Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

I haven't seen the 90s version of Moreau, but if it's really as abysmal as folks say, then we can graph the versions of this story as a steady downward slide from the great original Wells tale to the pretty swank Island of Lost Souls, with this flick occupying the inoffensive middle ground before the Ragnarok of the Marlon Brando version.  1977's Island has a promising cast, with Michael York and Burt Lancaster searing as the leads, and Richard Basehart running a respectable second behind Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law.  Parity is present, but the balance tilts when we measure the sleaze factor—this Island is divested of the perverse undertones of the 30s version and it tries to compensate for it with frequently-impressive visual effects.  In this way, Island of Dr. Moreau is a symbol of 80s genre films to come.

The immortal story: guy lands on an island, island has a doctor, guy finds out that the doctor is turning animals into people, gets goosey about it.  Even if you know the story going in (and now you do!), this is still an entertaining effort, thanks to the acting and the aforementioned effects.

The animal-people sometimes look cuddly, sometimes mortifying, but always interesting and well-done.  Kudos to the makeup team and the actors themselves, although I wish the director would have restrained the pig-guy who insists on leaping and tumbling during the fight scene like he's in fucking Gymkata instead of The Island of Dr. Moreau.

One other thing about stunts.  This was made in 1977, when almost nobody cared what happened to animals, and there's no better proof of that than the film's many scenes of panthers, lions, etc., getting slammed through walls and thrown out of windows.  The animals are frequently paired with made-up actors, which is admittedly really cool (and hopefully the stuntmen in bear makeup who had to wrestle tigers got paid), but I definitely felt guilty watching some of this stuff.  People complain about CGI and sometimes they're right, but at least it means that you can do stuff like this without actually pitching jungle cats off of balconies.  

I found this to be fun, but definitely much more shallow than the 1933 version and the original book.  It's like they took the skin of the story, but sucked all the meat out of it and ended up with a pretty conventional good guy/bad guy structure.  


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