I have a theory. There are two Marlon Brandos, and no, that ain’t a fat joke. There’s the Marlon Brando who has delivered some gritty performances and won fans and great reviews with movies like The Last Tango in Paris, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather, and On the Waterfront. That last one contains the famous “coulda been a contender” speech, and although it’s a Brando moment that has been imitated by a bajillion bad comedians, it’s still an all-time great movie speech.
Then there’s the Marlon Brando who suffers more from John Travolta Syndrome than John Travolta. That’s the sickness that has actors be great in one great movie, then immediately rush out and star in at least three not just bad, but atrocious movies, make a comeback with another good movie, repeat process. This is the Marlon Brando that delivered hammy or stone-faced performances and mystified fans and reviewers with crap like Candy, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery. He’s also the star of this session’s subject, The Island of Doctor Moreau. How could the same actor possibly have all these movies on one resume?
This movie has a strange pedigree. Sort of based on the novel by H.G. Wells (both the book and the 1996 movie have an island and a character named “Dr. Moreau.” After that, similarities become difficult to find). The book had already been adapted as a film in 1932 as Island of Lost Souls, then remade in 1977 with Burt Lancaster and Michael York as The Island of Doctor Moreau. All three versions follow the bare bones plot of the book. The nutshell version: A castaway is shipwrecked on a mysterious island. He meets a doctor who is conducting hideous experiments changing animals into humans. Doctor loses control of them, they kick his ass, the castaway barely gets off the island with his life.
There are subtle to grotesque variations on the novel’s themes, which have to do with the nature of law, pain, animal savagery, and the ethics of scientific research. The 1932 version is considered by many critics to be a classic, and at time of its release it was a highly controversial movie, being banned in parts of the United States for what was then graphic horror. This version differed from the book by adding a plot in which a panther woman falls in love with the castaway, a key difference that perhaps explains why the title was changed.
The 1977 version changed the love interest into a normal human woman, and had very vague overtures about the castaway stealing her away from Moreau. In so doing, they made her character pretty much unnecessary. The 1977 version is pretty bad, but next to the 1996 version, it’s Citizen Kane. The 1996 version restores the cat woman love angle, but the story is so muddled that it makes no impact on the story whatever.
Some good behind-the-scenes gossip came from the 1996 version, mostly to do with costar Val Kilmer. If the gossip is to be believed, Kilmer recently got back from an ego trip before arriving on the set. Apparently he insisted everyone refer to him as “Mister Kilmer.” Working relations between Brando and Kilmer didn’t seem to go smoothly (according to Film Threat magazine, Brando told Kilmer “You confuse the size of your talent with the size of your paycheck”). The original director (Richard Stanley) was fired, and according to the book Sex, Lies, and Stupidity by Ian Grey (a nasty look at the Hollywood ecosystem), he sneaked back on the set, heavily done up in the mutant make-up, where no-one recognized him, and he was involved in the film anyway!
Replacing Stanley is our old buddy John Frankenheimer. Ring a bell? He directed the environmentally friendly horror movie The Prophecy. Guess what? He still doesn’t know how to scare audiences. He doesn’t know how to creep them out. But if you need to film yawn inducing moral “messages” that wouldn’t enlighten a 1st grader, he’s still your man. The most frightening images he can present are of Brando’s wardrobe, which make the fashion statement of “What were they thinking?”
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I’d like to mention that I’ve not seen the 1932 movie, but I have read the book and I have seen the 1977 version. This was only because the Blockbuster Video I rented this movie from had a case with the 1977 version behind the 1996 version box. I watched it before taking it back and exchanging it, so I got two bad movies for the price of one. Lucky me. I thought I should have been tipped off immediately by the lack of commercials on the 1977 version tape. Then I put in the 1996 version and saw there were no commercials on that tape either. They couldn’t even get product placements on this sucker.
Our opening credits seem to show a blood red sky, but it morphs into an eye. The title appears, then breaks apart…This is inter-cut with images of cells under a slide, blood flowing through veins…It looks like Frankenheimer has discovered MTV, friends. While the credits roll, we see a lot of the same images over, and over again. Okay, okay, you can direct a video for Green Day or something now, Mr. Frankenheimer. Can we get on with it please?
Finally, we see a tiny raft on the ocean. A voice over says “Our plane crashed in the endless southern Pacific.” The voice over sounds bored or drunk, perhaps both. Gradually, the camera zooms in on the raft, while the narrator explains (as if he could hardly be bothered to do so) how two other survivors on the raft started fighting for the last of the water. Soon we’re close enough to see just this, and the two combatants fall into the sea. “They fought like beasts, not men,” observes the narrator. Hey, that was foreshadowing! Cut to a shot of a shark moving ominously nearby. From this, we’re left to infer that the shark will eat them. All things considered, they’re the lucky ones.
Now we see the narrator, Edward Douglas. And already it’s Embarrassed Actor time. It’s David Thewlis, who won kudos for his appearance in Mike Leigh’s Naked. In many bad movies, there’s often a competent actor who knows just how horribly things are going, so he acts as carefully as he can so that when the critics take a chainsaw to the movie, they’ll go sparing on him. Thewlis is just such an actor. Thewlis goes through the movie looking like he’s fighting the urge to duck behind a bush every time a camera comes near.
We get a close up of Thewlis’ eye superimposed on the blazing sun in slow mo. Soon we’re seeing a blurred image of a boat, and hearing distorted music with men looking down from the boat. Either Douglas is so dehydrated he’s delirious, or he’s lost control at a New Year’s Eve party.
In the next scene, he’s lying on a bed on the ship, being examined by Montgomery. Montgomery is played by Val Kilmer, who will ham it up through most of the movie. We can’t really grade him on the Embarrassed Actor Scale, because he doesn’t seem to be embarrassed. He looks like he’s in a bad movie and loving it. If only we could say the same thing. Incidentally, thus far the movie has been fairly faithful to the novel.
They’ve changed the castaway’s name from Edward Prendick to Edward Douglas. I guess Wells’ character name wasn’t macho enough or something (he was called “Braddock” in the 1977 version). Or perhaps they didn’t want audiences to make fun of a potentially rude last name (Pren-dick? Get it?) and not take the movie seriously. Of course, this reasoning sort of falls down when we eventually see Brando. One thing at a time though. For now let’s note that both the movie and the book had the castaway watch two men fight each other into the sea, get picked up by a boat, meet Montgomery, and get taken to the island. After this, movie and book bid each other adieu.
Montgomery and Douglas introduce themselves. Douglas informs him that he’s on assignment for the United Nations. “I’m working on the peace settlement,” he says. The peace settlement, huh? Gee, thanks for that detailed piece of information. How many places are there on Earth with some kind of fighting going on? Two, three? Shouldn’t take us too long to figure out where he was headed. And while we’re on the subject, you wouldn’t be juxtaposing war and other conflicts the UN handles and the bestial rage of Moreau’s creatures, sending the tired message that fighting humans resemble animals, would you Mr. Frankenheimer? You wouldn’t do something so pathetically obvious, would you? Of course not. Just checking.
“There was a lot of blood on that life raft,” says Montgomery. “You were the only survivor?” Douglas nods. Actually, that raft looked fairly clean…oh, screw it. I’m not going to start now, because there is so much ground to cover. Montgomery says there is no radio on this vessel (bum bum buuuuuummmmm), but once they arrive at Montgomery’s destination, they will take him to Timor, about four days away. Douglas inquires about Montgomery’s destination. Montgomery calls it “my little island paradise.” He further adds “Oh you’ll like it. I like it. A little Jimi Hendrix,” and then he starts bopping along to some imaginary music, presumably Hendrix.
Uh…err…words fail me. It’s at this point that movie audiences starting having doubts, and groups of friends began to glare at the member of their group who insisted that they see this movie. Montgomery tries to medically examine Douglas (actually, it’s Montgomery who should be examined). Douglas begins to resist, and asks Montgomery if he’s a doctor. “I’m more like a vet,” he answers. Then he says, “Mister Douglas, that witty remark foreshadows future events of the movie.” Okay, he doesn’t really, but he might as well.
An agitated member of the boat crew comes in and starts speaking to Montgomery. Naturally, Montgomery answers back in his tongue. Has there ever been a movie where two different English speaking foreigners meet, and one a) doesn’t speak the local language, or b) gets on a boat where the Captain is actually fluent in English? This argument doesn’t seem to be such a big deal, because we’re soon looking at an aerial view of the island. We’ve arrived.
In our next shot, we see Douglas rising from below deck. The boat is anchored in the harbor. Montgomery is already on a smaller vessel. He’s leaning on the boat wearing shades and he looks like he thinks he’s cool. At this point, the audience suspects that Kilmer is enjoying himself a little too much. “This is Moreau’s island,” he says. “There’s been a change of plans. You’ve got to come with us.”
Douglas is reluctant to leave the boat bound for civilization for an island that’s a little Jimi Hendrix. But Montgomery says “These guys are real party animals.” You know I think I missed that bit of dialogue from the book. “Captain Kanari here’s taken quite a shine to you if you know what I mean. It’s really best that you come with me.” Great, the introduction of the anal rape joke to the H.G. Wells universe. Classy.
Soon, they’re on the island dock, unloading a cage of rabbits. Douglas offers to help unload the rest of the boat, but Montgomery says that “the others” will take care of it. “You mean the islanders?” asks Douglas. “Yes,” laughs Montgomery. “The islanders.” Kilmer really seems to be loving this. You know Val, I mean, Mr. Kilmer, David Thewlis doesn’t really not know that the island’s inhabitants are half-human/half-beast creatures. He’s read the script too. And he has the good sense to be embarrassed about this. So you can just stop being so smug, all right?
Next scene, they’re driving along in a jeep. Montgomery is recounting the history of the island. Originally a Dutch coffee plantation, it was occupied by the Americans during World War 2. Eventually, the Japanese bought it, and tried to turn it into a resort, but it “went belly up.” Presently, they arrive at a small pen with rabbits inside. Monty starts unloading the rabbits from the cage taken from the boat, and ushers them into the pen. Watching him, Douglas begins reminiscing. “I used to have a rabbit as a little boy,” he says. “Called Keesie.” (Keesie?) “It died…from my own neglect I’m afraid. I’ve never been very good with animals.” Hey, that wasn’t just foreshadowing, that was ironic foreshadowing!
Montgomery shows him a rabbit, and Douglas smiles. “Beauty, ain’t she?” Douglas says. “What’s going on in your head, hmm?” Probably thinking about getting a better agent, and that you should do the same, Dave. Montgomery lets him kiss it, then twists its neck, killing it. You know, I watched the credits to this movie three times, and I didn’t see one of those messages that typically accompany movies with animals. You know, “No animal was harmed during the making of this motion picture.” I’m not accusing anybody of anything. Just making an observation.
“Oh Good Lord,” mumbles Douglas. The line is somewhat underplayed, as if Thewlis would rather not draw attention to himself. Too late man. You signed the contract, now you’re stuck here until the credits roll.
Now what was the point of this? It’s presented in a manner-of-fact tone, and since Monty was acting silent and sullen, it was fairly easy to predict. So it wasn’t scary. Afterwards, Monty drops the rabbit in the disgusted Douglas’ hands, so they may actually have been playing this scene for laughs. The most likely theory is that they’re trying to establish that Montgomery is unstable, and dangerous. All right. Montgomery was fairly intimidating in the book, though towards the end we began to understand that he is actually very broken and vulnerable, because Wells did something this movie doesn’t: provide reasonable motivation for Montgomery’s behavior. And Kilmer’s just having too much fun just being here to give him any depth himself. Here’s just the first example of Monty’s inscrutable behavior. More to come.
Meanwhile, we switch to a point of view shot from…something. This is your typical monster movie creature’s POV shot. Something large and ponderous is breathing heavily and slowly approaching them. It sounds like it’s making an obscene phone call. It wouldn’t surprise me. This movie makes an effort to be hip with the 90s, so it’s probably carrying a cellular phone.
From the monster cam we hear Monty say “We don’t actually eat meat here but I’m sure the doctor will make an exception for you…special unexpected guest. It’ll be our little secret.” They depart, Douglas holding the rabbit away from his body. The monster doesn’t laugh, neither does the audience.
Back in the jeep, they get closer to Moreau’s HQ, which seems to look like army-style barracks. Admittedly, this follows nicely from Monty’s background information. See? We can be merciful. Though we should note that here and there are conspicuously placed barrels. These barrels do not contain highly explosive fluids, which will in no way detonate towards the end of the movie. Nope. No way. Nosiree Bob.
Douglas spots a flag on a small building, and makes a strange remark. “That’s a very impressive communications centre,” says Douglas. Yes, and that’s a very unimpressive way of introducing this plot element. The shot that shows the building concentrates mainly on a flag. If there had been a satellite dish or something as the focal point of the shot, the line would have made more sense…marginally. Monty reveals that the Communications Centre isn’t working at the moment, that only he can operate it, and that he will fix it soon. He further adds “Of course, this being a quasi-horror movie, you realize that all attempts at communicating with the outside world are doomed to fail.” Okay, he doesn’t say this really, but he might as well.
Next, we see them walking into a poorly lit room. It seems to be a cross between a museum (it has plaques with labeled animal skeletons here and there) and a hotel lobby. Remember what I said about the compound making sense? I take it back. This has got to be the resort the Japanese built. Nobody puts a luxury resort in the middle of a former military base. The metal buildings are spartan and ugly, hardly conducive to the resort atmosphere. Geez, find the smallest plausible and workable thing in this movie, and they have to go and ruin it.
Montgomery says that he will arrange a room for Douglas, and warns him to stay in the main building. He says that he doesn’t want him to wander off, break an ankle and sue them. “It’s a very litigious world,” chuckles Douglas. Indeed. They should be thankful that H.G. Wells is fifty years dead. Montgomery tells Douglas to stay put, and then leaves. And Douglas does stay put. He does not wander off and does not see anything out of the ordinary, and does not touch off a series of events that will bring life on the island as it’s been crashing to a halt. Oh wait a minute, yes he does. In fact, he does so immediately. When are people in movies going to learn that no one ever stays put?
In the next room, Douglas finds a desk covered with various awards, honours, and diplomas. One of them appears to be a Nobel Prize awarded to a Doctor RGV Moreau. Shouldn’t have done that. Use the Nobel Prize I mean. It’s a very litigious world. From this we can predict that future movies will be forced to give their scientists “The International Science Award,” just as the actors in The Lonely Lady were attending “The Awards Ceremony,” after The Oscar.
Douglas wanders over to a window. Time for another MTV moment. Music begins to play. It sounds sort of like Anglo-ized Indian music. Douglas sees someone dressed in flowing black cloth, dancing. The figure in black is a woman, in fact, the cat woman love interest. Later in the movie, we will learn her name is Aissa (Fairuza Balk). Douglas goes outside to watch her. Question: what exactly is she dancing to? Normally, characters in movies can’t hear the soundtrack. If they did, their lives would be a lot easier.
For example, horror movie characters would say “The ominous music stopped. Be alert for something scary to jump out of nowhere.” Or, “The soundtrack turned dark and moody when he said that. He could be lying.” There’s no source of music visible, no phonograph (sorry, this is a hip 90s movie. They probably have their own pirate radio station). At any rate, she carries on for a moment, then when she sees him, she stops, startled. The music stops too.
Okay, we get the usual “Who are you/Don’t be frightened” stuff. Douglas explains that he just got here. Aissa asks if he came from the sea. He explains that he came from England. “England?” she repeats. “That’s another island.” He smiles and says “Yes.” No. England is a country, located on the British Isles. Douglas should know this, and so would David Thewlis. This is hardly the biggest mistake the movie makes, so I guess Thewlis was just resigned to whatever horrors the script and director had for him. Oh well. Never mind. Aissa then reveals an interesting fetish. “You have such beautiful hands,” she enthuses. “Beautiful. ” She kisses them. When Douglas asks her how she got here, she says that her father brought her here. “Doctor Moreau?” he asks, and she says yes. Suddenly, a look of fear overcomes her, and she dashes off.
Monty is reclining behind Douglas. He puts a flower in his mouth. No, I didn’t make that up. This, incidentally, looks extremely menacing and scary, and you really get the idea that Montgomery is a dangerous psychopath who is on the verge of unspeakable acts of terror…that is, if you have a deep phobia of people who recline and eat flowers at the some time. To everyone else it looks stupid.
They discuss Aissa for a moment. Douglas says she’s beautiful. Monty agrees. “She’s a pussycat,” he says. Hey, more ironic foreshadowing! And hey, enough already! How about getting to some substantial plot development? Later, Monty puts the flower on Douglas’ shirt. Ewww. It’s probably got Monty drool all over it.
Monty escorts Douglas to his quarters, while Douglas tries a few questions. He says the name Moreau sounds familiar. “Didn’t he vanish or something?” he asks. Douglas apparently thought he was dead. Montgomery says he’s still around. Douglas asks what he won the Nobel Prize for. “He invented Velcro,” replies Monty. That was probably a joke. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, even though the framing and acting in this scene have no apparent irony.
Monty begins to fill in the details. Moreau has been on the island for 17 years. He is obsessed with animal research. He tells Douglas that “Animal rights activists drove him out of the States. Got so bad you couldn’t cage a rabbit without reading him his rights.” Seventeen years ago? Assuming this movie takes place in 1996, it would make that year 1979. I don’t recall the animal rights movement having this kind of clout back then.
How long has Montgomery been here? Monty gives vague details. He wrote a paper that was published, starting corresponding with Moreau, then came out to help him with his work. I wonder how this correspondence worked, given that the island is so inaccessible. This was 10 years ago. “Eventually…” Monty trails off, as if Kilmer has forgotten his line. Instead of finishing, he laughs, and they go into Douglas’ room.
Douglas decides the room is “Very agreeable.” He says he doesn’t want to be an imposition though, and asks when the Communications Centre might be repaired so he can leave. Montgomery leaves wordlessly. From about this point on, you will discover that all the characters in this movie evade questions. They don’t answer, they give vague, cryptic answers, or ignore the question entirely and go off on some unrelated tangent.
This is supposed to make them enigmatic. It actually makes them more annoying. Okay, so when a person is evasive about his past, it does make him mysterious. The trouble is, these characters don’t answer any questions. Even the ones that don’t really matter. If Douglas had asked Monty where the washroom was, Monty probably would have replied “The sun will be setting soon. I must speak with the seagulls now,” or some such nonsense. This behavior gives the impression that the scriptwriters are flinging ideas at random onto the paper. Then again, that would explain a lot.
As Montgomery leaves, we hear the door lock. Suddenly, Douglas rotates where he stands. Oh wait, that’s just the camera spinning around David Thewlis. I’ve got to stop making that mistake. It’s arty. Say Zeke, any beer left in the cooler?
Douglas goes to the door, but it’s locked. The blinds open, and there’s Monty staring at him. Douglas asks him why he locked the door. “This is for your own good,” says Monty, and leaves. Douglas yells after him, but he doesn’t respond. Going over to the window, he discovers they’re barred.
In the next scene, he’s picking the lock. And guess what? He’s using the old key and paper trick. For the uninitiated, this is a dead clichÃ© that was once popular in mystery novels and early suspense flicks. Basically what happens is this: jailer locks door, but leaves key in the lock (I know, but work with me here, people). Prisoner pushes a piece of paper under the door (in this case a magazine). Prisoner gets a thin piece of metal or whatever, pokes it into the lock, pushing the key out. Key falls onto paper, prisoner pulls paper back in, prisoner has key, unlocks door and escapes. Interesting to see that the island has many modern conveniences, but the door locks are still antiquated. Actually, did they ever build locks like this outside of pulp mystery novels?
I should point out, it would seem that Douglas is using this old trick. The problem is just as Douglas pulls the magazine back and is about to pick up whatever object that’s on it, the director cuts away before we can see it. Nice work, Mr. Frankenheimer. You haven’t lost your touch. Maybe a pizza-covered bear will make a cameo appearance.
Soon, Douglas is outside, looking around the compound. He hears a cry of pain, then enters a building with padded walls. The walls are painted silver. It looks like an insane asylum for aliens. Come to think of it, that would explain a lot. Around the corner there are lots of animal cages. In the distance, we see a surgical set up. There are several tanks with mutated creatures nearby (reminiscent of the scene in Aliens where the marines discover two living “face-huggers” in tanks). A deformed woman on the table is giving birth. Lab-coated and masked attendants remove a gore-covered baby. This may have been meant to be scary, but John Frankenheimer still hasn’t learned how to scare an audience. It’s shot with all the tension of a documentary on the life of a telephone repairman. It just happens, with no impact.
Oh, it does scare Douglas though. “Oh my God,” he gasps. The attendants turn toward him. One of them rips down his mask, to reveal bestial features. Douglas runs for it, and yanks open the nearest door. There are two animal men waiting for him. One, incidentally, looks like a deformed Gary Coleman in a dinner jacket. Would I lie to you?
Douglas makes a break for the jungle. Aissa comes from out of nowhere and catches up to him. She offers to get him off (the island, relax you pervs) if he will agree not to say anything about what he saw. She’s worried about her “Father.” They run off together. In the background we hear Monty yell “There’s a lot of unstable phenomena out there.” Why did he say this? Knowing this movie, probably because somebody asked him a question like “What time is it?”
Aissa and Douglas run through the jungle. “Better run through the jungle…don’t look back…” I have an urge to listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival. Uh, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, the extremely exciting chase scene. Soon Aissa and Douglas are at the dock, but a jeep on the beach frightens them off. You know, nighttime on the island of Dr. Moreau looks rather blue, thanks to somewhat obvious day for night shooting. Beast creatures charge through the blue void looking for them.
After a bit of running, they arrive at a stream, and the obvious day for night shooting stops. There has been no indication that lots of time has elapsed, so I guess Artist Frankenheimer just got though his Blue period. At the falls, we notice a beast man drinking from the steam on all fours. Spotting them, it runs off into the woods. Another creature watches it go.
Aissa and Douglas run down a path, and find bloody animal carcasses. They look like the rabbits we saw earlier. One is on a tree branch, another is on the ground. Aissa looks nauseated. Flies buzz loudly. Oh, this must mean the rabbits are dead. Thanks for that audio clue.
A Baboon-like creature charges out of the bush, waving a club. He seems on the verge of attacking Douglas, but Aissa screams “It’s a five finger man,” holding up his hand. Now the creatures’ identification of other people on the island is extremely important to the plot of Dr. Moreau. Unfortunately, the film’s liberties with the plot and themes never really explain why seeing a five-finger man calms the Baboon man down. We’re just left to assume that Baboon man has Aissa’s hand fetish.
Aissa asks for help finding the Sayer of the Law. Soon, they’re walking through another compound, this one also an abandoned military base. We notice a few jets left behind. That’s right, the American military wouldn’t take any ol’ useless fighter aircraft with them when they left. This compound has barrels everywhere. In front of buildings, piled high around it, everywhere. And again, they aren’t going to explode. Not a chance.
As they walk through, various animal creatures and freaks run around. Douglas is holding his nose. Either the compound really stinks or he’s read the script again in rehearsal for the next five scenes. Going into a darkened building, then underground, we begin hearing a majestic (pretentious) voice, shouting various laws. This is the Sayer of the Law, a key character in the book and even the 1977 version, reduced to making a cameo here.
In the book, and the 1977 version, the animal men were fairly dumb, and the most intelligible was the Sayer of the Law, whose name unfortunately can be abbreviated to SOL (hint: the last two letters stand for “out of luck”). His purpose is to continually remind the animals of the law, which keeps them from reverting to the level of beasts. Frequently, Moreau would drop by when someone had done something naughty. He would demand “What is the law?” The SOL would go through a ritual of reciting the law, which though repetitive, was to the point. “Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men? Not to chase other men, that is the law…” and so on.
The movie, however, can’t decide if its animal men are barely self-aware monsters or perfect gentlemen in formal attire ready to sing “Putting on the Ritz.” Instead of this succinct method of reciting the law, the movie SOL gives long-winded speeches, too long to repeat here. It makes sense to give creatures that are barely sentient a code of ethics that can be repeated as a ritual, simple, and repetitive so it’s easier for them to remember. But as every bad scriptwriter knows, never use five words when you can use five hundred. Oh, and instead of reciting it while Moreau is present, the SOL just says it constantly.
The SOL makes his entrance by descending an elevator, barely lit in the darkness. Symbolic maybe? Law coming down from Heaven? Or is it just another MTV moment? “Mr. Frankenheimer sir? If the lair is underground, and they have to go from the top level of this tiny building, wouldn’t they bump into the SOL up there, making it unnecessary to go below and his entrance by elevator kind of pointless?”
“Well, er, yeah I suppose, but it looks cool!”
The Sayer of the Law is played by Ron Perlman. Perlman’s no stranger to heavy make-up, having appeared as the mutant Vincent in TV’s Beauty and the Beast opposite Linda Hamilton. Perlman is a good actor, but he doesn’t have the good looks of a leading Hollywood man, so he frequently gets character actor roles. His heavy make up tends to makes him unrecognizable from role to role, and because of this, he escapes inclusion on the Embarrassed Actor’s Scale. Anyway, the Sayer of the Law spouts off about the laws they are to follow. “We are men, are we not?” demands the Sayer of the Law. “We are Devo,” respond the creatures. “D-E-V-O.” Okay, they don’t do that. But it would be funny. I find I have urge to listen to Devo right now. A little “Whip It.” Oh right, sorry, the movie.
“We are men, because the Father made us men,” says the Sayer of Law, then wants to know who Douglas is. Then he asks if he’s here to help the Father’s work. Aissa reveals he’s being chased. Nice going Aissa. That’ll inspire them to help Douglas. Incidentally, if her purpose is to get Douglas off the island, why make this trip? Boat’s in the other direction.
Anyway, before any uproar can start, a horn starts bellowing. “The Father,” the animals whisper. And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for Marlon Brando to make his grand entrance. I am sure that in the long and occasionally wretched history of film, there have been sillier and campier introductions of a character. But right now, I can’t think of a single one.
We start with a close-up. A sudden close-up in any movie is a startling thing, but this one is jaw dropping. It’s Brando’s pudgy face, his eyes covered with dark sunglasses. His face is smeared thickly with a white cream of some kind. Some sort of sunblock, I guess. Or embalming fluid. Honestly, he looks like a corpse. It’s H.G. Wells meets Weekend at Bernie’s! After letting us look up his nostrils for awhile, we pull out to see that Brando is seated atop a platform mounted on a jeep. He is wearing a giant straw hat, and is draped in uh…drapes. They’re too lily-white for mosquito netting. He is wearing an enormous tacky necklace. It seems to be made of marshmallows and a coconut. As the jeep drives along (Monty is at the wheel), Brando waves and gestures like the Pope. Anything I could say about this spectacle would really be redundant.
Brando is Doctor Moreau. Except he’s not really. He acts as if this is all a big joke. As if he can’t believe that some studio was willing to sink money into this movie, but since they were, he’s going to have fun at their expense. And at the audience’s. Kilmer and Brando might think this is all a big put-on, but some people actually paid money in the naive hopes of seeing a good movie. You may be having fun, we’re not. It’s like being the only sober person at a wild party.
In the book, Moreau was an older, but surprisingly tough man, who wasn’t quite the gentleman Brando seems to be. Brando’s Moreau is a flower child, whereas the book Moreau was a cold, blood-soaked butcher who made sure his creations were terrified of him. It was necessary for the sake of his own survival. But this movie throws the themes of the book plus some not so original ideas of its own into a blender and grinds them up to make sure nothing makes sense.
The animals gang up on Douglas and Monty pulls a gun on him, but Moreau orders Monty to give Douglas the gun. Monty is reluctant, and rightly so. Douglas takes the gun, fires a few warning shots, and then points the gun at Moreau. Aissa freaks and gets up on the jeep to block the shot. The animals move closer, so Moreau presses a button on his amulet, and suddenly the animals start writhing in pain. Not bad. Moreau’s amulet is so well designed that he induces pain only in the animals near Douglas with just one touch of a button.
Douglas screams at Moreau to stop. “Calm yourself Mister Douglas,” replies Moreau. “Don’t add more pain to their already diminished lives.” This is a curious statement given later moments of pompousness by Moreau, but we’ll get to that. At this point though, my roommate observed that “He looks like a giant mushroom.”
“Why have you done this?” demands Douglas. Possibly he’s referring to the mutation of the animals, or Brando’s agreeing to be in the movie. But as we pointed out, nobody replies to anything with a straight answer. “Don’t you feel the heat?” says Moreau while the audience starts to put coats on. “Because I do. I can’t tolerate the sun. And what it’s doing to me and what’s doing to all of us and all life on earth. We must return to the compound. Keep the weapon if it comforts you.”
A very sudden cut shows a tiny deformed man using a sponge to wipe the make-up off Moreau’s head, which is covered with a tiny bit of peach-fuzz for hair. Apparently, John Frankenheimer woke up one morning and thought he was David Lynch. All that’s missing is the tiny man saying “That gum you like is coming back in style” in a distorted voice. A host of people including Douglas and Aissa are looking on, stunned. They manage to sit politely, although I’m sure audience members saw no need for this, and are by this point muttering through the theater lobby with their car keys in hand.
“Mr. Douglas, for the sake of propriety I’d like to present my children.” Moreau rattles off the names of the creatures present. Now, there are about four or five of them, but with the exception of Aissa, they’re all interchangeable. And they all have names like the characters in Clan of the Cave Bear. Seeing the agony Ken went through trying to sort out names like Broud, Oola, Uga, uga chucka uga uga chucka uga uga chucka “I can’t stop this feeling, deep inside of me. Girl you just don’t realize…what you do to me…” Sorry, where was I?
Oh yeah. All of the animal creatures close to Moreau are identified by weird names, and I have no intention of trying to work through the make-up and the credits and figure out who’s who and how to spell their names, since none of these characters make any impact on the story whatever (then again, neither do most of the characters I can name). I’ll just say they very formally introduce themselves like young boys at a private school meeting the headmaster. I’ll refer to this bunch as “One of Moreau’s children” from here on out to distinguish them from the other animals.
The little guy who removed most of Moriue’s unblock goes to shake Douglas’ hand, but Douglas just stares. Well, what would you do? Eventually, he does shake it, but he’s given more to pronouncements like “This is the most outrageous spectacle I have ever witnessed.” Moreau, who still has a touch of make-up on and looks like he’s auditioning for the lead in a biographical movie of the Pillsbury Doughboy, says “I understand that I must be shocking to you.” The word you’re looking for is “ridiculous.” Moreau also says “I must also point out that I have an allergy to the sun, and that’s why I put on this medication.” Oh, that explains it. Why give Moreau this affliction? Is it supposed to be symbolic?
“Look at these people!” cries Douglas. “Look at him!” He points at the little guy. The animals look slightly offended. And they should be. Next to Brando, they look like they should be on the cover of GQ. Why is Douglas picking on them? Moreau wearily says “I don’t think I have the intellectual ability to condense 17 years of study and experiment into 17 minutes of explanation.” This is another way of saying that the filmmakers have no idea of how to present the idea of the experiments in a convincing way, so they’re going to just come out and say it. “For the moment, it will have to suffice to say that the people you witness before, living under my care and protection, are animals that have been fused with human genes.”
“Has it ever occurred to you that you may have totally lost your mind,” says Brando’s agent, I mean, Edward Douglas. “I mean this is Satanic!” The animals look offended again. Moreau responds with “Judge not, Mr. Douglas, that ye be not judged,” he rattles off more Biblical verse, and then concludes with “and let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.” While the first part of the quote is appropriate, the last part isn’t.
So…Moreau thinks he has sinned by creating these creatures, but that’s okay ’cause we all make mistakes? If I’d been Douglas, I would have said “Okay, how many of you here have also created hideous mutations through extremely unethical scientific methods, and therefore have no right to complain? Hands up.”
Instead, Douglas counters with “There is no peace sayeth the Lord, unto the wicked.” At this, Moreau parries with…dinner plans. Yeah, that’s telling him. He hopes that Douglas will be more receptive then. But if we’re dealing with Biblical verse, I think it’s important to bring up the 2nd Commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of thy Lord God in vain, particularly for movies as lame as this one.”
Later before dinner, Moreau is dressed in an all white Shelly Winters get up, similar to her look in Wild in the Streets. He’s playing Chopin on the piano. On top of the piano is his little assistant, playing a mini piano of his own. They’re even dressed the same. The South Park creators turned this into a running gag with the Mephisto geneticist character, and a little unspeaking monkey guy that follows him around. As silly as that is, this is even worse. South Park’s Mephisto and his ambitions to make multi-assed creatures makes more sense than this Doctor’s, and are closer to Wells’ version. I’m serious. With all this going on, can we really believe that this is the man who “coulda been a contender?” How the mighty have fallen.
Douglas watches Moreau play, spotting Aissa in the dark, who leaves. If there was any chemistry between the two performers, we might actually think they like each other. Later, at dinner, we see one of Moreau’s Children reading W.B. Yates. Thanks, he happens to have written some of my favorite poems, and I am just thrilled that they have the honour of being in this movie. “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” recites the Kid. So we’ve had classical music, and now great literature. I guess since we can’t write a decent script, we’ll have to pack it with literature and music from people with talent to distract the audience. Nice try.
Once again, Moreau and the little guy are wearing matching outfits in this scene. Anyone else find this extremely distasteful? They’re exploiting this guy for a very cheap laugh. Why not make a whole movie about dwarf tossing?
Moreau warms up the dinner conversation. “Please tell me, is the devil still pursuing you?” he laughingly asks. A half-assed theological argument begins. Douglas says that Moreau should know more about the devil than he, since they are well acquainted. Moreau naturally has some wonderful insight about that. He believes the devil is the part of human nature that wants to “Destroy and debase.” Douglas points out that this exactly what Moreau has done on the island. But Moreau says “I have seen the devil in my microscope, and I have chained him.” He also says he has “cut him to pieces” and “is no more.” He says his animals “represent a stage in the process of the eradication of the destructive elements of the human psyche.”
Oh for God’s sake. Never mind that this a total departure from the motivations of Doctor Moreau in the book, who was doing his work more or less for the sake of seeing whether it could be done, and to be the person to do it. This is just plain…stupid! How does humanizing an animal make it less evil? Evil is an entirely human concept. Animals are all instinct. Animals do not commit acts of violence out of malice. They do it out of defense or hunger.
The concept of evil only comes into play when a creature becomes sentient, and starts operating within a society. In other words, if it were possible to humanize an animal, you would be introducing the concept of evil to it. But Moreau’s speech gets even worse, saying that he’s almost succeeded in creating “lifeforms incapable of malice.” (Hellooooo! Wake up! Not even close!) “I am closer than you could possibly imagine sir,” says Moreau confidently. He also says that because of this, he doesn’t care what they look like.
Now, a major plot point develops. At least, it was a major plot point in the book. One of Moreau’s Children brings in a serving dish. He lifts the tray, to reveal some kind of cooked meat. Most of the animals, including Aissa, react in shock and disgust. Moreau is mildly perturbed. Apparently, Moreau imposes a strict vegetarian diet. It’s not explained why. Moreau’s Kid identifies it as “Rabbit Fricassee,” as requested by Montgomery. Naturally, people that have been raised as vegetarians know how to cook this.
Moreau’s Kid begins licking his fingers, at which Moreau become slightly more perturbed. For those of you who haven’t read the book, Moreau imposed a vegetarian diet on the animals only (humans were allowed to eat meat). He didn’t want them to get used to eating flesh or tasting blood. Moreau was very careful to make sure that his animals showed no signs of regressing to their bestial nature. That is why they weren’t allowed to walk on all fours, eat meat, etc. By the way, it should be the movie’s job to explain this to you, not mine.
Moreau orders the meal be taken away, and says that Montgomery seems to treat this all as an “amusement.” Now, the Montgomery in the book never would have done this, but if he had, the Moreau in the book would have been furious. And it should follow that this one would be too. The movie Monty carelessly says that no one saw him kill the rabbit except Douglas, implying that it’s okay.
Douglas then reveals that they found rabbit corpses in the woods. Again, Moreau seems mildly put out by all this, whereas he should be grabbing a rifle. Instead, Moreau calls Monty a “bloody fool,” and asks who did it. Aissa mentions a name. When she does, the movie briefly flashes back to the creature we saw drinking from the stream when Douglas and Aissa were on the run. See? The director knows no one can be bothered with learning the names too.
Moreau orders that everyone must meet in the compound tomorrow. “Well Mister Douglas,” he says, “perhaps we can entertain you a little more than you anticipated. We’re going to have a trial tomorrow.” Never mind Douglas, how about entertaining the audience? Oh too late, most of them are in their cars, driving home.
And now a word about another major flaw. The character of Montgomery. In the book, he was a disgraced medical student that was working for Moreau, probably because Moreau was the only one who would have him. Montgomery was actually deeply disturbed by Moreau’s work (which was achieved not through clean sterile injections, but cruel, bloody surgery). To hide from it, Montgomery was a heavy drinker. Towards the end he did lose his mind, but in the meantime he fully grasped the need for extreme caution around the animals. In the 1977 version he was a mercenary working for Moreau. He wasn’t as effective a character, but his actions did make sense, and he too saw the need to be very careful around the animals.
Now, Kilmer is more or less playing Montgomery as himself–as Val Kilmer goofing around. Why the Hell did he show the cooked rabbit, flaunting Moreau’s rules? If Monty is crazy, how about showing us why? There’s no indication that he feels the pain of banishment from society (his past actually hasn’t been explained yet), there’s no indication that he is scarred by Moreau’s experiments. Monty has no apparent character motivation. Even worse–why does Moreau keep him around? His actions could lead to serious problems. In fact, if that creature that killed the rabbits was the one watching Douglas and Monty at the rabbit pen (the identity is never revealed), they probably already have. So why keep him around when he could really mess things up? Well, there’s this thing called the script…
Anyway, cut to another rock video. Animal rushing across the field, oh wait, never mind, it’s a dream sequence. Douglas awakes, and decides to escape the island. He goes down to the dock, which is very poorly lit so it’s hard to determine what’s going on. Apparently, he trips and falls onto the boat, is frightened by some sort of creature scuttling around, and then goes into the hold (I’m told by someone who saw this in the theater that they’re little rat men, but the video version I have is too dark to be sure).
There’s some kind of cage in the hold, so naturally Douglas does the horror movie thing and examines it by putting his face very close to the cage. But of course the cage is empty, and nothing charges him, creating a cheap scare. Oh wait, yes it does. Douglas flees back to the compound. We could ask why a caged animal is still on the boat in the middle of the night, but I think a more prudent question is why not just remove the animal and cast off? It’s in a cage, for crying out loud. For that matter, why not just drive the boat out, animal and all?
Anyway, the trial scene. All the animals gather, and the Sayer of the Law begins reciting. “Not to kill for pleasure…” he intones. “Not to kill for hatred. Not to kill anything, any time, that is the law.” Yep, this is sure better than “Not to kill. That is the law.”
“That law has been broken,” announces Pope Moreau, back in his embalming fluid.
“None escape, none shall escape,” chant the animals. Moreau asks who did it, but no one comes forward. Eventually, Moreau names the culprit, who charges Moreau. Moreau hits the right button on the pain amulet, and the creature falls before Moreau.
“I forgive you my son,” says Pope Moreau. Aww…Vomit. See, this is a sensitive 90s Moreau. The punishment for breaking the law in the book and even in the 1977 movie was going back to “the house of pain.” This was Moreau’s lab, where he would do some corrective surgery or give injections to the disobedient. Whereas previous Moreaus have ruled through fear, this one just says “Go in peace, sin no more,” or something. The social worker persona Moreau is in complete contradiction to the existence of the pain amulet, but since none of this movie makes any sense, who cares at this point? Hell, why not throw in a singing purple dinosaur? A couple motorcycle stunts? What difference does it make?
The accused grunts “Father” tenderly, and then one of Moreau’s children blows his head off with a gun. This is shocking, for those of you who care what’s going on (both of you). When Moreau asks “What have you done?” Moreau Junior says that he just wanted to maintain the law. At this point, the audience is arriving home, thinking about renting a good movie, and the skeletal hand of H.G. Wells shoots up from his grave, his angry spirit bent on revenge.
Moreau is annoyed again. He asks where his Kid got the gun. From Montgomery, apparently. Why did Monty do this? Who can tell? Now, the animals notice a slight incongruity here. “The law is not to kill for any reason,” says the Sayer of the Law. But nothing is done about this. Now, most of the adaptations of the novel skip an important detail. In the book, the law was not equal. Moreau could eat meat, Montgomery could eat meat, they could do pretty much whatever they liked, and they could kill.
Moreau very well understood the need to put down one of his subjects. The animals, knowing they could break rules they couldn’t, looked upon them as gods. That’s how Moreau maintained order. By imposing a rigidly defined caste, and making it clear who had the power. Power was exercised through punishment. So how does this Moreau maintain order? Through a kind of vague French Utopian Socialism. I guess they all have a copy of The Rights of Man and The Communist Manifesto.
In other words, this society doesn’t…make…any…sense. It also doesn’t make sense that Moreau wouldn’t send Montgomery packing after this. It doesn’t make sense that Montgomery would do this in the first place. It also a little weird that Moreau wouldn’t punish (or at least “forgive”) his son for the killing. The next scene just shows the cremation of the body. And it doesn’t make…oh, why go on?
While the cremation is happening, Douglas tries the communication centre. No dice. “DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMNNNNNNNNNNN!” he screams, with 11 Ns. I see he has succumbed to the Dark Side, and is giving into his urge to camp it up, like the Emperor Brando, and his right hand man, Darth Kilmer. I might add that he has tried to turn a few switches, but that’s all. Man, he gives up easily.
Another creature, a Hyena man, goes to the crematorium to check out the remains of the slain one. He looks at the skull (which looks remarkably human), then finds a bone. The bone has a little chip attached to it. Somehow Hyena not only deduces that this is what induces pain in the creatures, but also which bone it’s located on so that he can try to tear his own out.
Now cut to a close up of Brando’s face being flashed with a red light as he looks through a microscope. No, really. “I saw very little of Moreau as the crisis broke,” says Douglas, voice over. “Oh God” whispers Moreau, apparently in reaction to what’s in the microscope, not the narration. “He was in the laboratory,” continues Douglas, “working away in pursuit of his dream–to create a perfect human race.”
You know, I’m not an (apparently) brilliant Nobel Prize winning biologist like Moreau, but I have a teeny suggestion. Perhaps he’d be a little more successful at creating a perfect human race if he experimented with humans, not animals. Just a thought. “Nothing was said of my attempt at escape,” says Douglas. Perhaps they’re just being polite. It was fairly embarrassing. “Montgomery who had once been a brilliant neurosurgeon was reduced to being the beast people’s jailer. And now he had become mine too.”
This is the last of Montgomery’s character development. And it explains…absolutely nothing about how Monty behaves. As to being the jailer, well, the beasts have the run of the island. Their only limit seems to be the pain amulet, which belongs to Moreau. Monty doesn’t have one. And as to Douglas, the only reason he can’t escape is his apparent inability to move a cage on an unguarded boat. We’re not talking about maximum security here, exactly. This would not have foiled Steve McQueen. Speaking of which, I really wish I was watching The Great Escape right now.
Monty comes into the lab, and Moreau shows him the microscope. “It’s turned completely yellow,” says Moreau. Yes, but what does that mean in layman’s terms, Doc? He further overwhelms us non-geniuses with this brilliant piece of dialogue. “It’s almost opaque.” Wow, the science-fiction element of this movie sounds so authentic. You can believe it could really happen. This is the first and only time we see the biologist doing something scientific. He doesn’t seem to be working so hard on that dream of his.
Cut to scene of Douglas and Monty out in the scrub. Animals are gathering around eagerly. Monty is injecting them with “endorphins and hormones” which prevents them from “retrogressing.” The little assistant guy is with them, and he’s naked. This is the most tasteful handling of a physical deformity since Chained for Life. And since his wardrobe always mirrors what Moreau is wearing, does this mean at this very moment, Brando is…oh yuck.
Douglas wants to know what the animals will regress into without the serum. “It isn’t pretty,” says Monty. Douglas notes that the injection seems to make them happy. “That’s my contribution,” reveals Monty. “I add a little meth-amphetamines, some morphine, some ‘shrooms, and some other shit. Keeps ’em mellow, keep’s em well, keep em coming back for more.” At this point, the zombie corpse of H.G. Wells stops and considers who to get first, Frankenheimer, or Kilmer. So drugs are how Moreau is creating a malice-free human race, huh? Smart. We all know that the world of drug use is completely free of pain and violence.
Douglas spots the Hyena guy, who doesn’t seem to want his injection. Monty calls to him but he won’t come. Monty approaches him, and Hyena lifts up the pain chip, laden with gore, apparently ripped from his body. “Pain no more,” he growls.
Monty immediately dashes over to the jeep to get a rifle. Hyena dude runs for it. Monty takes aim, but Douglas grabs him, ruining the shot. Why? Doug has done nothing but express disgust for these creatures. And for that matter, why has Monty suddenly started behaving this way? His early actions seem to indicate that he wants the creatures to go wild and rebel. Well, now one has, and the first thing he does is grab a rifle. Why?
Monty gathers people for a hunt. The other animals like that, even though it’s been forbidden. Oh well. Some, for whatever reason, seem to dress like beekeepers from the US army (?!?) and they catch up to Hyena on the beach. Although they seem to have got him, somehow he escapes.
Next we see Douglas and one of Moreau’s Kids in Com Centre. The Kid is trying to assure Douglas that he can use the radio to call for help. “I make it work,” he says. Suddenly, the window opens and there’s Monty. “Not without this you don’t.” What is “this” exactly? We can’t see it. Monty comes in, holding a squeeze toy. Presumably, this is not what is needed to make the Com Centre work properly. Monty says “Fetch,” and tosses it out the door. Moreau’s Kid leaves.
Monty sits down and says “Who do you think you’re going to call? Mayday, mayday, I’m being held captive by a pig lady?” By the way, we finally see that Monty has pulled a circuit board from the Centre. It looks intact, so it can probably be re-installed to fix the Com Centre, but of course, it won’t be. But…why would Monty not want Douglas to leave? What difference does it make? Moreau certainly doesn’t seem like the type that would stop him. Even the ultra-wicked Moreau of the book had no problem with the idea of the castaway leaving on the next supply ship. And as to what he’s going to say to anyone listening: “Help I’m shipwrecked” would probably do nicely. So much for the “brilliant” neurosurgeon.
Douglas, by the way, is sitting with a gun resting against his head during this conversation. Not advisable, Doug. Also memorable in this scene is the expression on David Thewlis’ face. It’s a look of barely restrained disgust and boredom, and rapidly dwindling patience with Montgomery. I’ll bet Thewlis didn’t have to work hard to get into character.
“Gonna sell Aissa to the circus?” inquires Monty. He reveals that she needs her shots like everyone else, and she of course can’t get them off the island. This scene confirms that there’s supposed to be some romance between the two. Well, they’re ain’t. A quick cutaway reveals that Aissa is eavesdropping.
“There’s so much you don’t understand,” says Monty. “Why don’t you smoke this and maybe you’ll start.” He offers him what appears to be a joint, which is what I guess Monty’s currently under the influence of. Is this one instance of Monty’s drug use supposed to tell us that the drugs are making him act crazy? Anyway, Douglas just says no. Monty says there’s no way off the island. Doug asks “Why was I brought here. I was brought here wasn’t I?” Nice try. Monty is back into Don’t Answer mode. He merely says that he has to find the Hyena guy before he gives other creatures the idea of removing the chip.
In the next scene, we see Moreau wearing his most ridiculous outfit yet. It’s a white muumuu with a hat that appears to be a cross between a stove pipe and dancer’s leg warmers. Don’t believe me? Fine, you watch this movie. In comes Aissa, who wants to talk to Daddy. Of course, Daddy doesn’t even answer her questions directly. Instead he blathers about the heat, so she grabs a nearby pitcher and fills the hat with water. She then begins to massage his shoulders, which he likes, until her grip becomes too strong. Am I making this up? Sadly, no.
Finally, we get to the point of this scene. Aissa is changing, regressing back into cat form. Her ears and teeth are becoming more pronounced. She wails that’s she hideous, but Moreau insists that everything is okay, that’s she’s still “beautiful inside and outside.” Does anything worry Moreau? Signs that his little paradise are about to come crashing down–including direct appeals from his children–are all around him, but he does bugger all. I get the feeling that if we lit his muumuu on fire he’d say “That’s all right, it’s perfectly natural thing that happens to flammable material.”
Aissa continues to cry, and says “I want to be like you!” Moreau then offers up the most rational, insightful line in this entire movie–“I hope not!”
Meanwhile, beast men are scouting the compound. They are lead by Hyena dude. Trouble’s abrewin.’ They break into the hotel, and whack the piano a few times. Those fiends! The lights come on, and there’s Moreau, beaming. What’s left of the audience begins screaming “Kill him! Quick! Before he has a chance to act!”
They don’t. In a scene that defies description, Moreau begins making pleasant conversation with the obviously homicidal crew. He offers them a cookie, then sits down at the piano and begins to play Gershwin for them. That cools them off a little. Yes, they really did put the “Music calms the savage beast” clichÃ© into this movie. Moreau notices that one of them is bleeding. He immediately does not spring into action. He plays the piano some more. Finally, Hyena says “Father, I must ask a question. What am I?”
“You are my children,” says Moreau. Hyena asks why then he makes pain for his children. Finally, Moreau clues in that he’s in trouble. Rising from the piano, he moves to the back of the room. Moreau explains that pain is necessary to enforce the law. Hyena speculates “If there is no more pain…then is there no more law.” At this point, little assistant guy runs up behind Moreau and gives him the pain amulet. Yes, Moreau apparently does not wear it at all times, and furthermore, keeps it in an unlocked drawer. Perhaps The Island of Doctor Moron would be a more fitting title.
“There’s always law,” says Moreau, and presses a button. Nothing happens. So…nobody told him about Hyena removing the pain chip? I can see why Montgomery wouldn’t (’cause he does things or not totally at random), but why wouldn’t Douglas? Never mind. It’s just nice to see the smug little grin about to be wiped from Moreau’s face.
Hyena guy now gives a speech the opposite of the Sayer of the Law’s. “To go on all fours, that is the law,” he says, that kinda junk, getting more carried away as time goes on. He reveals he has killed a rabbit, and finally concludes with “None shall escape, that is the law!” and they fall on him. Douglas arrives with a gun to frighten them off, but not before they’ve killed Moreau, and grabbed his amulet. I guess Moreau was a little further away from his goal of creating lifeforms incapable of malice than he realized.
In the next scene, they’re cremating Moreau’s body. Uh, get off the island guys. Never mind this crap. Instead, it comes on strong. One of the Moreau Kids says his “Spirit is watching over us. We must wait for a sign.” The book and the 1977 version have a plot device whereby the humans try to convince the animals that Moreau is still alive. You see, having convinced the animals that humans are gods, and then having the animals see one of them die is a very bad thing. If they can die, than they ain’t gods. I thought this was the movie’s way of working this idea in. But apparently not. It’s just mystical mumbo-jumbo.
Aissa is pretty broken up about this whole thing, and is going through a confidence crisis. Douglas tries to comfort her. We know that they share a deep bound and understanding, because they’ve spent maybe a whole minute on the screen together. “If not for you, I should say that your father failed terribly,” says Douglas. “You’re not the same as them.” That’s right. She’s got a better make-up job. Douglas is off to (I think) the Com Centre (get off the island you schmuck. There’s a boat. Go.), and one of the Moreau Kids goes hunting for the Hyena dude and his gang.
Douglas arrives at what looks like the Com Centre. It’s hard to tell, since everything’s been trashed. Frustrated, he collapses. Then we hear Doctor Moreau’s platitudes being mumbled in a low voice. What’s this? A flashback voice over from earlier in the movie? The ghost of Moreau returning to haunt us? Worse, it’s Montgomery, doing a Brando impersonation into a microphone. Now bad impersonations of Brando are one thing, but bad impersonations of Brando when he’s already doing a bad impersonation of himself are even worse.
Douglas threatens him with the gun. Instead of getting him to shut up, which would be reason enough to shoot him, he’s looking for the serum. “Who’s the animal?” Montgomery smugly asks. Wow, what a stunning bit of insight. It harkens back to the “they fought like beasts” bit which was moronically, I mean ironically foreshadowed earlier in the movie. So I guess the movie is saying that humans can be as bad as animals. Actually, humans might actually be worse. Animals don’t sink millions of dollars into cinematic manure like this.
Anyway, Monty says that he’s destroyed all of the serum. Why? Who knows. Maybe the devil, which Moreau caught and cut to pieces, made him to do it.
Meanwhile, Loyalist Moreau Kid has caught up to the Hyena guy and his homeboys. He fires a gun in the air twice. “I have the Fire That Kills,” he announces. Yep. And if you keep wasting ammo like that, you’ll have to reload the Fire That Kills. But Hyena has the Medallion that Does Anything at the Touch of a Button. It must have a Windows 95-based tutorial or something, because Hyena has already worked out how to use it. One push, and Moreau Kid is down. Instantly, to save himself from becoming Hyena chow, he sells out. He says that he knows where he can get more guns. And yes, he uses the word, “guns.” But a moment ago it was The Fire That Kills. I guess the scriptwriters wanted to avoid dialogue like “Hand me the Browning 9 millimeter Fire That Kills with the Laser Scope.”
Quick shot of Douglas going through the lab, looking for serum, I guess. Then we see Hyena and crew at the dock. They set fire to the dock, which causes the boat to explode. I guess the boat was using solid rocket booster fuel or something. “None shall escape,” says Hyena with satisfaction. No please, don’t tell me someone locked the doors of the theater! NOOOOOO!
Cut to a smoky nightclub. Well, that’s not really what it is, but since dance music is playing, and the animals are dancing around, that’s what it looks like. Monty seems to be the DJ, and now he’s dressed up as Moreau, and overacting. He delivers this speech. “You know, Sherlock Holmes once asked Doctor Watson, ‘Did you notice the remarkable thing about the dog barking in the middle of the night?’ Doctor Watson said ‘I heard no dog barking.’ Sherlock said, ‘that’s the remarkable thing.'” Then he laughs. This little monologue foreshadows…absolutely zilch. Kill him…someone please kill him.
Meanwhile, in the lab, Doug has discovered blood and tissue samples with his name on it. He also discovers photographs that show he’s been operated on. Funny, his wounds seem healed. And I guess Monty had all the proper facilities to obtain and store those samples with him on that dinky little boat. Monty sure travels prepared.
Back at the nightclub, our treacherous Moreau Kid arrives. He and Monty embrace. “Well, things didn’t work,” he announces. Yes, but they released this movie anyway. “Moreau tried to change animals into humans, and humans into gods.” And H.G. Wells into an episode on the 1960s series of Batman. “What’s instinct to a dog?” he asks the Moreau Kid. Kid replies it’s to hunt, and kill. “I want to go to Dog Heaven,” whines Monty. Actually Mr. Kilmer, with such flicks as this and Batman Forever, you’ve already assured yourself a place in Dog Heaven. Or did you mean the kind of dog that barks?
Whatever he meant, Moreau Kid sends him there with a quick gunshot through the head. Okay, the last of the hammy acting is dead, so now the rest of the movie will play out with some lame action sequences and heavy-handed speeches.
By and by, Aissa finds Douglas in the lab. Dougy reveals that Moreau intended to “take his life” in order to stabilize Aissa’s. This seems totally out of character for the Moreau we saw, but never mind. He tells her that all the serum has gone. So has all of the plot. What’s supposed to happen now?
Well, many of the animals are reverting to their bestial state. You can tell because they’re driving their jeeps wildly. What savages. Next they’ll be forgetting where the salad fork goes at a proper place setting and splitting their infinitives. They knock over some of the barrels we saw earlier, and then shoot the flammable liquid that spills out, causing most of the compound to explode. I am really shocked that this happened. I didn’t see it coming. Who would have guessed?
The movie really starts to unravel at this point, with lots of meaningless explosions and shootings. Somehow some of the monsters get automatic weapons, which they fire wildly. Interesting that Moreau doesn’t want meat consumed on his island, but keeps lots of military firepower around.
The party ends up at the Sayer of the Law’s den, where Aissa and Douglas have headed, thinking who knows what. Why didn’t they head to the dock? Did they read the script and learn that the boat was destroyed? Anyway, Moreau Kid is there, mockingly says “How do you do sir?” and attacks. It’s all kind of like watching an episode of When Animals Attack on Fox, except the animals have large caliber weapons and incendiary devices. And a weaker script.
Aissa, who is different, not like the others, begins to spazz out and attack them, hissing and clawing. She’s eventually over-powered. The animals apparently resent her because Moreau never tortured her. Apparently, this has turned into a 1/4-assed Animal Farm. You know, all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. They tie her up, and then hang her. It’s the end of a classic love story. Boy meets catwoman, catwoman begins regressing to feline form, rampaging mutants hang catwoman. How many times have we seen it happen? And more to the point, will we ever have to see it again? Please say no.
Okay, more explosions and stupidity. Finally, we see a partially destroyed building where things are relatively calm. Hyena is trying to get the Sayer of the Law to proclaim him as the law. SOL is being stubborn. “Do not believe him!” he cries. Suddenly, treacherous Moreau Kid enters, dragging Douglas. The animals throw our beleaguered hero against the platform where Hyena man is holding court. “Good Doggy,” sneers Hyena, then guns him down. Whatever.
Hyena giggles for a moment and then gets right in Douglas’s face. “Tell them that I am God,” he hisses, then uses the pain amulet. Douglas winces as the animals roll around in agony. “You’re right. You are a god,” he says, although Hyena seemed to be walking away. Next, Hyena orders Douglas to tell them to obey him like they did the Father. Uh, they didn’t obey the Father so well, a fact Doug picks up on.
“You all killed the father,” he says. “You all ate his flesh. So who is the new father? Who is god number one? Who should they obey? Him?” He nods at what appears to be the SOL. “Him?” He nods at some other guy with a gun. “You see there must be a god number one. ” Hyena breathes heavily in Douglas’ face, then grabs a gun and starts killing everyone. Yes, I know this doesn’t really make any sense, but look at it this way–the faster everyone dies, the faster the movie is over. Go Hyena!
In the crossfire, Hyena gets hit. Also, more fuel gets spilled, and then someone, who looks like one of the other loyal Moreau kids, lights it up. The largest and most pointless explosion yet occurs. During the shooting, a rifle falls Doug’s way. He grabs it. Hyena lumbers towards him. Doug points, but doesn’t shoot. And Hyena doesn’t attack. Why? Dunno. Hyena instead runs off to meet someone who actually resents the fact that he killed Moreau. Other animals appear to be hovering around. The Hyena runs into the burning building. He bellows “Father? Why? Why?” More like “What? What? What is all this crap?” I was kind of hoping that Brando would come back on and yell “Stella!” along with Hyena guy, but sadly no. Instead, a sheet of fire springs up and consumes Hyena.
Next thing you know, it’s daylight. Douglas is loading a raft. The Baboon guy tries to convince him to stay. Douglas says he will be back. Let’s hope he’s lying. The possibility of “The Island of Doctor Moreau II” is even scarier than Brando’s fashion sense. Douglas says that there may be doctors or scientists who understand what Moreau was trying to do. Uh, why this sudden change of heart Doug? You thought this was a bad idea earlier, then there was a bloodbath, and now you want to have someone try again?
The SOL and the little assistant guy are looking on. The SOL says “No. No more scientists. No more laboratories. No more experiments. I thought you’d be able to understand that.” Speech! Speech! “We have to be what we are. Not what the father tried to make us. To go on two legs…very hard. Perhaps four is better…anyway.” Yeah, yeah. And don’t play in God’s domain, don’t play in traffic, stealing is wrong, lying is bad, and the phantom was actually Old Man Futterman, who ran the local ferry. And he would have gotten away with it all if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids and their &*^@ing dog.
Baboon hugs Douglas’ hand. Doug looks on the verge of tears. Or laughter. Finally, he sets sail. Voice over time! “This is a true record of what I saw. I set it down leaving out only the latitude and longitude of the island as a warning to all who would follow in Moreau’s footsteps.” He probably means to prevent people from following in Moreau’s footsteps. Good idea if you ask me. If someone follows in Moreau’s footsteps and tries to remake this movie one more time, well, they’ve done nothing but get worse. The idea of an even worse version of The Island of Doctor Moreau makes me want to dive under the bed.
“Most times I keep the memory far in the back of my mind,” continues the narration. “Distant cloud.” What? “But there are times when the little crowd spreads until it obscures the sky.” Hey! Excuse me while I kiss the sky! I think I finally understand Monty’s Jimi Hendrix reference at the beginning of the movie.
But now, we see some stock footage of people rioting, fighting, remaking movies, butchering classic sci-fi novels, and generally being unpleasant. Yep, time for another self-righteous speech. “At those times I look about me at my fellow man and I’m reminded of some likeliness to the beast people.” I guess he’s forgotten about Aissa an all the other nice beast people he met. “And I feel as though the animal is surging up in them. And they’re neither wholly animal or wholly man, but an unstable combination of both. As unstable as anything Moreau created. And I go…in fear.” Fine. Go in fear. Whatever. However you go, just go. Thankfully, he does, and the credits roll.
It’s a common complaint that movie adaptations are nothing like the books they’re based on. A common misconception though, is that this is always a bad thing. Read the Peter Benchley novel Jaws. It sucks. It’s a romance novel with a shark subplot. The movie is a hundred times better. And let me court flame mail by saying this: Jurassic Park, the novel, is not better than the movie. The book has cardboard characters, is a thousand times more self-righteous than the movie, and goes on far too long. All it has is a little more science to explain how the cloned dinosaurs behave and live. I don’t know where Michael Crichton got the reputation for being a good novelist. He’s a good ideas man, that’s all. Spielberg seems to have a talent for making books better on screen (though I must confess I haven’t read Schindler’s List).
In the case of this movie though, it’s nothing like the book, and it’s still only for the best. They obviously couldn’t approach it with a half the skill of Wells, the 1932 movie, or even the 1977 movie, for crying out loud. The only thing that doesn’t date well about the book is the science, which can easily be updated. Get a good script, a good director, real actors, keep the make-up (the only remotely passable feature of this movie), and condense the events of the book, and you could make a really good movie, full of suspense, dread, and horror. This movie not only doesn’t come close, you really have to wonder if at any point someone tried to make a good movie. I don’t know all the behind-the-scenes info to know what went wrong, but when they fired original director Richard Stanley, they probably did him the favor of a lifetime.
The 1977 version was bad because they threw in a useless love story, had several plot holes, and a blaring score by Laurence Rosenthal that smothers the movie, and the audience. But Burt Lancaster was a decent Doctor Moreau, Michael York did all right as the castaway, and even the make-up effects weren’t bad. My recommendation: see the movies in reverse chronological order. By the time you see the 1932 version and read the book, they’ll probably seem like the greatest cultural events in history in comparison to the 1996 travesty.
There’s plenty of bad dialogue, but most of it is too long and unwieldy to include here. Although, I would like to point out some people in the credits who probably insisted on the use of a pseudonym:
Costume Supervisor: Paula Ryan
Wardrobe Coordinator (more like anti-coordinator): Meg Gordon
Standby Wardrobe: Heather Laurie
Wardrobe Assistants: Jamella Hassan, Sally Steele
Mr. Brando’s dresser: David Page (There’s a job we’d all like to have, eh? Hopefully, the biggest salary in the movie went to him.)
Mr. Brando’s hair stylist: Vera Mitchell