The Island of Dr. Moreau

1996, PG-13, 96 min. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Starring Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis, Fairuza Balk, Ron Perlman.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Aug. 30, 1996

Watching Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau, you find yourself wondering: Is he the most brilliant actor who ever lived or the most accomplished charlatan of his profession? In this third film adaptation of H.G. Wells' science fiction novel about an exiled scientist who genetically melds animals and humans, Brando mesmerizes you with what appears to be only the slightest effort, much as he did in Don Juan DeMarco. Wearing a mouth prosthetic that gives the appearance of a slight overbite and speaking in a measured British accent, Brando portrays Dr. Moreau as an eccentric and benevolent madman, a kinder, gentler version of Colonel Kurtz. While Brando's technique is amazing -- his naturalness is relaxed, yet studied -- it doesn't do much in explaining his character's motivations or in explicating the film's thematic conflict between the id (as embodied in the beast) and the superego (as embodied in human civilization). Which is just as well, given that The Island of Dr. Moreau falls short elsewhere as well. It never becomes a cautionary tale about the foibles of playing God, as Frankenstein did, and it fails to provoke much more than a raised eyebrow in its depiction of the law as a means by which to enslave. A troubled production from the word go -- its initial director, Richard Stanley, was fired after the first few days of filming; actor Rob Morrow quit shortly after production started; and Kilmer, by his own making, became a pariah on the set -- it is a wonder that The Island of Dr. Moreau isn't an unsalvageable mess. When the man-beasts predictably revolt and order breaks down, there's a promise that the film is about to enter a fevered, delirious state when Kilmer shows up stoned out of his mind, dressed up like Brando in all-white garb and mumbling like Stanley Kowalski. That promise is short-lived, however, as Frankenheimer resorts to gunfire and explosions to bring the film to its predictable end. It's when things get mundane that you find yourself wishing that Brando would reappear on the screen to make things interesting again. After all, how many times have you seen an actor of his stature play an entire scene with an ice bucket on his head?

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More John Frankenheimer Films
The Manchurian Candidate
Decades before U.S. intelligence got hip to the notion of "sleeper agents" in our midst, The Manchurian Candidate successfully tried out the idea in this post-Korean War setting. (Last year it was re-made in a post-gulf war setting.) The result is a chilling story about brainwashing, secret political agendas, power-hungry moms, and psychically ravaged veterans.

Marjorie Baumgarten, June 24, 2002

Reindeer Games
At one point in John Frankenheimer's Reindeer Games, harried casino boss James Banks, played by a frothing Dennis Farina, complains to a pair of Native ...

Marc Savlov, March 4, 2000

More by Steve Davis
Freud's Last Session
Fictional meeting between Freud and CS Lewis makes no breakthrough

Jan. 19, 2024

Joan Baez I Am a Noise
The public, private, and secret lives of the folk icon

Dec. 29, 2023


The Island of Dr. Moreau, John Frankenheimer, Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis, Fairuza Balk, Ron Perlman

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle