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Film / The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

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The Island of Dr. Moreau is a 1977 film adaptation of the novel The Island of Doctor Moreau. It stars Burt Lancaster as Moreau, Michael York as Andrew Braddock, Nigel Davenport as Montgomery, and Barbara Carrera as Maria. Generally speaking, this is considered by many fans to be the best adaptation of the story and the later 1996 adaptation clearly borrowed a lot of ideas from it.

Andrew Braddock (York) finds himself stranded on an island inhabited by scientist Dr. Moreau (Lancaster), who oversees a compound alongside his associate Montgomery (Davenport), the doctor's servant M'Ling, and the beautiful Maria (Carrera).

During his stay, however, he discovers that the island is also inhabited by man-beasts created by the doctor via surgery and an injection of serum containing human genetic material. Fearing Dr. Moreau might be insane, Braddock resolves to find a way off the island and escape. However, the doctor has no intentions on making it easy, as he aims to further his experiments...

This work contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Deviation: Plentiful. Some of the biggest include the entire character of Maria being added to the plot, Moreau becoming an outright mad scientist who ends up experimenting on Braddock, and Moreau murdering Montgomery. In the novel, Moreau dies from a failed experiment, and Montgomery dies in a skirmish with some revolting beast men.
  • Adaptational Heroism: While not an enemy in the novel, Montgomery is a lot more proactive in helping Braddock, largely due to Moreau being made an outright villain. This is most prevalent in the third act after Moreau decides to experiment on Braddock. As soon as Montgomery realizes what Moreau is up to, he holds him at gunpoint and insists Braddock be released. Unfortunately, Moreau outwits him and shoots him to death.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Moreau is essentially turned into a control freak and mad scientist. After Braddock starts sleeping with Maria, he drugs Braddock and attempts to transform him into a beast man. This is completely different from the novel, where Moreau isn’t thrilled Braddock (Prendick) is there, but explains how the lab works, and his experiments, and only asks that Braddock (Prendick) not interfere with what he’s doing and keep out of certain areas of Moreau's complex.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Edward Prendick is named "Andrew Braddock".
  • Alas, Poor Villain: The bull-man is antagonistic and aggressive towards Braddock, but when he's about to be taken off to the House of Pain and begs for a Mercy Kill instead, Braddock is so horrified by and sympathetic to the creature's plight that he blows the poor thing's brains out to spare him from any more of Moreau's cruelty.
  • The Alcoholic: Montgomery drinks constantly, but it doesn’t affect his duties on the island.
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: One of the laws Moreau enforces, and the first to be abandoned, in multiple ways. The beast-men themselves face a brutal aversion during the climax when one of their number releases Moreau's untested animals against the screaming protests from his friends that they're "not like us", leading to the wild animals attacking their uplifted "brothers".
  • Artificial Animal People: Though the film is set in the period when the book was written, it updates the methods Moreau uses to create his animal-people, replacing the surgical method of the original novel with a combination of surgery and gene therapy. Moreau also attempts to change Braddock into an animal in a reversal of his usual methods, which results in yet another Beast Man.
  • Canon Foreigner: Much like "Lost Souls" before it, there is no counterpart to Maria in the novel.
  • Cat Girl: Maria. Though it’s only explicit in the movie’s novelization and Marvel Comics adaptation.
  • Cult: What Moreau basically makes the animal people act like, with himself as the leader of said cult. His control over them breaks down when he inadvertently proves that he isn't the holy being he tried to make himself look like.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: A humorous example; Braddock talks about airplanes as a crazy, newfangled thing that's just been invented, reminding the viewer of the story's time period.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: M'Ling dies differently in every single version of the story. In the film, he remains coherent and on the side of Braddock and Maria. Part of their escape party, he is sadly ambushed by a lion and they fall into a pit trap with M'Ling's friends helpless to save him. In the novelization, he goes feral and joins the beast folk. After stalking Braddock and Maria, he attempts to attack them on the beach during their getaway and is killed by them in self defense. In the Marvel Comics adaptation, he remains benevolent and loyal as in the film and has a Dying Moment of Awesome heroically saving his friends from an attacking tiger, while the role of the beast man who attacks the heroes on the beach is given to the hyena-swine.
    • Also, Montgomery. In the novel, he snaps after Moreau's death and goes on a drinking binge with the nicer of the beast men. Montgomery and the beast men destroy the boats, and Montgomery is mortally wounded when the party is attacked by a different, more aggressive faction of the beast men. In the film, he turns on Moreau completely once he sees Moreau is experimenting on Braddock, and when he turns his back on Moreau to get the keys to unlock Braddock's straps, Moreau shoots him to death.
    • Finally, Moreau himself. In the novel, he's killed before Montgomery, trying to chase down a half-completed experiment that kills him as he kills it in return. In the film, Moreau makes the blood lust decision to murder Montgomery. When the beast folk get a hold of Montgomery's corpse, it not only tells them that Moreau is a mortal, but it shows that Moreau isn't following the rules about not killing that he's imposed on the beast folk. They confront him towards the end, and mortally wound him.
  • Downer Ending: In the novelization only. The ending reveals that Maria was actually converted from some sort of feline animal, possibly a panther. After spending a few days in the lifeboat, she begins to revert to her former form (unseen by Braddock.) In the novel's last page, after he celebrates seeing a ship, she raises her head, revealing her fangs, to Braddock's horror, and the final sentences hint that she mauls him to death.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Montgomery goes along with Moreau's inhuman experiments on the animals, but when Moreau crosses the line of trying to experiment on humans, he refuses to go along with it any further and tries to help Braddock.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Moreau, to an even greater extent to the book. Braddock accuses him of not even caring about scientific progress, just having his own little world to play God in, and it's hard to disagree.
  • Eye Scream: Braddock is forced to jab a broken oar into the hyena-swine's eye to kill it in self-defense.
  • Fanservice: The lovely Barbara Carrera goes topless in one scene. She actually is a complete fanservice character, as she doesn’t exist at all in Wells’ novel.
  • Forced Transformation: Moreau attempts to animalize Braddock as a reverse form of his experiments. It almost succeeds too, but thankfully Moreau's "society" falls apart before the effects can really take and Braddock is back to normal by the end.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Replacing the surgical method of the original novel. A fairly early film to use genetic engineering and cell cultures.
  • The Hero: Braddock, for the most part.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The rampaging animal-men are largely killed in the climax by the fire they started and wild animals they unleashed attacking them.
    • Because Moreau kills Montgomery when Montgomery tries to stop him from experimenting on Braddock, the beast men get a hold of Montgomery’s corpse. This becomes vastly important, as Moreau kept the beast men at bay by following a law against killing, and setting him and Montgomery up as unkillable gods. The beast men not only realize that Moreau CAN be killed, but they also don’t take kindly to Moreau violating his own law about not killing, and having been tortured for violating laws that Moreau himself isn’t following, leading all of them to turn against him.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The monstrous animal creatures created by Doctor Moreau are depicted as sympathetic victims of Moreau's cruelty (albeit in many cases with beastly savage behavior, but due to instincts and no malice) showing Moreau as the real monster instead.
  • In the Back: Moreau shoots Montgomery this way when he turns his back on him. When Montgomery spins in an attempt to shoot back, Moreau finishes the job with a shot to the heart.
  • The Lancer: Montgomery becomes this to Braddock. The pair become fast friends, and Montgomery gets murdered by Moreau when he tries to save Braddock from Moreau’s experiments.
  • Little Bit Beastly: The cat girl's nature is only subtly hinted at until she de-evolves at the end. Still, it’s very subtle and is only made explicitly clear in the movie’s novelization.
  • Mad Scientist: Moreau.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Maria. Subverted and deconstructed in the novelization, when we find out that while Moreau CLAIMS she's an adoptive daughter, in actuality, she was a successful experiment from a panther. In the novelization, she reveals her partial reversion back to her true form, and it's implied she mauls Braddock to death.
  • Mercy Kill: One of the animal-men, a bull-man, begs Braddock to kill him so he doesn't have to suffer in the House of Pain. Braddock complies.
  • Moral Myopia: Moreau forces the animal-men to follow the Law, but only to control them and he doesn't practice what he preaches at all when they're not around to see it. The instant the beast-men realize this is the instant Moreau irrevocably loses control of them, as they rather understandably object to being punished for the same things Moreau does.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Braddock during one of his nightly visits to Maria where Moreau is waiting and drugs him, and later, when he sees what Moreau has done to him.
    • Montgomery gets one when he finds Moreau experimenting on Braddock and realizes the doctor has flipped his lid.
    • Moreau himself has the biggest one of all when he realizes that the beast folk know he killed Montgomery and aren't happy about it.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The book's ending has Prendick/Braddock escape by tricking the beasts into thinking Moreau is still alive and a god who will smite them if they harm him. This version mocks this, pointing out that the beast men are increasingly primal but not stupid; they look with more confusion than anything at Moreau's hanging body that Braddock attempts to pass off as proof the doctor lives, then confirm he is dead through the simple method of poking said corpse with a stick and continuing on when Moreau obviously fails to react.
  • Token Good Teammate: M'Ling and the servant women are all beast folk, but never turn on the humans, and aid in their escape.
  • Too Dumb to Live: After realizing how dangerous Moreau had become, mercenary Montgomery really shouldn't have turned his back on him when he knew Moreau usually kept a gun.
    • Moreau also. After convincing the beast men that he and Montgomery are gods, he shoots the latter when Montgomery interferes, and makes minimal effort to hide the body. The beast folk get their hands on it, and they revolt on him because he's not a god, and he broke his own law.
  • Tragic Monster: The animal people become increasingly violent and dangerous as the story progresses, but the film makes it very clear that they're the real victims, as they were simple animals that Moreau tortuously experimented on and emotionally abused into being like a cult to him. Their violence is only because of the insane society Moreau forces on them breaking down and clashing with their wild instincts.
  • Tropical Island Adventure: Shot in the US Virgin Islands no less.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The animal creatures created by Doctor Moreau and kept under submission by means of fear and torture rise against him at the end, After Moreau murders Montgomery and they find out Moreau isn’t untouchable, nor is he practicing what he preaches.
  • White Shirt of Death: Moreau’s main outfit is a white suit which gets dirty and blood soaked when the beast men maul him to death.