Sunday, November 10, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - H.G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
Published by: Dover
Publication Date: 1896
Format: Paperback, 104 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Edward Prendick was shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean. Some would call it luck that he was picked up by a passing ship, but after what happened to him, perhaps death would have been preferable. He is plucked from the ocean by a man named Montgomery who has a strange animalistic servant, M'ling. The hired crew of the ship don't trust Montgomery and when they get to his destination they abandon Prendick with him. The island is a scientific research station of Dr. Moreau, who Prendick remembers reading about... he was involved in some rather unethical researches if he remembers rightly, vivisection.

Prendick soon learns that Moreau has retreated to this island to continue his work on his Beast Folk, the work others don't understand. His genetic mutations of man and beast drive him and have driven Prendick to flee into the forest to escape Moreau, yet this could be more dangerous then he knows. Moreau has strict laws that his creations must abide by. Besides being as human as possible, walking only on two legs, they must avoid meat and blood. Yet someone hasn't been following the laws... soon Predick's behaviour is secondary to the danger that looms ahead of them. What if the Beast Folk fall prey to their animal instincts?

Growing up in the 80s and 90s if you were a discerning girl there is no excuse for not having the biggest crush on Val Kilmer. I seriously do not know how many times I saw Willow in the theatre, but I know I spent more time watching that movie in the summer of 1988 then doing anything else. Of course this crush meant that after Willow there were many westerns I watched, perhaps the oddest of the Batman movies and then there was The Island of Dr. Moreau. This movie was released right after I got out of high school and I was hoping for it to be the highpoint of my very busy summer. Firstly there was Val Kilmer, secondly there was Fairuza Balk, star of The Worst Witch, the coolest and tackiest movie about witchcraft ever, and then there was Marlon Brando wearing an ice bucket. The movie is so bizarre that there is really no way anyone could categorize it. I just watched it again after reading the book and still, it's just so odd and full of camp and oddly Professor Lupin, that there's really nothing more to say. The Island of Dr. Moreau was just on the cusp of my obsession with reading the book and then going to see the movie. Therefore I had picked up a cheap Dover paperback of the book after I watched the movie and kind of put the book aside thinking I might read it one day.

It took seventeen years but I finally got around to reading the book. And you know what? I rather liked it. The descriptions of the island are so beautiful and poetic that the lack of plot or motivations for the characters makes you wish that Wells had spent more time rounding out the story versus having them run around the island like headless chickens. Also the fact that Prendick, who, let's face it, his name sums up the fact he truly is a dick, seems ok with animal experimentation and vivisection, but as soon as you bring a human or something human esque into it, he gets a bit squeamish. Bit of a double standard there dick boy. Sure it is probably the more acceptable opinion of the times, but, dude, no, just no to the animal experimentation.

Wells has always been heralded as a kind of Nostradamus, and reading this book it is eerie as all get out. He wrote this in 1896! The kind of science he describes would be used by the Nazis in World War II, and if you think about the cloning and gene splicing and steam cells and the use of pig valves in human hearts today, wow. Sure it's a bit squeamish that Wells himself was an advocate of eugenics... but for scientists it's more just a creepy "hands on" Darwinism. Moreau might have been a monster in the eyes of Prendick and the world, but he was a genius that presaged what was to come in the realms of science rather accurately. Makes me openly wonder if perhaps Wells happened to create a time machine and take a quick jaunt into the future... he did strongly believe that the science of this book could be accomplished... he didn't happen to have an island no one knew about did he?

To bring it full circle, let's go back to that weird ass movie adaptation... you know what? I can actually see the framework of the book in the movie, I can also see where it went wrong. I'm not talking about Brando getting to be crazy on set or Val Kilmer's Montgomery shooting up drugs. These things were modernisations of the situations on the island. Where they went wrong was going for ultra violence and trying to make it as a blockbuster with a love interest and all. If they had toned it down, then the little things, the horror of finding the dead bunny would have played better. Let the actors be overstated in the movie and the story be understated... I see now that this movie could have been awesome, and it makes me sad that they had a chance to update a strangely prescient book and failed in the attempt.

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