Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Island of Lost Souls

(1932) ***1/2

This, apparently, is the standard bearer for films based on H.G. Welles's The Island of Dr. Moreau, and that's a bit of a bummer. It's not a bad film at all -- I'd rank it slightly below White Zombie in terms of overall watchability and atmosphere -- but it's obviously great source material, and it's a shame no modern director has really come around and knocked the story out of the park. Perhaps I should save this complaint for the Val Kilmer/Marlon Brando version, which I'm planning on watching later on in Thon and which, by all reports, sucks manimal balls.

A nigh unrecognizable Bela Lugosi, demonstrating that he'd do basically anything to stave off boredom and bankruptcy

We're probably all familiar with the basics of the storyline: Dr. Moreau, a brilliant geneticist surgically modifies tropical beasts to create a race of humanoids. He trains his subjects to adhere to a strict code of non-violence, but loses control over them when they discover that humans themselves don't always play by the rules we set forth.

Again, great concept -- and the only real weakness inherent in this version is that it's old and we just do certain things better now. I rate it a 3.5 and not a 4 for this reason only. It's regarded highly enough to get the Criterion Collection treatment, but this is more due to its filmmaking quality relative to what was coming out at the time. Think of it this way - you've probably all seen both the original King Kong and the Peter Jackson version. The modern flick, despite being a little overstuffed, is simply a more enthralling movie experience than its grandfather. But that's not because the original misses out on anything it set out to accomplish. It endures because it was ambitious -- it expanded our view of what could be done on film.

And while Island of Lost Souls doesn't have any timeless shots like Kong atop the Empire State building, it set the bar higher in the area of makeup and character design. Additionally the cinematography is good throughout -- cinematographer Karl Strauss was nominated for four Oscars for best cinematography over the course of his career (winning once), and the shot selection here quietly indicates a keen eye for angles and shot composition.

My hunch is that we haven't seen the last Dr. Moreau movie, and that someone is going to eventually make an earnest effort at applying modern filmmaking to the story. Until that time, this is universally accepted to be the best version available. Sure, why not?


Catfreeek said...

I haven't seen this film in a very long time and I actually own a copy of it. Your screen shots alone are beautiful and your review makes me want to dig it out of my archives.

Crystal Math said...

JSP and I watched this after Gene Simmons quoted it profusely in a backstage KISS concert video. I really enjoyed it for all the same reasons, 50P.

Octopunk said...

And 50P joins the fray! Great rundown, I've actually never seen this or any version of the Dr. Moreau story. I like it when cinematography stands out in old films.

Crystal: Man, it's just KISS KISS KISS with you guys! Why don't you marry KISS?

Abduscias said...

Louis Griffin had sex with KISS.. So it was like Peter Griffin had sex with KISS too!! Lol

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Now that you mention it, nearly all of HG Wells' books have been bastardized on the big screen with the possible exception of The Invisible Man. Although I do admit to being rather fond of the Val Kilmer version. It's terrible, don't get me wrong, but I love it nonetheless.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go listen to KISS.

DCD said...

I think if I decided to watch a Dr. Moreau story I'd rather stick to something that is at least a stand out in cinematography. I can't see Val Kilmer adding anything as remotely interesting.

Man, remember when he was adorable? Sigh.

Landshark said...

Awesome. I was just thinking about Dr. Moreau this mornig. I was trying to remember the first horror movie I ever saw, and it was either the 70s(?) Dr. Moreau, Orca, or Food of the Gods.

50PageMcGee said...

strangely, the 70's moreau flick isn't on netflix. bothers me.

AC said...

haven't seen either, love the review, can't wait to hear what you think of the remake.