Tuesday, May 23, 2017

More Like Island of Marlon Brando, or Thoughts on The Island of Doctor Moreau



1996’s The Island of Doctor Moreau is remembered largely for being one of Hollywood Legend Marlon Brando’s last films, and it’s also ironic because one of the reasons Brando is a legend is that he actually purchased his own private Tahitian island in 1960.  The production was plagued with problems, many of them caused by Brando himself, but starting with the project being taken away from the original director and screenwriter Richard Stanley of Hardware (1990) and Dust Devil (1992).
Director John Frankenheimer of Birdman of Alcatraz (1962, starring Burt Lancaster, the 1977 Moreau) and Ronin (2001) was brought in at the last minute to cobble the film together into a semblance of a story, with unexplained footage shifts from night to day and a relatively unknown male lead because Val Kilmer decided he wanted to play Doctor Moreau’s assistant, Montgomery.  British actor David Thewlis, who you know as Remus Lupin and VM Varga in Season 3 of Fargo is plane crash survivor Edward Douglas, who is rescued by Montgomery and ends up on the titular island.
The 1996 movie is actually set 14 years in the future, 2010, with more of an emphasis on genetic manipulation.  Doctor Moreau has also been upgraded with a Nobel Prize.  David Thewlis does his best to hold his own against Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, but it’s like match flames and forest fires in terms of star power and charisma.  Val Kilmer plays an effete variation of Jim Morrison for his indifferent portrayal of Montgomery while Marlon Brando is, well, Marlon Brando…
With an unrecognizable Ron Perlman as the Sayer of the Law, Temeura Morrisson as dog-human Azazello, Mark Dacasocos as leopard-human Lo-mai, and a very recognizable Fairuza Balk as panther-girl Alyssa, now upgraded to Dr. Moreau’s daughter.  You should remember Fairuza Balk from The Craft (1996), American History X (1998), The Waterboy (1998), and Almost Famous (2000).  Also watch out for miniature human Nelson de la Rosa Majal, the inspiration for Mini-Me.  Brando was fascinated with his diminutive stature and demanded that he be in every shot with him.  And whatever Brando wanted, Brando got.
It seems like everyone from the cast and crew took the job for the opportunity to work with Marlon Brando, and he spent most of his one week of production refusing to come out of his trailer until Val Kilmer appeared on set.  (To be fair, Val Kilmer also refused to come out of his trailer first).
Brando’s legendary contempt for his profession and the filmmaking process was only eclipsed by his equally monumental ego, which, for better or for worse was backed by his equally monumental talent.  He had incredible screen presence; even fat and bloated he dominates the screen and imbues the most insignificant gestures with meaning and depth.  It’s a very special talent that you can’t teach, and regrettably, one that Brando did not value.  He did not actively sabotage the movie but he was bored with the filmmaking process and derived a perverse pleasure from tormenting directors and pushing his limits.
There’s an interesting documentary covering Richard Stanley’s involvement and the doomed production, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014).  It’s reminiscent of the Apocalypse Now (1979) documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991).  Coincidentally also starring Marlon Brando as Col Kurtz, another mad genius with a god complex, and based on the character from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, who in turn was accused of plagiarism by original author HG Wells for lifting the Kurtz character from Doctor Moreau. 









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