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The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
Rated PG13

Starring: Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, and Fairuza Balk

Rating:
*
out of
*****

Before watching this movie, someone told me that it was the worst film they'd ever seen. Now, when someone tells you that, you just have to watch it. Don't you? Well, I did, and it's not the worst movie I've ever seen. Not by a long shot. However, it does include one of the most embarrassing performances by a well-known actor I've ever witnessed, as well as plenty of odd make-up effects and strange goings-on.

The story unfolds as such: A United Nations worker named Douglas (David Thewlis) finds himself adrift in the Java Sea after his plane crashes. He is rescued by Montgomery (Val Kilmer), who takes Douglas to an island where he promises to notify the proper authorities of his whereabouts.

Once on land, Montgomery explains that the island is the base of operations for Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Dr. Moreau (Marlon Brando), who was ostracized by the scientific community for doing odd experiments on animals. The island provides Moreau with the perfect place to carry out his experiments without any outside intervention.

As he's roaming about Moreau's large house, Douglas encounters Aissa (Fairuza Balk), Moreau's daughter. Douglas seems to fall in love with her, but repeated meetings with her are discouraged by Montgomery, who locks Douglas into his bedroom. Douglas escapes and discovers that Moreau is actually cross-breeding humans and animals.

As frightening as that may sound, it can't hold a candle to Marlon Brando's absolutely horrid turn as Moreau. Seemingly drugged out of his mind and much more rotund than alert, Brando mumbles and fumbles his way through some mind-numbingly dull dialogue concerning chaining the devils in his microscope and other pseudo-scientific-religious hyperboles. Kilmer, who is ordinarily entertaining and worth watching, comes across as agitated, arrogant and unpleasant.

One feels more for David Thewlis' real-life struggle in his thankless role as the relatively unknown actor forced to deal with two ego-centric actors rather than the fictional one of Douglas, who's forced to deal with two ego-centric scientists. Fairuza Balk, who looks stunning, is also worth watching as the daughter with a secret. The script, even though it provides many unintentional laughs when Brando's delivering his share of the lines, does manage to make its point about man's tinkering with nature and the dangers of doing so.

The photography and make-up effects are both wonderfully presented by director John Frankenheimer. Unfortunately, some of the animal people's movements are depicted with shockingly low-grade computer effects that cheapen the impact of some their subject's supposed grace.

What ultimately sinks the film, though, isn't Brando, poor computer effects, or the egos of the two lead actors. No, it's the simple fact that the movie is put together in such a way that it never dares the audience to care even the least little bit about what happens to the characters. Even the death of a rabbit at the hands of Montgomery elicited more emotion than anything that happens to any of the main characters. Not a good sign when you've got actors like Brando and Kilmer in the credits.

Still, if you're a horror or sci-fi buff who wants to see some good makeup effects, The Island of Dr. Moreau might be worth a rental. Just fast-forward through any scene containing Brando or Kilmer and don't try to figure out why you don't really care much about who lives or dies by the end of the film.

Trivia: Marlon Brando was reportedly fed his lines through a small radio receiver in his ear. On at least one occasion, the receiver picked up stray radio broadcasts and Brando would repeat them, instead of his lines. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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