The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.

Release Date: August 23rd, 1996 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: John Frankenheimer Actors: Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis, Fairuza Balk, Temuera Morrison, Peter Elliott, Mark Dacascos, Ron Perlman




hen their plane crashes in the Java Sea, three survivors are stranded in a lifeboat. On the sixth or seventh day, two of the men begin to fight over the last canteen of water. When one pulls a knife and stabs the other, they both go overboard and are swiftly attacked by a shark. Englishman Edward Douglas (David Thewlis) is the last one alive, and passes out from dehydration and the sun. He’s rescued by Montgomery (Val Kilmer), a veterinarian of sorts, in command of a small seafaring craft. When the boat docks at a tiny island, Edward is brought ashore to Dr. Moreau’s (Marlon Brando) compound. In the main house he meets Aissa (Fairuza Balk), Moreau’s slender daughter, before being introduced to the Nobel prize-winning scientist’s work. And that’s a traumatic, unintentional orientation; after picking the lock on his prisonlike room, he wanders into an operating facility where a half-goat, half-woman hybrid is giving birth.

The forested patch of isolated land was once a coffee plantation and a hotel resort, but now houses many dark secrets. Moreau, overly obsessed with animal research, was expelled from the states by rights activists and forced to hole himself up on the deserted enclave. Continued experimentations in fusing human genes and DNA with animals have resulted in the island becoming populated by mutant humanoid creatures. When Douglas flees from the bizarre birthing, Aissa takes him to the monstrous Assassimon (Peter Elliott), who brings the “fiveman” (denoting Douglas’ normal human hands) to the Sayer of the Law (Ron Perlman), another towering hybrid that preaches to a village of similar beasts. Appalled by the mutilation of the human form in the abundance of freakishly modified denizens, Douglas again tries to leave the territory, but is thwarted by tiny, aggressive, toothy rats.

Montgomery is an odd character, expressing little emotion and answering none of Douglas’ numerous questions. Kilmer appears to be pushing through his lines as if permanently intoxicated. Brando’s Moreau is even stranger, coated in thick, white, creamy makeup, ceremonial robes like a ghostly god, and a trash can on his head, and armed with a scepter that induces electrical shocks to subdue the converted fauna. In many ways, this film is very much like Tim Burton’s interpretation of H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau” – suggested by similarities to his 2001 vision of “The Planet of the Apes.” Here, there’s also a distinct Orwellian influence, as well as a note of “Frankenstein’s” table-turning retaliation. Brando uproariously treats the material quite seriously (falling into the role of an insane recluse rather naturally), often with a smug look on his face, which makes his outrageous lines just that much more hysterical. Thewlis might be the only actor not entirely enjoying the silliness of the script.

Explained as 17 years of attempts to breed out violent capabilities from the human psyche, Moreau’s objectionable practices have all but lost the novel’s original messages of identity, morality, cruelty and the infliction of pain, and meddling with nature and playing god – sacrificed to the over-the-top visuals. “This is just satanic!” exclaims Douglas as he spies the likes of Moreau’s own “Mini-Me” (the incredibly diminutive Nelson de la Rosa as mutant creation Majai). Thanks to special creature and makeup effects by Stan Winston, the various deformed fiends (and gore) take center stage, showcasing diverting designs and a decent production value. This is fortunate, considering that while the first hour of the film follows the source material nicely, the last half deteriorates into a mess of poorly developed ideas and dissatisfactory outcomes.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10