The Island of Dr. Moreau

It’s getting harder to make a different film. We still see many good flicks, but you gotta admit that many of them aren’t all that original. I mean, how exciting to watch people sitting around and talking? So when a movie tries something we don’t see all that often, it’s generally worth checking out even if it ain’t a great film. “The Island of Dr. Moreau” is a flawed film, but it explores some interesting themes. Basically, it seems to be about accepting who you are, the excesses of science and how humans’ belief that they’re the superior race could be contested. Adapted from the H.G Wells novel, the film is seen through the eyes of Douglas (David Thewlis), whose plane crashes in the ocean and who’s is rescued by a mysterious man played by Val Kilmer. I’m not a big fan of him as an actor, but you gotta admit that he can play an obnoxious, effete jerk pretty well. Kilmer brings Douglas to an uncivilized island where he works as the assistant of Dr. Moreau, an eccentric scientist played by one of the great American actors, Marlon Brando.

The film’s biggest mistake is that it doesn’t realize that Brando is the best thing it features. In no way is this an Oscar-worthy performance, but it’s fascinatingly grotesque. Brando is obscenely fat, and his character is for some reason allergic to sunlight, so he has to be covered in white powder when he goes out! There’s even a scene where Brando wears an ice bucket on his head to face the heat! Even though he does indulge in an odd, quasi-British accent and some muttering, there’s still a special quality about his acting. He has great presence in spite of the fact that the film is ridiculous. In case you’re not familiar with this story, Moreau’s experimenting with genetics, gradually turning animals and conscious creatures by injecting them with human DNA. Of course the whole thing fucks up, and he ends up presiding over an island now filled with freaky monsters, with everything from apemen to man-pigs, cat chicks, dog dudes and most interestingly, a 28-inch red monkey boy who mimics Brando. Both wear matching outfits, and there’s a delightful scene in which they duet on piano.

I like that there are only 4 “normal” humans in the film. The rest of the actors are all half human, half beast playing freaks. Hence, this film features more dazzling make-up FX than any flick since Planet of the Apes. Unfortunately, the film is so uneven. It’s pretty slow throughout, and if some scenes are cool, not much of it all makes much sense. The film is so badly written! The problem is that it takes itself way too seriously. I mean, how are we supposed to be moved by the hurt of a shaggy monster who cries over the skull of one of his dead peers? Plus, the characters’ motivations and actions are unbelievable, and the film never pays off. I guess it is a crappy film after all, and it’s even worse when you know that it’s directed by the talented John Frankenheimer. But as I said, it does take us to unusual places, and even if it ain’t a great ride, it beats sitting around and talking about the weather, right?