The Island of Dr. Moreau - Behind the scenes
Chopping block | The story of the film and the film's story
The cast: Lost and found | Satan's little helper | The Moreau Island Experiment
Chopping block [top]
The original shooting script was molested by Ron Hutchinson's rewrites ordered by Frankenheimer, Brando and Kilmer. Frankenheimer wanted to change the basic tone of the movie and tried to merge his version with Brando's vision of Moreau and Kilmer's oft-improvised Montgomery. This means major portions of the script were either transformed or scrapped. After all that, Richard Stanley's co-writer credit remains yet another oddity supplied by the WGA (Writer's Guild of America).
The gore scenes were trimmed down to secure the PG-13 rating. The director's cut runs four minutes longer, with the following additions:
The opening fight scene on the raft is extended, with much more violence and Douglas taking a more active part in the fight. Moreau's death scene is also longer and more graphic, with the beasts shown eating his severed arm. Moreau's butler gets his implant removed more graphically. Montgomery's death takes longer and he's now shot several times.
The story of the film and the film's story [top]
In case the film had a potential plot that didn't deliver, read the original novel by H.G. Wells. It's online in many places, e.g. Bartleby.com. The story behind the scenes has been covered here.
A better film version of the novel does exist. It's called The Island of Lost Souls, released in 1932. Originally banned in the United States, the film has Bela Lugosi himself as the Sayer of the Law.
The cast: Lost and found [top]
Apparently scream queen Barbara Steele, perhaps best remembered from Mario Bava's horror classic Mask of the Demon, was originally in talks to play Mrs. Moreau. Her part was scrapped during the production rewrites by Frankenheimer and his crew, leaving all of us nostalghic horror fans out to dry.
Richard Stanley plays an extra in the film, a melting bulldog. He snuck back to the set to see how Frankenheimer was doing and to meet Brando. Unregocnized by most of the crew (not to mention the audience!), he briefly appears in the scene where Montgomery is in the humanimal cave doing his Moreau impersonation.
Satan's little helper [top]
Moreau's little fellow (played by Nelson de la Rosa), who imitates his every move and has identical clothing, has later on been spoofed in other works.
In the cartoon South Park, an offbeat scientist called Dr. Mephisto also has a funny looking little man beside him. Not only that, but in one episode we learn that Mephisto happens to be a member of NAMBLA (National Association of Marlon Brando Look Alikes). Anything to do with this film? Nah.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me has a similar thing going on with the main antagonist Dr. Evil and his Mini-Me. Guess mad doctors just have a thing for creating miniscule copycats of themselves.
The Moreau Island Experiment [top]
From the beginning, Val Kilmer made the production a living hell for all concerned. During the first two days he failed to show up completely, with his agent saying "every Val movie loses the first two days." The crew shifted to shoot some helicopter work, which, according to Stanley, was probably the only good material they did. The further events led to continuinity problems, which made this footage unusable. When Kilmer did bother to come around, things got even messier. Stanley and the crew were advised by the New Line Cinema honcho Michael De Luca to go out to a storm-swept sea and shoot material on a dinghy. This led them to a difficult situation, where they couldn't do much more than just put several static cameras in there and see everybody looking confused. Kilmer had a ball there.
"He'd do [the lines] but he'd throw it all away," says Stanley. "And he kept insisting on odd bits and pieces of his wardrobe that didn't make sense, like a piece of blue material wrapped around his arm. It was like, 'Why is that around his arm, and will he take it off?'" After the cameras rolled, the material became dailies which were shipped to New Line. They saw Kilmer screwing around and figured everybody in Queensland had lost it. After that Stanley was "officially relieved from his duties".
"When I left the production, I shredded every document I had. But the mushroom trip wasn't true. I wish it was. I've heard stories over time that I'd freaked out, that I shouted at so and so, that I punched so and so. But point of fact, what I did at the time was staying in the same chair for about two days, while continously smoking and taking telephone calls. During that time, over that 48 hour period, I shredded every single goddamn document from the last two years. I made certain at that point in time, that there were no telephone numbers, there were no timetables, no rainfall charts, anything that they had figured out about the location, so that they would have to figure it out from scratch. It wasn't really sabotage, it was to leave as little trace behind of my cooperation as possible. A stalling tactic, in a way. Have them to suss out the whole thing from scratch." [Richard Stanley in Sex & Guts Magazine.]
Rob Morrow, who was originally cast as Prendick, left soon after, having a hunch on what directions the production will take from there on. The female lead, Fairuza Balk, tried to pull out the same stunt afterwards, only to caught and send back to Queensland on the next flight. The production now suffered a 12 day standstill, during which New Line acquired replacements for Stanley and Morrow. The new Prendick would be David Thewlis - who was, infact, one of people Stanley originally wanted to the film. He gets faxed the first ten pages of the script written by Stanley and Michael Herr, and arrives to the set only to be greeted by Frankenheimer, who says: "We have to get rid of this Richard Stanley bullshit script".
Frankenheimer assigned his frequent HBO-collaborator Ron Hutchinson to rewrite the film, which left everybody in the dark on what they'd be doing next. Pages were turned in only a few days before they were shot and the breakneck pace Hutchinson kept up didn't equal quality. Thewlis said, "We would get pages and pages every day, and you'd read them and think, 'Well, these are shit as well.' We all had different ideas of where it should go. I even ended up improvising some of the main scenes with Marlon." Thewlis also went on to rewrite his character personally.
Speaking of Brando. The old boy had unfortunately gone through some tough times just before filming Moreau, and by the time he got up there everything was going downhill. Nobody seemed to be in control, so he basically just rolled in, realizing that the script he signed on for was scrapped anyway. "By the time Brando had arrived [...] no one was willing to say no to anything, which is why Brando wears an ice bucket on his head in one scene," Stanley says. Brando himself later commented that particular scene: "I was just so bored, I didn't know what else to do!" The constant rewrites also got to his nerve and having no motivation to keep rehearsing new lines, he was equipped with a small radio receiver. David Thewlis recollects: "[Marlon would] be in the middle of a scene and suddenly he'd be picking up police messages and would repeat, `There's a robbery at Woolworths'."
Kilmer didn't make any new friends with his continuously erratic behaviour. Brando pointed out to him: "You're confusing your talents with the size of your paycheck". Frankenheimer finished shooting a certain scene with Kilmer by saying: "Cut. Now get that bastard off my set." Kilmer even burned one of the camera operators in the face with his cigarette, intentionally or not.
After a joke Stanley told to the production designer of burning the set down, security was tightened in case of him actually trying to sabotage the project. Guarding the place proved out to be as efficient as the actual production, since Stanley managed to return disguised as an extra, having gotten some unexpected help from former disenchanted crew members. "I decided to come back as a melting bulldog," says Stanley. "I didn't know Frankenheimer or the assistant directors, so they didn't recognize me. I couldn't have come that far and not seen Brando." Confronting the grand old man, Stanley had the opportunity to set the record straight on his behalf, with Brando feeling sorry for what had happened and even personally offering to financially consolidate him. At Brando's wrap party, "I took the dog mask off and showed who I was. Kilmer came up and hugged and kissed me and said how sorry he was."
On August 23rd, 1996, The Island of Dr. Moreau opened in the U.S. and led the weekend box office with a gross of 9.1 million dollars. The stand-tall opening is partially explained with the timing of the release and the PG-13-rating, which allows the widest possible range of viewers for Moreau. "The end of summer is one of the worst times at the box office", says John Krier, president of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, in E! Online News. "September is usually a throwaway month." The overall domestic gross is 27 million dollars, 18 of them gathered during the first two weeks. Another 15 million is made offshore, lifting the total gross to 42 million dollars. That's barely enough to cover the budjet.
Stanley's and Herr's script got its own premiere in the late 2001, as the Yeshiva College Dramatics Society performed a stage production of The Island of Dr. Moreau.