Wednesday, January 16, 2013
ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, THE (1977)
(July 1977, U.S.)
If I were to ask anyone what film or films they best remember from the year 1977, anyone with half a memory would, of course, be inclined to say STAR WARS immediately and then would perhaps follow up with CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. Well, who could blame them? Those are the logical first choices based on their historic popularity. But just to be clear on something, I didn't actually see STAR WARS for the first time until August 1977 in a small town in the Hamptons, nearly three months after it had opened in theaters. Taking into account the fact that my ten year-old brain was still hung up on the fact that I'd recently seen Dino DeLaurentis' 1976 remake of KING KONG twice, what I was really hung up on at the time were monster movies! And if you do your research, you'll find that there were quite a number of terrifying films involving monsters and beasts that were all surprisingly rated PG. Not that my stiff-as-boards parents were about to let their ten year-old son actually SEE any of these films, but before I discovered the magic of George Lucas' little space movie, my attention was Hell-bent on seeing films like EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, DAY OF THE ANIMALS, THE CAR, ORCA-THE KILLER WHALE (actually, I DID see that one!) and the second remake of H.G. Wells' THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. Take a real good look at the movie poster and you'll see why a kid who loved monster movies was attracted to that one.
This actually one of Wells' books that I DID read some time ago and it's the story of the rather mad scientist Dr. Moreau (played by Burt Lancaster) who attempts to convert wild animals into civilized men. His plans and his entire island operation are discovered by crewman Andrew Braddock (played by Michael York) when his lifeboat reaches the island. Things starts friendly and civilized but gradually become dangerous when Andrew slowly realizes just what sort of diabolical evils are taking place by the hands of Dr. Moreau. This is not just a case of simple scientific experiments, but rather a working plan to create an entire race and colony of humans originally derived from animals. With such a plan comes the inevitable element of deity in which Dr. Moreau proclaims himself lord and master over his entire newly-created race of creatures. Watch him stand over his subjects and demand, "What is the law??". Watch in fear as the creatures respond with total servitude to their master.
Like all great creations, though, they're bound to inevitably turn on their creator. The creatures (monsters, really) in the end decide that they're no longer to be bound by Dr. Moreau's commands or his experiments on them and break down the barriers that separate them from their freedom. Dr. Moreau pays the ultimate price for his evil and it's up to the "good guys" to escape the island in the end.
There have been only three English-speaking versions of Wells' original tale, and in my opinion, this second version of 1977 is my favorite, primarily due to Burt Lancaster's performance of Dr. Moreau as the quiet, charming, but very deadly form of the classic mad scientist. Even when he has Andrew strapped down in order to experiment his wills in the reverse order on his body (turn Andrew into an animal!), there's something undenyably kind and subtle about the man's character, despite his evil intentions. It's said that Lancaster's performance is the one that best matches the character originally envisioned by Wells. Marlon Brando as Dr. Moreau in the 1996 remake was one of the WORST things I'd ever seen on screen in my life! It was then and there that I knew Brando should never make another film again!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Andrew Braddock (struggling to recall his human memory): "I was born in Bolton, England, on the twenty-seventh of March 1881. I have two brothers, Phillip and Robert. Robert died in a fire. We used to go sledding in the winter. Yes, there was a hill that ran down from the railway station to the lake. The lake was called...Barrow Lake. The wind, the wind coming off the lake, it was, it was so cold, it, it used to freeze ice to the runners of our sleds...to our hands...to our faces. Oh, Bobby used to laugh! He liked that! He laughed! He laughed! I...I...I forgot that! I...I...I thought I forgot that! My...my...my...my first book was 'A Christmas Carol'. No, no, no, it was 'The Sea Cook'. See? I remember it! I remember it all! I remember it all!"
Dr. Moreau: "Damn you, Braddock! Damn you! Let go! Let go!"