The “medical” news of our times leaks with various experiments on human mutations and gene manipulations. All of which caused me to rethink and reexamine these rather common topics in science fiction books and movies. This inspection took me back probably to the very first of its kind? H.G. Well’s and his 1896 book “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” said to be the Brit’s most famous book, however one could argue that The Time Machine or War of the Worlds would-could garner that claim.
I think that most mature readers are quite familiar with the overall plot. A shipwrecked Englishman Edward Prendick, is stranded on a Pacific island lorded over by the notorious scientist, a “vivisectioning” (think gene splicing,) Dr. Moreau, playing God with experiments to create and control strange half-man, half-animal creatures, and then Prendick must escape. Reviewers said, “The novel deals with a number of philosophical themes, including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature.” Wells reported that he wrote the book in protest to the then current practices of vivisection, the Victorian age process of dissecting animals while alive for medicine, science and experiments. This haunting book has lingered through the years, becoming a radio show, a Marvel comic and three movies, the last film a production fiasco.
The first movie, 1932’s “The Island of Lost Souls, starred Charles Laughton as the Doc, Bela Lugosi as a “critter-man,” Richard Arlen as Prendick and Leila Hyams as the doctor’s daughter, being transformed into the “leopard Woman.” Paramount Pictures saw the film as a way to take advantage of the 1930s horror film boom, especially advertising the “Leopard Woman” which became the center of show. This film was deemed “horrendous” and banned in England along with distorted enough to be denounced by H. G. Wells himself. It is considered a cult film today by some fans.
The second movie with the original book title came along in 1977 with an uninspiring, less-but-still-somewhat still creepy Burt Lancaster as the mad scientist, along with Michael York, Nigel Davenport, AND the unforgettable Barbara Carrera (you guess it – as the panther-leopard transitionee). Carrera claims there were three or four different endings imagined, including one in which her character gave birth to a…kitten. That version was favored by producer John Temple-Smith, but which actor Michael York flatly refused to do. The film is NOT considered a cult film today, but considered just “reasonably” entertaining.
The third film was a bit of its own constructed abomination. Original title. 1996. What could you expect from a unwieldly Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer? Marlon Brando’s role as Dr. Moreau was supposed to be expanded, but after his daughter, Cheyenne, committed suicide, he retreated to his own “Moreau-private island,” leaving the film production in limbo, not knowing when or even if he would show up. Kilmer was served divorce papers on the set, so one might understand why he was stressed and called a pain in the ass, allegedly even burning a cameraman with a cigarette. The film received generally negative reviews and was considered a box office bomb. I can tolerate a lot, vaguely interested in Brando-babblings but I thought it was too weird.
This 3rd production was so jacked up that there is even a documentary made about it in 2014, “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau” was released, covering Richard Stanley’s troubled experiences while he conceived and developed his dream, whole project, his time as writer-director of the film and how his departure with the negative effect it had on the cast, crew and overall film.
Through it all, many of the predictions of writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and this island horror story inspire and haunt us today. Is it the Shape of Things To Come? One of Wells’ last books?
For more Doc Moreau info:
The Brando movie trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukpB6MtLdLA
The Lancaster movie trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RAgnFAQ9s4
The Lost Soul documentary- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Soul:_The_Doomed_Journey_of_Richard_Stanley%27s_Island_of_Dr._Moreau