I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Island of Dr. Moreau

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.

The Island of Dr. MoreauWell 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.

This entry was posted on Friday, July 2nd, 2004 at 6:43 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

25 Responses to “The Island of Dr. Moreau”

  1. hey Vern, you ever see Richard Stanley’s other stuff? HARDWARE is pretty cool, as you probably already know, and DUST DEVIL is a truly fantastic film. But the real treasure are the documentaries like WHITE DARKNESS and SECRET GLORY, which are handily included if you buy the DUST DEVIL DVD (which of course you should do). It’s not even so much that they’re great films as much as Stanley finds amazing material and pursues it with real commitment and eloquence. It seems that Stanley is finally emerging from almost a decade of inactivity to make some new movies (one based on an old script by Donald Cammell [?!?!]) so now is the time to catch up on his back catalog before everyone else jumps on board and everyone starts talking about how lame the scene has gotten.

  2. And Hardware finally came out on DVD, so I can get rid of my old full-frame German bootleg.

  3. Richard Stanley is a really interesting guy even, I think, if you don’t care for his films. Really enjoyed Hardware. Dust Devil I like to an extent but those documentaries are great, as are his commenteries on them.

  4. For anyone interested the book The Greatest Sci-fi Movies Never Made covers this film and has some pretty interesting things to say about what a clusterfuck the production was. It especially seems to strongly imply Val Kilmer is completely out of his fucking mind. Even more so than Brando.

  5. Val Kilmer is nuts? I’ll be your huckleberry

  6. Hmm speaking of Kilmer I just found out he apparently had a decades long fued with Tom Cruise.

    According to wikipedia.

    “Following their appearance together in Top Gun, Kilmer and co-star Tom Cruise reportedly had taken their onscreen conflict offscreen. Reports classified the two as holding a vitriolic hatred of one another. Kilmer even refused to participate in a charity beach volleyball game with Cruise on the grounds that he was, quote, “dangerous”, although Kilmer is noted to have knocked out Cruise when a fistfight between the two developed during the filming of Top Gun.”

  7. I bet everybody cheered when he decked Cruise.

  8. you can be my wingman anytime! *chomps teeth*

  9. It’s welll known that Kilmer is a bit batty (arf), but at least he seems to have developed a sense of humour about himself in recent years. In some ways he is the nega-Cruise

  10. There’s a documentary about to be released called LOST SOULS, which focuses on Richard Stanley’s trials and tribulation while making this film. I couldn’t find anything on IMDB, but it’s debuting at MonsterFest, a horror festival running in Melbourne at the moment. It’s directed by David Gregory, the guy who runs the DVD label Severin Films.

    I liked this film from the first time I saw it in cinemas in ’96, and I never knew anything about Stanley being the original director, then getting sacked. I assumed it was just a Frankenheimer joint. Then I started hearing all the stories about it’s troubles, which only made it more fascinating.

  11. Nice pass Mr M, this looks great. It does bother me though how Bob Shaye and other talking heads in this discuss the final movie like it’s a piece of shit, when it’s a bonkers classic. But I guess it’s about Stanley’s side of the story and his disappointment when his vision sank.

  12. I didn’t actually watch the trailer but I knew you guys would be into it. Honestly, I am not as enamored of DOC MOREAU as some are. It’s got lots of crazy in it but overall I’ve just never found it to be the trainwreck most say it is or the crackpot masterpiece others claim it to be. Truth be told, I’ve seen it three times at least and barely remember it. But I imagine the behind the scenes story will be much more entertaining.

  13. grimgrinningchris

    July 21st, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    The doc is on Netflix now.

  14. Good stuff! I know what I’m watching tonight…

  15. I just watched the documentary. Entertaining, but in the end I’ve heard all the stories before. Fairuza Balk really seems to have some VERY hard feelings over what happened 20 years ago and obviously tries to not get too emotional in front of the cam. She, Richard Stanley’s voodoo doctor or whatever story (One of the few stories that were new to me) and Marco Hofschneider’s Brando imitation make it definitely worth watching.

  16. Yeah, Balk came across as traumatized by the experience, and wholly compassionate for the underdog in Stanley’s plight. I really took to her.

    It was an interesting film. The impression I got was that Stanley was in way over his head, and sort of fumbled the handling when it came time to shoot. Clearly his talent was in pre-production concept and vision. Some of his creatures that never made it to the finished film were outstandingly freakish, like the six-nippled beast (Stanley describes an envisioned sex scene that grossed me out – kinda glad I didn’t have to see that).

    I liked hearing the history of when Wells first wrote the book, and how his contemporary and friend Joseph Conrad came out with his own novel Heart Of Darkness around the same time, and there was some speculation by Wells that Conrad had sort of ripped off his concept. I never saw the parallels between Marlow/Kurtz and Douglas/Moreau before. And Brando portrayed both in the films.

    Stanley might have made a crazier, more outlandish film than Frankenheimer if things went differently, but he seemed stranded. There were some things that were out of his control, like the weather (they should have done their homework on that one, Cairns is the most tropical region of Australia, and it rains almost non stop), and Kilmer and Brando were arseholes.

    I liked the interviews with the Aboriginal guy David Hudson who played one of the beasts. He told how Frankenheimer referred to his Didgeridoo as a dickeridoo, and asked him to use it as a weapon in the film, to which Hudson replied you don’t fuck with the sacred instruments of their tribe. And it’s true. I visited Ayers Rock in the Northern Territory for the first time a few years back, and it had been handed back to the Aboriginals and called by it’s original name Uluru, and it’s considered the holy of holies for their people, a sacred place. Back in town there’s a tourist center where people have sent an apology letter and returned pieces of rock they’ve taken while visiting Uluru, because they get home from holiday and things start getting weird, like money problems, health problems, pets dying etc. You don’t fuck with The Dreamtime!

  17. I had a similar impression about Stanley. He seemed to be pretty naive in terms of how to play the studio game (as evidenced in his handling of meetings), although I think without some of the bullshit that happened right at the beginning (including the hurricane), he would have been able to finish the movie. It would have been most likely a heavily compromised version and I don’t think it wouldn’t have been a bad experience for him, but it would have been a Richard Stanley film.

  18. That doc is great. I like Frankenheimer’s quote about Val Kilmer and future movies…”I don’t care if I’m making the Val Kilmer Story, I don’t want that prick near it.”.

  19. Well, it only took me 21 years but I finally caught this one – it’s not quite as awesome as its reputation suggests, but anytime Kilmer or Brando is onscreen, the movie is hilariously bugnuts and awesomely entertaining. The problem is there’s a LOT of movie without them, and the rest of it is frankly, dull and tedious. I do have to admit, halfway through it looks like Thewlis decides to join Brando and Kilmer in the mega(?)-acting game and starts incorporating alot of weird tics and mannerisms in his own performance, but it’s too little too late. This is definitely a lesser “so bad it’s good” movie, nowhere near the heights of Battlefield Earth or Dreamcatcher.

    Also caught the Richard Stanley doc on Netflix – probably not a good idea to read the IMDB Trivia of Moreau first because there’s hardly a single thing in the doc that wasn’t already mentioned in the trivia, and there’s unsurprisingly no new footage (in fact, they hardly play any footage from the movie, period). Also weird they mention Bruce Willis and Rob Morrow being set to play the main character, but I’m pretty sure they never once mention David Thewlis, the guy who actually ended up playing the main character. The whole thing sort of feels underbaked and probably wouldn’t have been bad as a 30 minute long DVD extra, but it’s somehow longer than the actual movie(!) without the benefit of those amazing performances to keep it entertaining.

    Two notes: Despite being loyal to Stanley, Fairuza Balk ended up working with Val Kilmer again in Bad Lieutenant 2 -I was hoping the doc would explain if they made up eventually but they never mention it. Also, I was wondering what the hell Vern was talking about with the knife fight on the raft, but apparently the version I taped off of HBO is the theatrical cut which omits that and Thewlis hitting the guy in the head with the oar, so it kinda makes you wonder why they even bothered showing two other guys on the raft in the first place.

  20. Also just realized that the three leads – Brando, Kilmer, and Thewlis, are also Jor-El, Batman, and [somebody] in Wonder Woman. Glad that this nutty movie can bring 3 generations of DC Cinema together.

  21. That reminds me it’s crazy how many of the Batman movie people appear in different projects either together or just period. Hell OUT OF SIGHT had arguably the best Batman and the worst in one movie. That Soderbergh knew what he was doing.

  22. If we’re doing a six degrees of Kevin Bacon type thing, then consider the women of Batman – Kim Basinger the meat in the Batman sandwich with Keaton then with Kilmer in The Real McCoy. Nicole Kidman with Kilmer in FOREVER, then with Clooney in Peacemaker. Michelle Pfeiffer with Keaton in RETURNS then Clooney in ONE FINE DAY. Elle McPherson with Clooney in B&R then…roadblock.

  23. She was in The Edge with Alec Baldwin who was on 30 Rock in which Will Arnett guest starred.

  24. Holy crap, Kidman was also in My Life with Michael Keaton and The Portrait of a Lady with Christian Bale. In the likely event her character of Aquaman’s mom shows up in Justice League (or Affleck’s Batman makes a cameo in the Aquaman solo movie), she gets Yahtzee.

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