Richard Stanley has been making a comeback of sorts with his best film yet, Color Out Of Space (2019), so I decided to revisit the film that once derailed his filmmaking career, The Island Of Dr. Moreau (1996). This film is famously a mess, and if one is interested in its bizarre history I strongly recommend the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley (2014). However, despite the larger than life story behind The Island Of Dr. Moreau’s production, I found the film to be highly watchable.
John Frankenheimer, who replaced Stanley as director, brings his usual gift for pacing to the affair so even when the story begins to muddle the suspense endures. Paul Rubell (the film’s editor) is also largely responsible for what works in the film. Rubell and Frankenheimer cut for both economy and spectacle; the film leaps and bounds from set piece to set piece in what feels like a coked out fervor.
The best scenes are those weird incidental moments between Marlon Brando and Nelson de la Rosa. These moments where the image of the character of Dr. Moreau is doubled possess an eerie and surreal whimsy to them, as if they were imported from some aborted Jodorowsky film. These scenes do not serve the plot in any way, serving only as glimpses as to what normalcy is like on the island. Credit is due to Brando who apparently assisted that Nelson de la Rosa have more screen time and be attired just as Brando himself is.
Richard Stanley aside, the real tragedy in this messy production is that David Thewlis and Fairuza Balk, relative newcomers to Hollywood mainstream at the time, were never given their due for their performances. The ego clashes of Frankenheimer, Brando and, above all, Val Kilmer totally overshadowed and obscured the contributions of these two fine actors. The Island Of Dr. Moreau isn’t a great film but it also isn’t so bad either.