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Movie Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

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John Frankenheimer's The Island of Dr. Moreau is not a terrible picture, as I had been led to believe by other reviews and an abysmal 3.9 rating on IMDb. It is merely a very mediocre film, with its good moments and its bad moments.

David Thewlis stars as Edward Douglas, a man whose airplane crashed at sea. After the two fellow survivors murdered each other, he became the lone survivor. A boat transporting animals to an island picks up Douglas adrift and an American on board the ship then nurses him back to health, the man being an eccentric doctor (or veterinarian) named Montgomery (Val Kilmer).

When the ship reaches Montgomery's destination, Douglas is persuaded to come ashore and stay on the island while waiting to be rescued and returned home. However, it is not long after the ship is gone that Douglas realizes he is captive on the island as Montgomery locks him in his room from the outside.

After Douglas picks the lock in his room, he starts doing some exploring. He ventures his way into an old military hangar where he finds lots of cages filled with exotic animals. There is also some kind of surgery going on in the center of the room, and as Douglas gets closer he realizes that it is some kind of half-man/half-animal mutant giving birth. Douglas is so disgusted that he allows himself to utter "Oh my God" which attracts the attention of the men performing the operation. You notice that these "people" are also mutations.

Douglas makes a run for it, and he is helped out by Aissa (Fairuza Balk, whom he had met briefly upon his arrival) who tells him that she can get him off the island so long as he doesn't do anything to hurt her father, Dr. Moreau. Douglas agrees, and she leads him through the jungle to a community of these creatures living inside old WWII aircraft wreckage. He is lead to the Sayer of the Law (Ron Perlman), and it appears that the Sayer is going to help Douglas when Montgomery and Dr. Moreau (Marlon Brando) show up in search of him. Douglas is led back to the main compound where Moreau explains to him exactly what his experiment is and how he plans to save humanity with his results.

As I mentioned before, The Island of Dr. Moreau is not a terrible film. H.G. Wells' story is so strong that no matter what the cast and crew did to try to destroy it there are still remnants of quality left over. The story is so original and compelling that it is not possible to butcher it to the point of being unwatchable.

The make-up work in The Island of Dr. Moreau is superb. If it were not for the arms and legs you would have no way of telling that there was an actual human actor behind some of the creatures. If this film deserved any award recognition, it should have been for make-up.

There is no doubt that John Frankenheimer has made far superior pictures (i.e. The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin) and he didn't seem to have any control over the script or the cast of this film. I have read that he butted heads with both Kilmer and Brando who have been known to be very hard to work with and egotistical, and instead of really dealing with it the two of them were allowed to portray their characters in any way they saw fit and run wild on set. This is something that should have been righted, but was not and the film suffered because of it. I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to see this film, but it really doesn't deserve the harsh reputation that it has. It will soon be forgotten (if it hasn't been already) and mixed in with all the other examples of mediocrity in mainstream cinema over the years.

Grade: C-

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