The Island of Dr Moreau stars Burt Lancaster, Michael York, and Nigel Davenport and was directed by Don Taylor. It’s the second film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1896 novel of the same name and tells the story of the shipwrecked Andrew Braddock, played by Michael York. He finds himself washed ashore on a mysterious island where a variety of experiments are being conducted by the mysterious Dr. Moreau. I knew that this was a mad scientist type movie, but I honestly didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.
The experimentation and DNA manipulation aspects of this film were genuinely interesting and the story of a scientist overcome and, eventually undone, by his own sense of power was compelling. Questionable ethics aside, the featured experimentation was fascinating and not at all what I had expected. I had anticipated more of a straight-forward horror movie, but instead got something with some deeper ideas and themes.
The effects and make-up certainly date this film more than its themes do, but even those aspects are somewhat endearing in a Planet of the Apes kinda way. I suppose H.G. Wells’ source material is the primary reason for my enjoyment of this film cause I do appreciate the themes and questions posed by the story more than I do any of the performances. I still haven’t read the novel, but now I’m more excited to do so. The Island of Dr Moreau starts off strongly with a good deal of mystery and, even as much of that mystery is explained, remains interesting.
Things do drag a bit towards the three quarter mark, but pick up again with Roar-level animal stunt insanity. I do have to say, though, that I was a bit disappointed by the very end of the film. Having never read the novel, I can’t comment on whether or not it’s true to the original story, but things were tied up a bit too nicely. There were numerous blatant hints about the true origins of one of the lead characters and that was never expanded upon or really incorporated in any kind of satisfying manner. But, probably most irritatingly, some of the psuedo-science established during the movie is completely ignored and outright invalidated in the final moments of the film.
I can’t help but feel a more appropriate ending could’ve resulted in a more impactful film, leaving the viewer thought-provoked rather than simply satisfied. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the science of this movie. Pseudo-science is probably a more apt term, but I was really surprised by it the first time I saw this movie and just as interested by it on rewatch. They spend a little more time on the details of the experiments than I ever would’ve expected and even though it’s very fantastical, it makes you think. That thinking component leads me to my second pro: the moral dilemma.
This movie really presents us with the scientific experimentation and study side of the story, but also the ethical and moral issues related to these experiments. We certainly pick a side by the end of the film, but we can still understand Dr. Moreau’s motivations up to a point. It’s got a more layered message than you might expect from a sci-fi horror movie, especially from that era. As far as cons go, the biggest issue is definitely the pacing.
This movie takes a while to get going. And a good deal of time is spent focusing on the science and experimental details. As a biologist, I actually found that aspect really interesting, but I can see how somebody who isn’t interested in animal behavior or chromosomes might find those sections of the movie really slow. Even with the (for me) interesting science, it really starts to drag and get repetitive around the three quarter mark. It picks up again towards the end, but there’s a lot of inconsistency with the pacing throughout. I’m gonna give The Island of Dr Moreau 3 out of 5 paws. While not a particularly scary or even super enthralling movie, I still found the science and related ethical dilemma a fairly interesting basis for a sci-fi horror movie.
I would recommend The Island of Dr Moreau to people who like the mad scientist horror subgenre. Dr. Moreau isn’t really mad, but he’s pretty motivated and pretty misguided. This movie presents some interesting points regarding science and morality, but if you’re in the mood for a scary movie, you’ll probably wanna look elsewhere. This has a lot more pseudo-science than it does scares. If you liked The Island of Dr. Moreau, I would recommend the original Planet of the Apes movie for both a similar makeup and prosthetic style, but also for the moral questions it presents.
This next recommendation you’re probably gonna think is a joke, but I’m actually being serious: Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams. It has the lighthearted comedy Spy Kids stuff, but it features a scientist character (clearly very inspired by Dr. Moreau) who conducts some ethically questionable experiments on the island’s animals. And if you don’t really care about the science or moral questions and just want some more of the animal-based craziness of the third act, be sure to check out Roar.
It’s as if you took the last five minutes of this movie and expanded it to almost two hours. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen The Island of Dr. Moreau? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite mad scientist movie? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.