There are some movies that undergo troubled productions and turn out to be masterpieces. Take Jaws for example. The fact that they couldn’t get the shark to work lead to Spielberg deciding to shoot from the sharks POV, which added a real sense of terror and suspense. Coupled that with filming at sea with a cast that didn’t get on, Jaws went on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and effectively invent the Summer blockbuster. However, some troubled productions shit out a turd and The Island of Dr. Moreau is one big stinking turd.
The film starts with Douglas (David Thewlis) stranded at sea before he is rescued by a boat that takes him to a mysterious island. This island is where Dr Moreau (Marlon Brando) conducts his experiments, creating animal/human hybrids. He turns animals into men and thus elevating himself to God like status.
Based on the 19th century novel by H.G. Wells, this film was a passion project by director Richard Stanley who spent four years putting it together before being fired after four days of shooting. Fired for not being able to control Val Kilmer he was replaced with an angrier director who also wasn’t able to control Val Kilmer, John Frankenheimer. What was supposed to be a six week shoot in Australia, turned into a shoot that would last six months. Marlon Brando is famously difficult to work with. He would often refuse to learn line resulting in winning two Best Actor Oscars from reading from cue cards. In the 90s the only thing to have changed was instead of cue cards he would have a radio receiver in his ear with someone feeding him the lines. One drawback of this is that it would frequently pick up police scanners. It would have been great if half way through a scene Brando would start reciting police emergency calls. The script is so strange I don’t think the audience would notice.
The script was being rewritten daily and you can tell as the majority of dialogue is quite bland. That is what disappointed me most about this film, just how bland it is. It is set on an island where an uprising of animal mutants is occurring, the one thing it shouldn’t be is bland.
I would like to address the little person in the room. Majai is played by the 2’ 4” actor Nelson de la Rosa. De la Rosa drew Brando’s attention after he was named the smallest person in the world and Brando became obsessed with him, insisting that the script be rewritten to include him in the movie. I do not understand what the hell he is supposed to be. He looks like Dr Moreau tried to make a human/apricot hybrid and Majai was the result. Allegedly de la Rosa acted up on set, physically lashing out at another actor and trying it on with female extras. They described him as very sexual. Despite that he wasn’t the biggest dickhead on set.
Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer were awful people. One day was wasted because both actors refused to leave their trailers before the other one. The entire cast of actors, nearly all in heavy prosthetics, were forced to sit around in sweltering heat, waiting for one of these premadonnas to budge first. This film is basically a pissing contest between Brando and Kilmer, with everyone else trying not to drown in said piss.
As well as demanding that they hired the world’s smallest person to be his sidekick, Brando also demanded that Dr Moreau wears an ice bucket on his head and that the film ends with him being turned into a dolphin. Frankenheimer let the ice bucket slide but sadly we don’t get a Brando/Dolphin hybrid. That is a shame because that would have been amazing. I would pay good money to see the man who brought Don Corleone to life play a dolphin.
Let’s Talk Money
With a production budget of $40,000,000 this film grossed $49,627,779 worldwide meaning it technically isn’t a flop. It made money. However, with the production being dragged out as long as it was, I am unsure of how accurate that 40 million budget is.
Looking for a Positive
Being based on a H.G. Wells novel, you can tell that there is a good story in there somewhere. The basic idea of animal/human hybrids on an island, trying to understand their place, follow law, and come to terms with the flaws of their God is a really interesting one. If anything it has made me want to read the original novel. I think someone like Andy Serkis could turn this story into something really cool.
Would I recommend this film?
The story behind the film is mad. It was described by screenwriter Ron Hutchinson as a $40 Million train wreck. David Thewlis has said he can’t tell the full story as he is afraid he’d never be given work again. Thewlis hated working on the film so much he refused to go to the premiere and still hasn’t seen the film. I am envious of him. I wish I could go back to a time where I hadn’t seen this film. It is evident that every single person on screen does not want to be there. They all signed on to work with the legendary Brando but with Brando comes his illogical madness. Coupled with Val Kilmer’s out of control ego and a tyrannical director unable to keep his shit together, everyone just wants this to be over as quickly as possible. I felt the exact same way watching it. This is a very bad movie and I derived no enjoyment from it whatsoever. I feel a film about the making of this movie would be really entertaining, but this is a bland nightmare. I would absolutely not recommend this movie.