As the second of three filmed adaptations of H.G. Wells' source novel, Don Taylor's The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) earns the silver medal ahead of John Frankenheimer's 1996 debacle and behind the near-masterpiece Island of Lost Souls (1932). It's a capable enough adaptation, all things considered...but when you get right down to it, Taylor's film is a little flat for a sci-fi / horror hybrid about playing God on a remote island full of dangerous man-beasts.
The good news? This adaptation respects its source material, for the most part. Michael York and Burt Lancaster are well-cast as Andrew Braddock and Dr. Moreau; the former ends up on said remote island after more than a week shipwrecked at sea, and the latter has been living there for an unspecified amount of time. Flanked by his right-hand man Dr. Montgomery (Nigel Davenport) and the beautiful Maria (Barbara Carrera), Moreau seems friendly enough at first...but the presence of odd-looking native M'Ling (Nick Cravat) and a horde of mysterious beasts outside their compound immediately worries Braddock. Not surprisingly, the curious crewman begins asking a lot of questions and eventually discovers a mutated beast in one of the makeshift labs, not to mention an assortment of wild animals locked in cages. Anyone with at least a passing knowledge of the source material probably knows where we're headed, but long story short: The Island of Dr. Moreau is equal parts morality tale and campy sci-fi adventure.
Unfortunately, the camp isn't completely intentional: while the source material frequently toes the line between outright horror and almost unbelievable goofiness, this 1977 adaptation leans a little too hard towards the latter. Although it's special makeup effects were considered groundbreaking almost 40 years ago, time hasn't been so kind to them and director Don Taylor's decision to show so much doesn't do it any favors. Had some of these ghastly creatures been hidden in more shadow or revealed more carefully, I'd imagine that The Island of Dr. Moreau would be substantially more effective than it ends up actually being. And while the performances are generally quite good, there's little in the way of character development or nuance: aside from Braddock's curiosity and eventual desire to high-tail it out of there (with Maria in tow, naturally), we're never really taken on much of a ride from start to finish.
Overall, this 1977 adaptation is decent enough for an oddball weekend matinee, but there's not enough lurking under the surface to give it real staying power. Still, Taylor's The Island of Dr. Moreau has its fans...and if nothing else, it works substantially better than the Frankenheimer version (which, aside from its visceral effects, is a complete bust). For those interested, Kino Video's new Blu-ray is meant to replace MGM's 2001 "Midnite Movies" DVD, offering a decent A/V upgrade and one or two trivial new extras. Like the island itself, enter at your own risk.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, The Island of Dr. Moreau seems like an odd candidate for high definition. Don't get me wrong: small portions of this film (which was mostly shot outdoors using natural light) look terrific with strong image detail, good background depth, and a nice layer of film grain. But the majority of it either takes place under thick jungle canopies, inside the doctor's compound, inside animal caves, or occasionally at night; these scenes have a more subdued and muddy appearance with uneven color saturation and little in the way of shadow detail. Print damage is minimal but there is some flickering and at least two noticeable color flares that probably couldn't be repaired under the circumstances. Even so, The Island of Dr. Moreau looks decent under the circumstances, and I'd imagine that die-hard fans will enjoy the modest improvements over MGM's 2001 anamorphic DVD.
NOTE: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p resolution.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix splits the original one-channel audio into a 2.0 spread with relatively clear dialogue and sound effects. Laurence Rosenthal's original score occasionally overpowers everything else (especially early on), but this could very well be the director's intent and doesn't distract for very long. No major defects were spotted along the way, and optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature. Overall, The Island of Dr. Moreau still sounds pretty good for its age and I'm glad that no remix attempts were made.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The basic interface includes separate options for playback, chapter selection, subtitle setup and bonus features, with quick loading time and minimal pre-menu distractions. This one-disc package arrives in a standard keepcase and includes poster-themed artwork; no inserts or slipcovers are included, but everything is listed on the back.
Pretty much the bare minimum here...but slightly more than the original MGM DVD, which only included a Theatrical Trailer
. In addition to that, we also get a slightly different Extended Trailer
and a Deleted Still
from the film's broadcast version. No moving footage, no context...just a static image presented in 1080p (similar to this one
, linked for spoilers). Like I said...pretty much the bare minimum, but I doubt that anyone was expecting much here.
Less engaging than Island of Lost Souls but substantially more grounded than John Frankenheimer's 1996 train wreck, Don Taylor's 1977 adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau is a dated but occasionally potent sci-fi adventure with decent performances. It certainly feels a little flat in some respects, though: Taylor's direction feels like a game of connect-the-dots, and his decision to show so much makeup effects and rubber masks gives many sequences a campy vibe that doesn't sit well with everything else. Overall, it's good enough for a weekend matinee but doesn't have much staying power. Kino Video's Blu-ray serves up a decent A/V presentation and only the bare minimum of bonus features; die-hard fans may want to indulge, but everyone else should try before they buy. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.