Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
When people talk about the 96 version of Moreau they tend to talk less about the actual movie and more about its’ troubled production. And it’s no wonder. The movie is a mess and the reasons why are directly related to its production. The two are tied together and will be for eternity. Decades from now, film school instructors will be talking about it. It’s unavoidable.
Edward Douglas (David Thewlis) is a shipwreck survivor rescued at sea by Montgomery (Val Kilmer) and taken to the titular island. While wandering the island, Douglas discovers what Moreau (Marlon Brando) is up to. He’s been conducting experiments that make animals more human-like. Moreau tries to keep the manimals from giving in to their animal instincts by implanting little pain-inducing chips in them. One of the animals figures out to rip them out and there is an uprising. And Fairuza Balk walks around looking like she has marshmallows stuffed in her cheeks.
When the movie was green-lit, Richard Stanley was to direct this third film version of H.G. Wells’ classic story. Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) had worked for years to get this project going and you still see his name listed under “Screenplay”, but there’s no telling how much of his original ideas are actually on the screen.
Kilmer refused to come to rehearsals or even show up for filming for the first few days.
Stanley scrambled to get any footage shot, but the suits back in Hollywood fired him just days into the production. John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Prophecy, Reindeer Games) was brought in at the last minute to direct. Script changes were made as they were shooting, so noone really had a clear idea of just what in the hell they were doing.
This chaos allowed Kilmer, and more importantly, Brando, the opportunity to “develop” their characters as they saw fit. And this leads to some of the more bizarre (and hilarious) onscreen antics.
If you’ve seen the movie, you probably find yourself thinking “What in the hell?” quite often. Brando with his ice-bucket hat, Kilmer seeming to be perpetually stoned, a story that meanders about until it remembers “Oh, yeah. MESSAGE! THERE IS A MESSAGE HERE! MAN IS THE REAL ANIMAL! GET IT!?”
The cinematography looks amazing and every once in a while there are some strong scenes. Such as the scene where Moreau is confronted by his rogue creations. It’s actually pretty intense and one wonders what might have been, had Stanley been able to deliver his vision. As it is, it’s a movie loaded with unintentional laughs.
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5
Nix says: Not a good movie, but a good movie to laugh at. For more of the behind the scenes antics, go here and for a more in depth look find the book The Greatest Sci Fi Movies Never Made. A great read.