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The Island of Dr. Moreau Unrated Director's Cut (1996) - Blu-ray Review

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The Island of Dr. Moreau - Blu-ray Review

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2 stars

The film that effectively put out the fire in Val Kilmer's Hollywood hot streak has arrived on blu-ray.

If there’s anything else to be said about John Frankenheimer’s The Island of Dr. Moreau it’s that the source material, written by H.G. Wells, is so strong that even this mess of a movie (flirting, at times, with the idea of being a complete disaster) is never unwatchable and still strangely fascinating.  It’s a bold testament to the power of Stan Winston’s creature designs.  It also, sadly, is a grand example of just how vapid and mediocre the Hollywierd of the Nineties could be.

Stranded on a remote island by a gene-splicing madman, Dr. Moreau (Brando in white-face) and held captive from escape by his unsteady assistant, Montgomery (Kilmer) and a collection of weird creatures, Edward Douglas (Thewlis, the film’s only sympathetic character) discovers that his co-inhabitants are all man-made.  Let the weirdest of the weird begin.  The man-animals, coming in all shapes and sizes, call the good Dr. Moreau “father” and seem to worship humans, even if they are a little unnerving.

The purring Aissa (Balk) wants to be just like (and loved by) Douglas and Sayer of the Law (Perlman) touts scripture as if he’s Moses, but it’s all pantomime.  They aren’t totally domesticated.  The only law is Dr. Moreau and as long as his fur-covered humanoids are controlled by computer chips placed under their skin, there can be no true law.  Oh, the humanity!

Playing very little with the role of morality and method, The Island of Dr. Moreau is still a screenplay of nothing but empty gestures.  Frankenheimer’s director’s cut proves this; there is just very little substance going on here.  No big questions are asked; it’s a film of chaos and edited together in such a way to fumble through its story.

Frankenheimer has made better films.  The Manchurian Candidate and Ronin to name a few, but it is this film – featuring out of control performances from Marlon Brando and a bizarro Val Kilmer – that both fuel and derail any chance his film has at being salvageable.  Frankenheimer’s ego just couldn’t control these two beasts and was outsmarted by their acting intuition time and time again.

And while it’s easy to blame the actors only, let’s admit that this was a production wrought with bad juju and then continue to blame Kilmer.  Going through an ugly divorce at the time, Kilmer was a man with a mission: self-destruction.  Original director and screenwriter Richard Stanley, who labored years to get the picture made, was canned by the studio because he could not control rage-monster Kilmer.

Even is the new cut suggests Thewlis’ character is the result of another, albeit more successful, creation, the film is simply slated for permanent residency on the cult shelves of cinema.  Of special note, though, is Kilmer’s spot-on Brando impression.  That and Stan Winston’s effects are the film’s only redeeming qualities.  A bloated Brando, looking like the white Moby Dick of Melville’s imagination, is just terrifyingly bizarre.

With this blu-ray release, the unrated director’s cut of The Island of Dr. Moreau, Frankenheimer attempts – rather bravely – to make clear his vision of the film.  Why would he still claim this?  The unrated version is only slightly clearer in its purpose with the addition of these unrated four minutes.

In the era of genetic engineering and DNA discoveries, it should have been a hit.  Instead, The Island of Dr. Moreau became a victim.  Relive what it could have been with this release.

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The Island of Dr. Moreau - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence, horror and gore involving mutant creatures.
Director
: John Frankenheimer
Writer: Richard Stanley
Cast:
Val Kilmer; Marlon Brando; David Thewlis; Ron Perlman; Fairuza Balk
Genre: Horror | Sci-Fi
Tagline:
The gates of hell are unlocked.
Memorable Movie Quote: What are you going to say? "Mayday. Mayday. I'm being held by a pig lady."
Theatrical Distributor:
New Line Cinema
Home Video Distributor:
New Line Cinema
Official Site:
Release Date:
August 23, 1996
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
July 24, 2012

Synopsis: After being rescued and brought to an island, a man discovers that it's inhabitants are experimental animals being turned into strange looking humans, all of it the work of a visionary doctor.

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The Island of Dr. Moreau - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
2 stars

2 stars
Blu-ray Experience
2 stars

Unrated Director's Cut

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - July 24, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Language
: English
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); BD-Live
Playback: Region-free

Arriving on Blu-ray with a quality 1080p, 2.40:1-framed transfer, The Island of Dr. Moreau is ripe with tropical juiciness. There's no doubt the visual presentation is a bit dated, but the transfer is solid technical upgrade.  At times, the film is fairly dark and dreary; the primary action takes place at night, the interiors are a bit dark, and shadows are strong throughout - all of which keeps the transfer from offering a sparkling array of colors or all that much in visibly intricate detail. The daylight scenes fare the best with a good sense of depth, solid detail, and nice color reproduction, particularly amongst the green grasses of the island. Clarity and sharpness are solid, too. Blacks are fairly strong, and flesh tones look solid underneath the darkness. Accompanied by a layer of grain, The Island of Dr. Moreau isn't the stuff of high definition visual bliss, but it looks good for what it has to offer.  The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack hits hard and offers an immersive experience for those fans of island locals.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Weirdly enough, the original Frankenheimer commentary – in which he repeatedly bashes Kilmer over the head – is missing.  Guess no one at Warner Bros wanted to open old wounds.

Special Features:

There is but one featurette showcasing the better times while filming.  I’m sure they had to edit this one to hell in order to get something worthwhile amongst the numerous cast and crew changes.  What we are left with is a short look at what Val Kilmer, David Thewlis and Stan Winston all think about the film.  This has aged quite a bit as it was made for the 1996 DVD release, but still the only look we are likely to get at this oddball film of Hollywood blather.

  • Behind the Scenes Featurette (5 min)

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