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(BLU RAY REVIEW) 2 1/2 stars for a bad translation of a great novel
on March 8, 2015
NOTE: THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE 1996 FILM. I was recently reading an article about Richard Stanley who has a screenwriter credit for this movie. He was also the director until he was eventually fired (replaced by John Frankenheimer), essentially for not being able to corral a couple of his cast members (Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer) and who was forever dickering with the screenplay. From what I recall, Stanley went into seclusion and never really made another major film. I have a vague memory of seeing the film years ago and thought it might be fun taking another look.
The movie is based on H. G. Wells's 19th Century novel of the same name. This is actually the 3rd film taken from the book. The first is a brilliant adaptation called "The Island of Lost Souls" from 1932 starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi. The second reverts to the original title and was released in 1977 starring Burt Lancaster and Michael York. It's actually pretty good. This film is best known perhaps as the film featuring two ridiculous performances, those of Brando and Kilmer. The original novel and/or films may have been an inspiration for the punk/pop band Devo who use a line from the film ("Are we not men?") as their first album title, which included the second line, "we are Devo."
The story has to do with Dr. Moreau (Brando), a former Nobel Prize winner, who has moved to an obscure Pacific island to experiment with animal mutations. Essentially he has found some success in gene manipulation that gives animals, human-like abilities including communication and walking upright. His masterpiece is his "daughter," Aissa (Fairuza Balk) who is totally convincing as a woman. In order to keep his subjects in their "advanced" form, Moreau must give them a serum regularly, otherwise they will revert to their animal states. Killing is forbidden which becomes a plot point in the film.
Moreau's experiment begins to unravel when Montgomery (Kilmer) rescues an Englishman named Douglas (David Thewlis) who has survived a shipwreck and brings him back to Moreau's island. Douglas has a lot of questions and after a chance meeting with the sultry Aissa, gets his horny on. Thewlis is terribly miscast in this role. He's not the hunky, take-charge guy that the character requires. Still he does what he can with the crappy script. A bloated Brando finally shows up well into the film caked in white greasepaint and what appears to be a white tent with mosquito netting. OK, a slight exaggeration. He's very sensitive to the sun, doncha' know. Even inside however, he's a building of his own. His lines are nonsensical as they relate to the story. It's like he just makes up a monologue and spurts it out. In one scene, perhaps in his own tribute to Devo, Moreau dons a towering, flower-pot looking hat similar to the one Devo is known for. His aides put ice into the top to keep him cool. Hilarious.
Kilmer must have been watching this so once Moreau is out of the picture, Montgomery takes on the persona of Moreau, including Brando's take on the character. Kilmer provides and even better Brando than Brando. It is actually kind of funny to watch him imitate the lispy speech pattern and effete mannerisms. I'll give credit to Rick Baker for some excellent costume work on the animal-hybrids and to Ron Perlman as their leader. Still this is actually a very bad movie. I can't recommend it unless you want to see a couple of former film greats destroy their careers. And some unintentional laughs.
If you chose to watch the Blu ray version you will get a very good 1080p picture with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. It is very clear with excellent detail and great colors. This is a significant improvement over previous versions. The audio comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and is also very good. There is nothing really special in terms of the surrounds but dialog is clear and well placed. Extras include a short making of piece and a couple trailers.