then the humans. I’m not sure if this is a vegetarian statement or just a statement against rabbit meat, but either way it is a subversive message I’ve never seen in an expensive studio picture before.)
You see, Mr. Thewlis walks in on a lab full of weird mutant animals. He sees a disgusting cat lady with six titties giving birth to a cat eyed baby. Turns out Marlon Brando is an eccentric nobel prize winning scientist who lives on this island and injects human dna into animals to turn them into weird mutant animal people. He implants them with stun gun type devices that he can activate in order to keep them in line, and he drives around in a popemobile with his face painted white like Michael Jackson and makes glorious speeches to the beast people.
After this whole spectacle Marlon feels kind of bad so he tries to smooth things over with Thewlis by inviting him to dinner with his “children,” who dress in suits and bowties but look like that werewolf kid you see on the cover of documentaries about sideshow freaks. And then he makes Mr. Thewlis shake hands with Majai, a wrinkly two foot tall man who wears the same clothes as Marlon and later does a piano duet with him.
DAVID THEWLIS: This is the most outrageous spectacle I have EVER witnessed. LOOK at yourself!
MOREAU: I understand that I must be… shocking to you. However, I must also point out that I have an allergy to the sun and that’s why I put this medication on.
Mr. Brando is the best thing about this picture. He is absolutely perfect playing a friendly, but completely out of his fucking mind, mad scientist fucko. He plays the role very realistically, acting the way he or Michael Jackson or Ol’ Dirty Bastard would probaly act if they were mad scientists.
In the middle of his big speech about how he is trying to perfect the genetics of the human race, Dr. Moreau turns to little Majai and says “No, please don’t do that!” because he has his little bumpy feet on the table.
In one of the other best scenes of this movie the beast people break into the house, obviously to kill him. He offers them a biscuit and then starts playing piano, telling them about Schoenberg and Gershwin.
Well lets just say that unfortunately Dr. Moreau is not in the second half of the movie. Then we get more into the world of these beast people who are done by that stan winston guy from the jurassic park. They are half tiger and half warthog and what not and the makeup is very impressive. And like in the new apes movie the actors walk and move in very animal like ways. Then there is alot of fighting, etc. as the animals act more and more like fucking humans and their whole world goes immediately down the shitter.
I could not tell you why this movie is so underrated. This is in no way Badass Cinema but mr. brando’s performance is infused with the outlaw spirit that outlaw awards are made of. And it is a movie that actually has some things to say about the way our world is going. Of course there is the obvious technology theme. You don’t need this movie to tell you that scientists are growing human ears on the backs of mice and restaraunts serve a new combination of asparagus and brocolli. And the narration is a little too obvious pointing out that the people of the real world are more animal-like than the beast people in the movie.
But then there is the whole idea of Dr. Moreau and Val Kilmer creating laws, and enforcing them, but hypocritically breaking them (by killing the bunny) and how this affects the once law abiding beast people. Even without the hypocrisy it makes you uncomfortable to watch these freakos lord over the animal people, and it makes you look at the way the freakos of the real world lord over both animals and peoples.
And then if you want to get even deeper this brings up religious questions. The beast people are created by Moreau, they call him the Father and he calls them their children, but they wonder why he causes them pain. And if there is no pain, is there no law? Should they still follow these codes when they have nothing to lose?
Yes, Dr. Moreau’s Island is one of the great misunderstood movies of the ’90s and I would like to thank both director John Frankehnheimer and fired original director Richard Stanley for making it. Some day, when my influence is greater, people will come to understand your work. Then you can stop making all this “reindeer games” garbage and make more REAL pictures with Mr. brando. thanks boys.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.