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WB returning to “The Island of Dr. Moreau”

Marlon Brando in "The Island of Dr. Moreau"

Marlon Brando in “The Island of Dr. Moreau”

Let us now pause to consider Warner Bros. leap of faith in taking another run at The Island of Dr. Moreau 17 years after John Frankenheimer and Marlon Brando put together one of the more misunderstood horror classics of the nineties in the wake of infamous production troubles; a superbly crafted and vastly underrated film of megalomania on a tropical island off the Australian coast. An unrecognizable Marlon Brando – hidden under layers of fat, white powder, sunglasses and a nun’s veil, while cultivating a plummy British accent – is hilarious as a genetic engineer who surrounds himself with hybrid ‘”manimal”-like creatures of his own design on a private island in the Pacific Ocean. The film has unfortunately been a black mark towards all involved, including Frankenheimer, who took over the project mid-filming from an overwhelmed Richard Stanley.

My main objection to the 1996 Moreau adaptation is the introduction of two protagonists who go head-to-toe against Brando: a jaded and drug-addled young scientist played by Val Kilmer who seeks to pick Moreau’s brains, and a United Nations negotiator (David Thewlis), the only survivor of an airplane crash who becomes Moreau’s prisoner. This leaves neither Kilmer nor Thewlis with enough to do. (Thewlis was a last minute replacement for Kilmer, who refused to take his contractually obligated leading role; To this day, Thewlis has refused to see the film.) Eventually, the mutant creatures remove their electronic implants – which inflict pain and death – and start an armed rebellion against their masters, regressing into their wild animal state and causing the revolt to collapse into anarchy.

According to Deadline Hollywood, Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy – writers/producers on Eli Roth’s Hemlock Grove horror series on Netflix– have signed on for this fourth go-round of H.G. Wells’ man-beast saga, written originally in 1896. The studio and Appian Way partners Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson Killoran have assigned Shipman and McGreevy to pen a contemporary re-imagining of H.G. Wells’ classic novel. The intention is to make it “a sci-fi film with a topical ecological message.” What new angle can be grafted onto this remake of a famous novel in the public domain – creating monsters with human brains that can survive on other planets, perhaps?

Who could possibly follow in the footsteps of Charles Laughton (1932’s Island of Lost Souls), Burt Lancaster (1977’s The Island of Dr. Moreau) and Marlon Brando as the infamous Dr. Moreau? Personally, I would immediately disqualify Anthony Hopkins, who is now 75 and too old to play the mad geneticist. I would also nix Ron Perlman, who is too associated with man/beast roles since his breakthrough 1981 film Quest for Fire and the hit TV series Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990). Indeed, Perlman played the fur-covered Sayer of the Law in the Frankenheimer/Brando retread – the role immortalized by Bela Lugosi in the 1932 original and performed by a heavily latexed Richard Basehart in the 1977 remake.

Of today’s crop of acting talent, which actor has the gravitas to take on Dr. Moreau? My money is on Philip Seymour Hoffman, provided he sheds 60 pounds, bulks up, looks convincing carrying a bullwhip, and studies Charles Laughton’s definitive performance, which has yet to be topped after 81 years. But then Laughton was one of those actors who was touched by the hand of God. Or maybe he was simply genetically predisposed to be incapable of delivering a bad performance.

For more on The Island of Dr. Moreau, Warner Brothers and Lee Shipman & Brian McGreevy, make sure to return to

Hammer Horror: The Warner Bros Years

About Harvey Chartrand

Harvey F. Chartrand is a features writer at Ottawa Life Magazine ( Harvey’s stories have appeared in numerous publications including Cinema Retro, Filmfax,Shock Cinema, Rue Morgue, Scarlet: The Film Magazine, National Post, Jerusalem Postand The Globe and Mail. Harvey is a movie fanatic and has interviewed several film celebrities. To contact Harvey, e-mail him at: [email protected]

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