You could not read filmic news last week without seeing that Warner Brothers has announced their intentions to make a new adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau, the H.G. Wells science fiction novel from 1896. Most are familiar with the 1996 film starring Marlon Brando, but few realize this will be the seventh endeavor to visualize Wells’ story. Every time this film has been attempted, it falls short of impressive.
Ile d'Epouvante, 1911: This short, silent film directed by Joë Hamman was not released until 1913. Little to nothing is known about this movie; only whispers can be found on blogs for cinephiles. Some argue it is not an adaptation at all, but contains similar plot points as the book.
Island of Lost Souls, 1932: Shot more than twenty years after Hamman’s piece, the supposed scenes of animal cruelty kept the British Board of Film Censors from granting it a cinema certificate until 1958; at which point is was still given an X certificate (rating), and only after several scenes were cut. Ironically, when the full cut was reissued on DVD in 2011, it carried a PG rating. Wells himself reportedly despised this movie, saying the horror overshadowed the philosophy. It is considered by many to be an abject failure in capturing the idea.
The Twilight People, 1972: Although the names of characters were changed, The Twilight People follows the plotline laid out in H.G. Wells’ novel closely. Another swing that seemed to miss the mark as far as entertainment value, this film is rarely – if ever – brought up.
The Island of Dr. Moreau, 1977: The first adaptation to adopt the name of the book it was based on, this was the second American attempt at this story. Both lead actors, Burt Lancaster and Michael York, are praised for their portrayals, and it is to date considered the best effort on making this story into a film.
The Island of Dr. Moreau, 1996: Nearly twenty years later, New Line Cinema took a shot at Dr. Moreau. Marlon Brando was cast as the doctor himself, along with Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk and Ron Pearlman in supporting roles. Production of the film is noted as being a veritable maelstrom. The original director, Richard Stanley, was fired after four days and replaced by Ron Hutchinson. Actors were hired for one role, and then were cast as another; several were supposedly there only for the chance to work with Brando. Reported injuries and fighting fuel rumors production would actually shut down. In the end, the film was released with a lot of hurt feelings, and received a great deal of negative feedback. It was nominated for six Razzies, including “Worst Picture.”
Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain, 2004: This direct-to-video release from Full Moon Entertainment is almost always looked over; more than likely due to its crude make-up effects and gratuitous sex. It moves Dr. Moreau off the island and into a mansion, and follows a professional boxer as he searches from his missing brother, a search that apparently leads to being at the mercy of Dr. Moreau.
Warner Brother’s really does not have to try hard to top earlier versions of this film, but do they have it in them to make a good one?