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Island of Dr. Moreau
Starring Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer,
David Thewlis, Fairuza Balk, and Ron Perlman
Directed by John Frankenheimer
The Island of Dr. Moreau is based on the novel by H.G. Wells, all of whose works Cranky devoured as a kidlet. But as usual, Cranky makes no comparison to source material.
Cranky also warns you that he's going resort to a Spoiler Warning about two paragraphs down. It's nothing you can't figure out from the commercial, or from reading the book, but I don't like to catch anyone unprepared.
The Island of Dr. Moreau sets itself up nicely. Edward Douglas (David Thewlis) is rescued at sea after a plane crash and a convenient shark attack leaves him the only survivor. His dehydration is treated by Montgomery (Val Kilmer) a self- described "vet" (as in veterinarian, though later he is described as a neurosurgeon) who is passing on a ship which will supply the island where his employer, Dr. Moreau, lives and works. Moreau, a genetic researcher and Nobel Prize-winner, has lived on the island for 17 years because animal rights groups "drove him out of the States," according to Montgomery. "It got so bad you couldn't cage a rat without reading him his rights," Edward is told.
Within minutes of his arrival, he meets the incredibly attractive Aissa (Fairuza Balk) and is locked in his room, for his own protection.
Of course Douglas escapes, and he stumbles into a laboratory where animals are held in cages and a woman is giving birth. Only he discovers, to his horror . . .
SPOILER WARNING: SKIP THIS GRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW:
. . . it isn't a human woman. Underneath the human breasts are two more pairs, and the face on the body is decidedly unhuman. The delivering doctor has got fur, fangs and a nasty snarl. Douglas has stumbled upon some bizarre transmutation of animal into human, or perhaps the other way 'round. This is the product of Moreau's experimentation.
END OF SPOILER WARNING.
A lot of good story material could have been exploited for this movie, which tries but just can't do it. Can Douglas escape the island? Having seen Aissa would he want to? Will he let the world know what he has learned? Or will he accept Moreau's explanation for the experiments he has stumbled upon, and not think twice about the resemblance between one of Moreau's "sons" and Michael Jackson?
As good as it is to see Marlon Brando, acting legend, on screen I am sad to report that he has become such a parody that Kilmer's imitation of him is blisteringly funny. As an acting choice it is perfectly in keeping with Frankenheimer's direction but, I don't think the ghost of John Belushi is smiling for no reason at all.
In general, Moreau is filled with overacted explosions of emotionalism; religious parallels which, scarily enough, are just as potent today as they may have been a hundred years ago when the novel was written; an emotional connection which the catchphrase "love at first sight" doesn't even come close to describing, and a continuity flaw in the muddled ending. If it isn't a flaw, it is a wasted story point. (If you catch it, please e-mail me. We'll compare notes.)
By the time the antagonist is consumed by flames, yelling "Why? Why?" at the top of his lungs, Cranky found himself thinking the same thing. Why? Why? Why did 90 minutes of celluloid (96 with credits, give or take) feel like a lifetime?
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for The Island of Dr. Moreau, he would have paid . . .
The makeup and creature effects by Stan Winston bear note. Fairuza Balk's performance is the most consistent of the lot; with Thewlis' close behind. And TV's Ron Perlman still plays a Beast.
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