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Film / The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

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"I have almost achieved perfection you see, of a divine creature that is pure, harmonious, absolutely incapable of any malice. And if in my tinkering I have fallen short of the human form by the snout, claw or hoof, it really is of no great importance. I am closer that you could possibly imagine sir."
Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau is a 1996 film adaptation of the novel The Island of Doctor Moreau. It is directed by John Frankenheimer,note  and stars Marlon Brando as Moreau, David Thewlis as Edward Douglas, Val Kilmer as Montgomery, and Fairuza Balk as Aissa.

Thanks to its much maligned production process, it became the subject of the Documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau.

The tropes listed below focus predominately on things unique to this specific adaptation, skipping things overlapping with the original novel.

This work contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Dr. Moreau himself is shown in a far more positive light here. The Doctor is abusive to the hybrids but he's Affably Evil in demeanour and does sincerely care for them as a people he wants to turn into the pinnacle of society.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Edward Prendick is named "Edward Douglas".
  • Anarchy Is Chaos: Once Moreau's "rule" and especially his rules are toppled, the island descends into complete chaos within hours. By the time a semblance of order is restored, it's too late to achieve anything, just to deal with the aftermath.
  • And Some Other Stuff: Montgomery's description, about what he adds to the serum:
    Montgomery: I add a little methamphetamine, some morphine, some 'shrooms, and some other shit.
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Moreau enforces it as a fundamental tenet of his religious set of rules for the creatures inhabiting the island. This is done out of sheer pragmatism, because even if he can make them vegetarian, he can't control the potential bloodlust and simple rush the predators can feel from killing. Needlessly to say, he's proven right.
  • The Artifact: The black panther, delivered with Douglas to the island. In the novel, it's what killed Moreau. Here, it plays no other role than simply being there with Douglas in the cargo hold.
  • Artificial Animal People: Being a Setting Update to the modern day, the film has Dr. Moreau use genetic engineering to produce his Beast-Men. In a further departure from the novel, though most of the Beast-Men were originally animals, one of the females gives birth to a hybrid baby, showing that Moreau's modifications breed true.
  • Bad Boss: Hyena-Swine ends up shooting his own followers for no other reason than just because he wants to remain "God Number One" among the animal hybrids.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The diploma for Moreau's Nobel prize is written in Swedish. It states that he got it for genetic manipulation, not for inventing velcro like Montgomery later tells Edward.
  • Bio Punk
  • Cat Girl: Aissa slowly starts to becoming one as the current treatment keeping her human starts to fail.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The opening credits, with a really fast montage of eyes, cells, and clouds.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Moreau, a Noble Prize recepient who's busy trying to turn animals into humans.
  • Female Feline, Male Mutt: Two of Doctor Moreau's closer servants are cat girl Aissa (Fairuza Balk) and dogman Azazello (Temuera Morrison).
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Replacing the surgical method of the original novel. Moreau uses genetic engineering to create transgenic human/animal hybrids, some of whom look almost perfectly human, while others are humanoid but covered in fur and have snouts, hooves, horns, fangs and claws; without regular injections of Moreau's serum, however, these creatures lose their intelligence and slowly regress to their animal forms.
  • God Guise: While the general theme of playing God goes back to the original novel, this adaptation has Moreau actively embrace the role of the "Father", a religious, sacred icon for his "children", even including a costume that goes with it. After Moreau is killed, drunk and high, Montgomery quite literally dresses up as the new "Father" and goes partying with the creatures, further mocking the whole concept.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Douglas concludes this at the end of the film, reflecting on how cruel even unaltered humans can be, and says he "goes in fear" after the island. All this to a backdrop of riot scenes and similar events.
  • 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.
  • Insufferable Genius: Moreau is portrayed as someone who looks down on not just his creations (who at least are given a paternalistic approach), but also fellow humans, whom he sees as too dumb to see his true genius.
  • Jerkass:
    • Montgomery is an enormous tool, doing his very best to spite his boss and be mean toward Douglas, just because he finds it amusing. He has great time mocking the doctor's creations, too. While the character is written as harsh and very direct, a lot of it comes from Val Kilmer's performance and behind-the-scenes antics, where he was also messing with the film crew.
    • Probably the only reason Douglas doesn't come as a villainous figure is because there is Montgomery around. He's self-centered, just as condescending as the other male humans and mistreats just about everyone on his path. The only reason why he's nice toward Aissa is because he's constantly eyeing her.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dr. Moreau is a condescending, judgmental Insufferable Genius, but he does care for his own creations, shows genuine affection towards Aissa and, while vary of him, tries to make Douglas feel safe and secured - even when that puts his own life in potential danger. Even his ultimate goal is noble, even if his means of achieving it are beyond twisted.
  • Left the Background Music On: When Edward catches his first glimpse of Aissa, who is belly-dancing in the rain, "Nightbird" by Deep Forest begins playing in the background. Then when Aissa notices Edward watching her, she shuts off a nearby speaker, and the song stops playing.
  • Little Bit Beastly: As she starts to regress, Aissa has only very sharp canine teeth and slightly pointy ears to show her nature.
  • Little People Are Surreal: Majai.
  • Lost in Imitation: The film takes numerous cues from the prior two adaptations, both in terms of visuals, plot elements and even adding new characters. Somewhat justified, as Stanley's original intention was to make a Fix Fic, creating a movie the avertising of the previous adaptation promised, but never delivered.
  • Mad Scientist: Moreau in spirit, Montgomery in actual madness. The first is a geneticist performing illegal experiments; the latter is his misantropic, drug-abusing, power-hungry assistant.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Aissa, Moreau's Aloof Dark-Haired Girl daughter. She is an uplifted animal, too, rather than his actual offspring.
  • Mini Mook: Majai, who inspired both Mini-Me and the clone of Dr. Mephesto.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Moreau, the geneticist uplifting animals into humans, has a PhD. Montgomery, his assistant, is a MD. Both of them have their unique takes on morality (and in case of Montgomery, also where to shove it).
  • Music Soothes the Savage Beast: Moreau momentarily soothes the rebellious man-animal hybrids with his piano playing.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Moreau and Montgomery are obviously experimenting on Douglas, running numerous tests on him - none of them with his consent. Like in the novel and other adaptations, he freaks out and thinks he will be turned into a Beast Man, but in reality, that's to stabilise the formula and prevent regression of Moreau's creations.
  • Path of Inspiration: The rules from the novel are portrayed as a religion and a very literal Cult of Personality of Moreau. It only exists to impose order among the creatures and keep them in check.
  • Restraining Bolt: Each of Moreau's creations is implanted with a small device that shocks them with pain when activated, either selectively or just for all of them at once. Unfortunately, Hyena-Swine figures it out.
  • The Reveal: Moreau's latest experiment, involving Douglas, was to finally develop a stable version of his experiment and prevent Aissa's regression. And to those unfamiliar with the 1970s adaptation - Aissa being a Cat Girl.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: Towards the end, Hyena-Swine has Edward at his mercy but Edward manages to convince Hyena-Swine that he needs to be "God Number One" among his faction. This causes Hyena-Swine to turn on and kill some of his own companions who accompanied him in killing Moreau, get injured when one of them returns fire, receive a beating from some of the nearby beast-men, and finally enter into the burning house to commit suicide.
  • Setting Update: Just like the novel and all prior adaptations, the film is set "now". In this case "now" means the 1990s, instead of the 1890s, between the UN being a thing, the use of computers and other tech present, the music, and the use of Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke for the hybrids' origin.
  • Shock Collar: All Moreau's creations have an implant that induces pain by remote control. Then some of them discover how to remove it from themselves...
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Montgomery's rabbits. One of them being killed by Cheetah is what kickstarts the plot.
  • Small, Secluded World: The island really is away from anything else - not just human civilisation, but even any other nearly land. Douglas is effectively stranded there, while officially being a guest.
  • Sole Survivor: Edward manages to become one twice:
    • First, the plane crash leaves him and two other men stuck on a tiny liferaft. The men have a fight, killing each other and leaving Douglas the only survivor, despite being the weakest of the trio.
    • He's the only human alive in the end.
  • Start of Darkness: Hyena-Swine is a sympathetic, mistreated character who just lost a friend... and that drives him to the wall from grief, eventually starting to rebel against Moreau's order.
  • Too Dumb to Live: It turns out for Hyena-Swine that shooting his own followers who, up to that point, had no quarrel with him and followed him loyally just because Edward told him he needed to be "God Number One" wasn't exactly the best idea. Naturally, this ends with Hyena-Swine getting shot, beaten, and then walking into the burning home, effectively committing suicide.
  • Tropical Island Adventure: The film is set on a small, tropical Pacific island.
  • 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.
  • Veganopia: Enforced by Moreau, who doesn't want to tempt his creations, especially those based on predators, to engage in murderous rampages, while being vegetarian himself. Meanwhile, Montgomery is eating meat in a deliberate, showy way, more to piss off his boss than any other reason - and it causes all kind of problems even before things start to come apart, while directly contributing to everyone but Douglas being dead in the end.