An absolute classic this one, fondly remembered from my childhood. A pristine example of B-Movie mayhem, combined with 1970s scientific paranoia.
The plot begins as a stranded sailor wash-up ashore on a remote tropical island. Initially he sees his survival as something as a bit of a god-send, it’s not long before he realises that perhaps his poor fortune is continued as things are not quite right. It transpires that the island is owned by one Dr Moreau a shunned scientist who, upon his banishment from scientific institution for less than ethical research, has chosen this island as a base for further research. The amusingly named ‘Manimals’ are the result of Moreau’s research, a set of genetic experiments which take anthropomorphising to a new level!
Based on a novel by H. G. Wells, the plot just about manages to stay the right side of dated. Whilst the definitions of the ‘scientific’ elements reflect the knowledge of the time, the subsequent (real-life) developments of genetic research – specifically stem cells – ensure that, like all good sci-fi, it is just as relevant today as it was them; albeit a little less alarmist. Genetic research aside the movie manages to dedicate a chunk of its run time to its character development. The sailor, naturally, represents the ethical side of the equation, his love interest, a naïve island girl and a stoic old security guy provides the reason when the time comes. Depending on the scene, there is no doubt that much of these subplots offered nothing more than to increase run-time and whilst there aren’t any extended periods of tedium, it’s all a bit stage-like!
Where the movie really captivates is where the ‘Manimals’ are concerned! Once you get past the rather dodgy costumes – think original Planet of the Apes expanded to include a large range of taxonomic fauna and you have an image fairly close to that of a ‘Manimal’. It starts off where they are nothing more than your standard feral creature characters, but before long we see a development of social structure governed by basic laws. Forgive me here, but this is the bit which gets me going on such movies. Whilst of course the whole concept is well B-Movie, you can’t help but think ‘what if?’ – could you control primitive being with such basic rules/laws? Faith aside, isn’t this the root of any religion. If you have an open mind, the sub-text is impossible to ignore.
The ending too, is worth the persistence through the mid-paced character sludge I reported earlier. You get to see some fairly epic action (for the time anyhow) including a Manimal vs. Tiger fight, a full on feral siege including some nice model work as the compound is razed. The effects look pretty decent and it’s a cool conclusion to a movie which could have quite as easily taken the cop out ending if it had so wished.
Overall, if you can look past the effects – or embrace the nostalgia, there is plenty to like about ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’. It’s a great reflection of scientific paranoia of the time, some really interesting social concepts and, thanks to 101 Films, a great HD transfer!