'The Island of Doctor Moreau' - the 1977 Film

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The Island of Doctor Moreau
'Island of Lost Souls' |
The 1977 Film |
The 1996 Film

You're an animal!

- Moreau, The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Plot

In the beginning of the 20th Century, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean drifts a lifeboat containing two survivors of the wreck of the Lady Vain. After 17 days at sea, they drift to an unknown island. One survivor, Charlie, dies soon after under mysterious circumstances, while the other, Andrew Braddock, falls unconscious and only awakens four days after. There he meets the island's inhabitants, Doctor Moreau, his mercenary assistant Montgomery, their servant M'Ling and the beautiful Maria. They live in a walled compound, to protect them from the island's animal inhabitants. He learns that Moreau has lived on the island for 11 years, an island located over a thousand miles from anywhere.

While Braddock works to repair his lifeboat, he falls in love with Maria. However, while outside the compound one day he is chased by mysterious animals. Soon after he sees M'Ling in shackles being taken into a hut in the compound he has not previously explored, and inside finds a monstrous bear-like man. On further exploring the island, he finds a cave full of Manimals who have their own law, and learns that Moreau has been experimenting, turning animals into men. Yet Moreau's process is flawed; all his Manimals revert to their original form. He also learns that Moreau has been lying, and that no ship is due to arrive on the island for two years.

Shortly after, an escaped tiger attacks the Bullman. Defending himself, the Bullman kills the tiger, and as one of Moreau's law is 'Not to shed blood', the Bullman is sentenced to the House of Pain. The Bullman flees and is caught, and begs Braddock to mercifully kill him, which Braddock does. Moerau then drugs Braddock, cages him and begins to turn him into an animal, hoping that if a man undergoes his process he would be able to narrate and tell Moreau more about it. Montgomery then turns on Moreau, but is shot. Montgomery is taken away by M'Ling, but is dead before he reaches the Cave. The Sayer of the Law states 'Not to shed blood, that is the Law' and that as Moreau has broken the law, he must go to the House of Pain. The Manimals approach the compound, and though Moreau attempts to restore order by using his horse and his whip, he is beaten, bitten and killed. His last words, to Braddock, are 'You're an animal!'

The half-human Braddock, rescued from his cage by Maria, attempts to restore order. He shouts to the Manimals that Moreau is still alive and can still see them, raising his corpse over the gate to the compound. The Manimals nevertheless attack the compound, which is destroyed. Although the Sayer of the Law attempts to restore control, he is ignored. The Manimals head to the laboratory where Moreau kept his menagerie of laboratory animals, and despite the Sayer of the Law shouting, 'No, don't open those cages!' the animals inside are released, including panthers, lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

The Manimals are attracted to the animals that they once were and release them from their captivity. Yet the pure, unadulterated natural animals turn on the creations and promptly kill them. M'Ling, who stays loyal to Braddock, is killed too and Braddock and Maria flee to the repaired lifeboat. After a struggle with the last surviving Manimal, Maria and Braddock flee. At the end, Braddock regains his humanity but unnoticed Maria is in the early stages of regressing, growing sharp, pointy teeth...

Cast

CharacterActor
Men:Doctor Paul MoreauBurt Lancaster
Andrew BraddockMichael York
MontgomeryNigel Davenport
Woman:MariaBarbara Carrera
Manimals:Sayer of the LawRichard Basehart
M'LingNick Cravat
BoarmanThe Great John L
BullmanBob Ozman
Hy├Žna ManFumio Demura
LionmanGary Baxley
TigermanJohn Gillespie
BearmanDavid Cass

Oscar-winning actor Burt Lancaster is highly regarded as one of America's greatest screen actors, who appeared in films including Field of Dreams, who often starred in films with his close friend Nick Cravat, who played M'Ling. Michael York is a British actor who at the time this film was made was at the peak of his popularity, having appeared in Cabaret in 1972 and as D'Artagnan in 1973's The Three Musketeers and 1974's The Four Musketeers, as well as 1976's Logan's Run. More recently he has starred as Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers trilogy. Barbara Carrera is also remembered for appearing in Dallas and for being an unofficial Bond girl in Never Say Never Again.

The film was directed by Don Taylor, who also directed Escape from the Planet of the Apes and went on to direct Damien: Omen II after The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Differences from the Novel

There are numerous differences from Wells' original novel. First of all, the hero is renamed Andrew Braddock rather than Edward Prendick. Prendick is an engineer in the film, rather than a biology student and Montgomery is a mercenary, rather than a fellow scientist. As far as characters are concerned, the biggest change is the introduction of Maria, the mysterious female lead with a secret...

The plot broadly follows that of a novel, with some significant changes. Rather than being the sole survivor and being rescued at sea, Braddock and his friend Charlie comes directly to the Island of Doctor Moreau. Another change is that Moreau is not called the Manimals' father, with practically no interaction taking place between Moreau and his creations until Braddock explores the island.

One large difference is that in the film, in order to increase the horror of the film, Moreau has no qualms against experimenting on Braddock and turning him into an animal. He is also seen as being aware of Braddock's intimate relationship with Maria and performs his experiments using a serum which changes the shape of an animal into whatever Moreau desires, but the original animal form always reverts.

Review

The 1977 film version of The Island of Doctor Moreau is not a classic horror film like 1932's Island of Lost Souls nor a fascinating film failure like the 1996 film. As a solid, but not outstanding, film, it lacks the attraction of the overwhelmingly disastrous flop made twenty years later and simply is not as well-made as the first film adaptation of Wells' classic.

That Braddock gets to the island instantly tightens up the action, yet the audience never really learns of his friend Charlie's true fate, leaving a question annoyingly unanswered. The last we know of him are screams, and we later learn that he was buried, having apparently died of thirst. Was he killed by one of the Manimals or the tiger that's one the loose? Or even by Moreau and Montgomery? We never know, which leaves the audience clueless as to whether or not Braddock is in any danger on the island or not, thus evaporating any dramatic tension.

The character of Maria comes across as a modernised version of Island of Lost Souls' Lota. Moreau observes Maria and Braddock together, yet we never know whether he approves of the union, as did Moreau in Island of Lost Souls, or whether their union results in his jealousy and is one of the motives behind his experimenting on Braddock. Moreau's motives are undefined, and Maria's role is vague. She is there to be a sex object, as unlike in the earlier film, Braddock and Maria clearly do more than cuddle, but little else. Although the film's poster promises that the film would feature a woman turning into a cat, this never actually occurs, other than being hinted at in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it last scene. Her true nature is hinted at; as the other manimals are attracted to (and later killed by) the species they once were, Maria keeps a large cat on the lead. At one point the cat escapes and Maria and Braddock chase after it1 .

The Island of Doctor Moreau
'Island of Lost Souls' |
The 1977 Film |
The 1996 Film
1This is never a good idea in a 70s science fiction film: see 1979's Alien for details.

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