Few films have reached the same level of notoriety as The island of Dr Moreau.
This 1996 sci-fi adventure destroyed the career of its once promising director and tainted the legacy of an all-time great Hollywoodian. Adding insult to injury, he topped the Razzies the following year after being a disappointment at the box office.
If his $ 40 million production process had gone smoothly, perhaps Doctor Moreau’s island – who turns 25 this month – would be considered little more than an overly ambitious curiosity. After all, to recap the film’s bizarre premise, at its center is a man (David Thewlis) rescued and brought to an island where a doctor (Marlon Brando) experiments on animals and turns them into humanoid hybrids.
Yet by the time the film crept into theaters in August 1996, the high-profile drama that had erupted behind the scenes cemented the film’s reputation as an all-out disaster.
The third adaptation on the big screen from the mad scientist novel by HG Wells, The island of Dr Moreau, is not entirely without merit. Special effects creator Stan Winston’s Monster Fan – a byproduct of Moreau’s determination to tinker with the evolutionary process – is one of the most disturbingly impressive to ever appear in a PG-13 movie. When castaway Douglas of Thewlis saw a horse-human hybrid deliver a mutant baby, such a moment likely marked the Blockbuster generation for life.
Then there’s the performance that divides Brando as the titular megalomaniac, an individual prone to covering their face with sunscreen, wearing metal bucket hats, and playing the piano with a two-foot Mini-me. (inspiring Mike Myers In the process). For some, it was a perfectly eccentric performance that cleverly leaned on the feverish dreamy quality of the film. To others, it seemed like proof that the Oscar-winning actor had lost his mind.
As reported by the documentary 2014 Lost Soul: The Cursed Voyage of Dr. Moreau’s Island by Richard Stanley, the shooting is even Apocalypse nowThe notoriously troubled production looks like a picnic. And Brando was at the center of his storm, oddly enough.
The film’s original director, Richard Stanley, claimed to have used the powers of a warlock to try to get Brando. Yet whatever fate prompted Brando to work on Doctor Moreau’s island also appeared to trigger a curse that struck anyone in the orbit of the film. Stanley’s mother’s house has been struck by lightning no less than three times! A poisonous spider bit his production assistant. Even said wizard ended up in the hospital after contracting bone disease.
However, not everything can be attributed to the supernatural. Stanley, who had dreamed of tackling Wells’ sci-fi classic since he was a child, didn’t really make it easy. No doubt annoyed to learn that New Line Cinema already had courted Roman Polanski for the concert, the then-29-year-old director repeatedly failed to attend production meetings. Stanley’s first 24 hours of filming were so catastrophic that the film’s lead actor – North exposure alum Rob Morrow – begged the leaders to take him home on the first plane. And as if further proof of gender inequality in Hollywood is needed, actress Fairuza Balk was told she would never work again after making a similar request.
It was co-star Val Kilmer which proved Stanley’s real downfall. True to his reputation for fiery spirit at the time, the reigning Batman had previously caused trouble by negotiating a 40 percent decrease in his work schedule. Kilmer had been hired on Stanley’s top pick, Bruce willis, to play the castaway UN agent Douglas, but that decrease forced the director to recast Kilmer in a less important role, like the sinister vet Montgomery.
It still hasn’t appeased Kilmer, who arrived two days late for his first scene, declined to talk about Ron Hutchinson and Stanley’s dialogue, and generally reportedly acted like a Grade A jerk.
Suddenly enough, Stanley’s inability to appease Kilmer was apparently part and parcel of his fax shooting barely three days after the start of filming. Despite having much more experience than Stanley, replacement director John Frankenheimer (known for The Manchurian candidate and Alcatraz Birdman) was not much luckier.
“Even though I was making a film called The life of Val Kilmer, I wouldn’t have this fucking in it ”, he would have once noticed.
Frankenheimer also took issue with Brando’s unruly conduct, although his behavior was more excusable than that of his wayward co-star. Brando’s daughter, Cheyenne, had committed suicide just before the start of production (which gives a surprising heart-to-heart emotion that Moreau has with his feline “child” in the film), and the grieving actor has continually left the team in suspense as to his fate. . When he introduced himself, Brando spent most of his time in an air-conditioned trailer hatching bizarre ideas about his character. (That includes a twist that the Doctor was a dolphin man from the start ?!)
Brando’s reluctance learning his lines meant he ultimately fed them through an earphone while filming. Moreover, his refusal to enter the plateau before Kilmer (and vice versa) made production as complicated as the unpredictable weather of North Queensland.
Stanley should have thanked his lucky stars for being relieved of his duties. But just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder, the ousted director planned his unusual comeback. New Line Cinema had been so worried about the prospect that Stanley seeks revenge after Dr Moreau’s Island they escorted him to the airport.
Somehow, however, the British coxswain managed to let his keepers pass and made his way to the isolated region of the Cairns region of Australia, recovering from the depression brought on by his hasty exit. Although Stanley has once joked about setting the scene on fire for revenge, he ultimately went for something more playful – he returned to set in disguise appearing in a full dogman costume.
Stanley later claimed that this secret door break was therapeutic. However, the whole experience still deterred him from setting foot behind a camera for another 23 years. Color out of space, an equally disgusting Lovecraftian tale starring another notable maverick, Nicolas Cage, was a fitting return to cinema for Stanley. However, recent allegations horrific domestic violence makes it clear that the return was short-lived.
The fact Dr Moreau’s Island To have done it in theaters is an achievement. And while it’s not a misunderstood classic, it’s certainly less of an abomination than that. other massive anthropomorphic flop.
Dr Moreau’s Island is available for rental or purchase on VOD platforms.