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While the latest film version of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU ($25) isn’t the best adaptation of the H.G. Wells tale, it remains intriguing for Stan Winston’s outstanding special effects work and Marlon Brando’s bizarre performance. H.G. Wells’ novel THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU is a work clearly ahead of its time, with its story of a scientist playing God and turning wild beasts into something that roughly approximates man. This latest retelling of the story puts a near future spin on the story, making it a cautionary tale about the dangers of genetic engineering and scientific experimentation allowed to go unchecked.

THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU stars Marlon Brando as Dr. Moreau, a brilliant geneticist who has taken his work to a level where no one else has dared to go. Val Kilmer is Moreau’s spaced out assistant, who develops delusions of godlike grandeur amongst the beast men. David Thewlis is a shipwrecked man who finds himself a "guest" on a south sea island with bizarre looking natives. Fairuza Balk is Moreau’s beautiful daughter, Aissa, who owes her sexy catlike slink to daddy’s research. The cast of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU also features Marco Hofschneider and Ron Perlman as the "Sayer of the Law." I know people expected a lot more from this film, especially since it starred Brando and was directed by John Frankenheimer. When it was released theatrically, the critics universally panned it. However, I think that Brando’s work in the film is quite effective in bringing to life a scientist who has taken his research too far, venturing into the realm of madness. At times, Brando’s performance reminds one of the English fop he played in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, and his physical stature is evocative of Charles Laughton’s turn at Moreau in THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS. As for John Frankeheimer’s direction, it is competent and effective, but lacks the brilliance he’s shown in such films as THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE or SECONDS. The film’s special effects work and beast men creature make-up is top notch.

New Line Home Video offers an unrated director’s cut of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU in both Letterboxed and pan and scan presentations on opposite sides of the DVD. The pan and scan presentation appears to be an unmasked Super-35 element that contains a lot of dead compositional space primarily at the bottom of the frame. Little appears lost in the periphery, but this full screen version lacks compositional focus. The full frame image is sharply focused and the colors are quite vivid. The Letterboxed transfer frames THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU for its intended theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is more compositionally pleasing since it draws the viewer’s eye to what the director and cinematographer deemed important. The Letterboxed version has the same excellent level of detail as one found in the full screen version. Colors were also the equal of their well-saturated full screen counterpart. Both the Letterboxed and full screen versions had some difficulty with MPEG-2 compression artifacts in a number of the dark sequences.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is terrific. The mix is lush, full of small directional sounds that will make the viewer believe that they are in the jungle. The film’s music and action sequences also benefit from the excellent mix. Other soundtrack options include a matrixed Dolby Surround track as well as French language track. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

The interactive menus offer access to a domestic and a foreign theatrical trailer. There is a "making of" featurette containing interviews with Val Kilmer, David Thewlis and special effects master Stan Winston. The menus also feature cast and crew biographies/filmographies.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1997 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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