Like a lot of people, I never bothered to watch The Island of Dr Moreau at the time of release. It was universally panned by critics and audiences alike, I’ve never heard anyone say a good word about it, so I was surprised to find that despite some obvious problems I quite enjoyed the film.
Based on the 1896 book by H.G Wells and covering themes of vivisection, morality and described by Wells as “an exercise in youthful blasphemy” the film tells the story of Edward Douglas who is rescued after a plane crash by a man named Montgomery (Kilmer) who takes Douglas to The Island of Dr Moreau and Douglas discovers the experiments Moreau has been working on.
Marlon Brando plays the eponymous Dr Moreau and sports a rather good English accent. I’m not a fan of Brando but I think he does a brilliant job as the doctor.
We also meet his ‘children’ including Aissa played by Fairuza Balk.
The original director Richard Stanley who had been working on bringing Dr Moreau to the big screen (for the first time since 1977) for 4 years was fired just 3 days into filming. He was replaced by John Frankenheimer. There are various rumours as to why Stanley was fired and most of those rumours involve Val Kilmer.
However problems had started before the cameras started rolling, having secured Val Kilmer as the lead in the film Kilmer approached Stanley weeks before shooting was to start to ask that his role be reduced by 40%.
It’s since been revealed that Kilmer had been served divorce papers by his then wife Joanne Whalley and this is perhaps why he wanted his role reduced. This however just did not work for Stanley who decided to swap Kilmer’s lead role with that of supporting role Montgomery.
Which meant having to recast the role of Edward Douglas.
Rob Morrow was originally signed up to play Edward Douglas but he dropped out at the last moment and eventually the role went to David Thewlis. Who, coincidentally was one of Stanley’s orginal choices for the lead.
Marlon Brando brought his own style of mischief to the set. It was clear to everyone that Brando was still grieving the loss of his daughter who had committed suicide the year before.
He refused refused to rehearse, nothing new there. But there were also a lot of rewrites so he used a hidden radio receiver so someone could feed him his lines. Brando also had problems with Kilmer and is quoted as telling him “You’re confusing your talents with the size of your paycheck”.
Frankenheimer, the director now in charge had his own run ins with kilmer in fact when Kilmer’s last scene was shot Frankenheimer reportedly said “Now get that bastard off my set.” and is quoted as saying “There are two things I will never ever do in my whole life. The first is that I will never climb Mt. Everest. The second is that I will never work with Val Kilmer ever again.”
All actors seemed to have a hand in rewriting the script but as is so often the case, too many cooks spoil the broth and in this case, too many actors think they can write. And often the rewritten pages were given to actors just days before shooting which might be why sections of the film don’t seem to flow as well as others.
The best rumour of them though and it’s one put forward by original director Richard Stanley. He claims he managed to sneak back on the set in full costume as one of human-animal hybrids and didn’t reveal himself until the wrap party.
The best rumour of them all and it’s one put forward by original director Richard Stanley. He claims he managed to sneak back on the set in full costume as one of human-animal hybrids and didn’t reveal himself until the wrap party. It’s reported that when Kilmer saw Stanley he apologuised for not standing by him as director before he was fired.
There is now a documentary called Lost Soul directed by David Gregory that covers the drama and discourse that was the production of the film. I’m really looking forward to seeing it. A lot of the cast are in the documentary but for I don’t see Val Kilmer or David Thewlis in the IMDB cast list which isn’t surprising. It’s produced by Severin Films and had it’s world premier on the 24th of August at London Frightfest.
As for The Island of Dr Moreau, like I said I actually quite enjoyed it. It’s a fun, if disjointed adventure film that was perfect Sunday afternoon viewing. The characters are all over the place but there’s just something very watchable about it all. If you go into it with a semi open mind, you might just be surprised.
A SHARED FACT: Dr Moreau’s ‘son’ Majai was the inspiration for Mini Me in Austin Powers.
You can order The Island of Dr. Moreau on Amazon.