The Island of Doctor Moreau Book vs Movies Review

written by Laura J.

The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells (1896)

Island of Lost Souls directed by Erle C. Kenton (1932)

The Island of Doctor Moreau directed by Don Taylor (1977)

The Island of Doctor Moreau directed by John Frankenheimer (1996)

This was suggested by CuriousWorld who commented on my The Time Machine book vs movie video. And I am so glad they suggested this because even though I had heard of it, I knew nothing about it and so it wasn’t really on my radar. I loved the book though, and knew I had to do a full book vs movie video for it!

Book review

I want to give a spoiler free review for the book before getting into plot details, because as I said, I loved this book! I went into it knowing nothing and was shocked, horrified, and disgusted as I read. I was also on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next. So, if you like weird, twisted stories lol, then you should check this one out! The book is like a combination of the book The Beach (not the movie, just the book) and Annihilation book and movie. (Both of those were written long after Moreau of course, and it seems like they each may have been influenced by Wells, as so many writers have.)

I will say, as with The Time Machine, Wells writing style is one I have a hard time connecting with. He comes up with such fantastic stories with so many themes and commentaries which I love. But I think I would have liked this book (and The Time Machine) even more had it been written by someone else whose writing style I connect with more. As horrifying and suspenseful as it was at times, it still wasn’t a story I was as immersed in as I would have liked. I’m sure I am not in the majority when I say that though, because plenty of people love Wells writing style.  

But if this sounds like something you would like, go read it before watching the rest of this video!

From here on out I will be getting into plot details for the book and movies!

Talking about four different stories is a lot, and I think I will follow the format I did in my Dracula book vs movies. I will share general thoughts on all of the movies, then from there talk about the main plot points and characters as they are in the book and each movie. Hopefully this is a method that works and isn’t confusing as I talk about the book and adaptations!

1932 movie

First off, this movie has Bela Lugosi! Dracula had come out the year before, but this must have been filmed before it became big because he plays a smaller role and isn’t even recognizable.

But regardless, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit! Charles Laughton plays Moreau and I loved his performance, he is really just soaking in the this role and is serving so much personality. The makeup made a lot of the creatures look very similar, but I was still impressed. H.G. Wells was still alive when this came out and I read he didn’t like it because it focused too much on the horror element and not enough on the deeper themes and social commentary.

1977 movie

The ’77 version has Burt Lancaster playing Moreau and he was fine in the role but he seemed like an odd choice in my opinion. This one was entertaining, but it is my least favorite of the three. I also watched this the same day I watched the ’96 movie, and the ’96 movie just stands out so much more in my mind than this one does. Nonetheless, I would still recommend it. This movie also has some crazy scenes with real animals, like people wrestling tigers and all sorts of things which was pretty intense to see.

1996 movie

I really liked the ’32 movie, but I think this one is my favorite of the bunch. Production was hell and went on for months and months. There is even a whole documentary dedicated to all the drama that went on while filming this titled Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau.

We have Marlon Brando as Moreau and he plays the role in such a unique way. When we first meet him, he is all white and is being carried like a prince or something and I was like of course lol. Of course Brando’s first appreance would be so over the top. Throughout this movie he was just so weird. Which was what I expected when I saw he was in the role. His version seems to care more for the creatures and has a weird love for them. In all of the other versions Moreau used whips to keep the creatures in line, but here it takes place in modern day and Moreau has put chip implants in all of the creatures and can press a remote to electrocute them to keep them at bay if things get out of hand. So he still uses that one them, but he really does see himself as their God and wants to be a “loving” godly father to them in his demented, narssastic way.

There is also a scene when he has this bucket thing on his head and Brando just put that on and filled it with ice because it was so hot and wanted it in the scene. He later said he wanted it to be revealed that he had turned himself into part dolphin and we would see a blowhole on the top of his head. The director didn’t go with that though.

Brando was such a pain to work with though, and Val Kilmer plays Montgomery and took the role to act alongside this Hollywood icon. However, they did not get along and their feud was part of the reason production took so long.

Speaking of Kilmer, his version of Montgomery is very weird and over the top. But honestly I thought it worked, he is doing a lot in the role but it seems like he is having fun being kind of ridiculous (although movie trivia would day he actually was NOT having fun lol). I think he was also perhaps competing with Brando and went weird with it to keep up with Brando’s strange portrayal.

In the book Montgomery is an alcoholic and the ’32 movie keeps this, the ’77 movie doesn’t have it I don’t think (that version doesn’t give Montgomery much to do), and here he is a drug addict. Again, their way of modernizing the story.

I need to talk about the make-up with this one though because they have some great practical effects. The way the creatures look here is how I imagined them while reading the book. We get a wide variety of looks and a scene early on we see a creature giving birth which is very startling and weird. There is some CGI as well, but most is practical.

This movie is one of those that is considered “so bad it’s good” and yeah it is so ridiculous for multiple reasons, but I was thoroughly entertained and could see myself watching this again.

Now onto the plot details!

Getting to the Island

The main character in all versions has a different name, but in the book his name is Edward Prendick so I will be calling him Edward throughout this video.

In the book he survived a shipwreck and was rescued by another ship. A man named Montgomery was a traveler on this ship and is transporting a variety of animals to a small island which is his destination.

Montgomery and the ships captain do not get along, and Edward gets mixed up in the drama. When the captain drops Montgomery off on his island, he wants Edward off as well. In the book he put Edward in a dingy, and the dingy floats to the island Montgomery had got off on.

The ’32 movie has the same premise, but in this version, he has a fiancée and while on the ship he had sent her a telegram that he was aboard and would be arriving to her soon.

The ’77 movie gets rid of the ship and has Edward’s shipwrecked lifeboat wash on shore right onto the island. I liked this change and didn’t think them skipping the part on the ship was any loss.

In the ’96 movie they have him rescued by the ship and Montgomery is on board, but here, Montgomery convinces him to join him on the island rather than the captain kicking Edward off.

Moreau’s experiments

Edward learns that the man Montgomery is assisting is a scientist named Doctor Moreau. Edward remembers hearing about Moreau and in the book he recalls that Moreau became an outcast when his experiments were thought to go too far. He was big on blood transfusions and vivisection which is when you operate on an animal in order to experiment and without giving it anything to numb the pain.

In the book, he sees a puma taken to Moreau’s lab and hears its cries as Moreau is working on it. The cries make him feel like he is going to go mad and leaves to go about the island. He sees a strange man looking creature drinking from water on all fours and sucking the water the way an animal would. He is also chased by another animal/human creature and at another point finds a rabbit brutally killed. Most movies keep the scene of him seeing a man type person on all fours sucking the water, but only the ’96 movie includes the dead rabbits. None of the movies have Moreau currently working on a puma.

In all versions he also realizes how some of the servants have animal like qualities, such as furry pointed ears. In all versions he goes into Moreau’s lab at one point and sees a human like creature being worked on. In the book, he begins to assume that Moreau is experimenting on both humans and animals and trying to create an animal creature that is a combination of the two.

He then runs to get away, fearing he will be Moreau’s next subject. He meets a creature that shows he has five fingers and Edward shows that he also has five fingers. This creature than takes him to a cave where there is a large group of these human/animal creatures. He later learns the five fingers are unique because a lot of these creatures have mangled looking hands and few have five fingers.

There is a leader among them that pronounces their laws, and the others repeat the laws instinct. The laws they recite are, “Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to suck up Drink…Not to eat Fish or Flesh…Not to claw the Bark of Trees…Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?”

When talking of Moreau they say, “His is the House of Pain. His is the Hand that makes. His is the Hand that wounds. His is the Hand that heals.”

Moreau and Montgomery then show and get Edward. We find out that Moreau isn’t make human/animal hybrids. But rather he is trying to turn animals into humans, and that is what he is doing to the puma. The Puma’s cries overtime started to sound more human, and Edward thought it was because Moreau was done on the puma and now working on a human. But it was because the puma was starting to become more human herself. In the book Moreau does talk about the things he does to make the animals look human and it is pretty disturbing.

When talking to Edward about this, Moreau says, “It was the one thing I wanted — to find out the extreme limit of plasticity in a living shape.” “But,” said I, “the thing is an abomination —” “To this day I have never troubled about the ethics of the matter,” he continued. “The study of Nature makes a man at last as remorse-less as Nature”

He has yet to make a human that he is satisfied with as says of his creatures, “They build themselves their dens, gather fruit, and pull herbs — marry even. But I can see through it all, see into their very souls, and see there nothing but the souls of beasts, beasts that perish, anger and the lusts to live and gratify themselves. — Yet they’re odd; complex, like everything else alive. There is a kind of upward striving in them, part vanity, part waste sexual emotion, part waste curiosity. It only mocks me.”

The creatures in the book though are confused initially that Edward is a human because they are like, but he was acting like one of us. This isn’t in any of the movies, but it was a funny and interesting scene to have the creatures be like wait, if he is one of you why did he show me his five fingers and why did he want to know the laws and why was he asking us questions.

The movies all have a scene when he sees the gathering of the creatures and they tell him the law and in each version this is when Moreau and Montgomery show up.

The House of Pain

Since the animals are alive while they are being worked on (ugh, I can’t even imagine how horrible this is!!) they call his lab the house of pain. The creatures never stay as human as they are when he initially is done with them, they all start to revert back to the animals they were and when that happens Moreau and Montgomery take the reverting creature to the “house of pain” and try and fix it.

Moreau is also the one who gave them the laws about being men, and when one of them breaks any of the laws it is taken to the house of pain to try and get them back to being human-like.

Panther woman

In the book, the panther he is working on is a female but he never completes her. Whereas in each movie, there is a woman he has created from a panther before Edward had arrived.

In the ’32 movie, he wants to see if she will try and “mate” with Edward, but Edward shuts it down and tells her he is engaged. He later is shocked when he finds out she is one of the creatures as well.

In the ’77 movie, the woman is never straight up said to be one of the creatures and Edward spends his days thinking she is a normal person. They even begin a relationship and when he escapes in the end he takes her with him. As they are on their raft, he sees a ship and he is flagging it down with his back to her. The camera turns to her and we see she is starting to revert back to her animal ways. The shot is so brief though, and I read it wasn’t even a scene that was included in every version. The movie ends with Edward’s back still towards her as the ship approaches! I was surprised we didn’t see his reaction to seeing she was a creature all along. Like what disgust and horror he would have felt when realizing that! But also, like Moreau did a great job on her in this version because she is gorgeous. Like I think in all version’s the “panther woman” shouldn’t have been as striking as she is in all versions, but in this one she has no animal qualities whatsoever. In the ’32 movie they gave her an exotic look with cat like makeup at least.

In the ’96 version we get a cat woman too and while she again is very pretty, this actor does have a distinct look (while still being beautiful) that almost makes you believe she could have been made from a cat. But not really.

In this version, he is attracted to her, but nothing happens between them and he finds out fairly early on that she is one of the creatures. She is killed in the end though when the creatures revolt. Also, I mentioned that here Montgomery convinces Edward to join them and Edward later realizes that they wanted a human so they could use his dna or something to mix with the panther woman and other creatures in an effort to stop them from reverting back to animals.

1932 movie

The 1932 movie has its own ending so I will wrap that one up first. Remember he sent a message to his fiancé, Ruth, while on that ship? When he doesn’t arrive, she talks to the captain and he reveals where Edward is. She then goes with another ship to the island and while Edward is realizing what a crazy place he is, his fiancé and this captain show up.

Edward, Moreau, and Montgomery don’t let on to what is happening on the island, they all act normal, and Moreau says they can’t leave right away because night is dangerous and they need to wait til morning. Edward has Ruth sleep in her own room, and I get it would have been inappropriate at the time to have them in the same room when not married. But come on Edward! You know what this island is like! How can you be leaving her alone??

Anyway, a creature tries to break in and basically in all this drama, the captain that brought Ruth is killed, the creature’s revolt, and they attack Moreau-stabbing him with the scalpels in the House of Pain where he had been torturing them.

Ruth and Edward are able to escape in the end, and they try to save Lota the panther woman as well but she dies defending them.

Creatures killing animals

In the book, ’77 movie, and ’96 movie, the men see that one of the creatures has been killing animals and so they go to the cave where they gather and ask who has been breaking one of the laws. The creature that was doing the killing makes a run for it and in the book and ’77 movie, Edward finds the creature and he and it knows that it is in for some serious suffering in the house of pain and Edward shoots it to save it from the misery. In the ’96 movie, one of the more domesticated creatures shoots the creature after Brando says it is forgiven. I think Montgomery gave the creature the gun to kill the other creature and in this version it seems like Mongomery is wanting to sabotage things and he’s is just a loose cannon.

1977 movie

In the ’77 movie, Edward is making a fuss about everything and plans to escape, so Moreau tranquilizes him and when he awakes he is tied down and Moreau is experimenting on him now doing the opposite-turning a man into an animal. This is the only version that has Edward being experimented on.

Montgomery then wants to get Moreau to stop what he is doing to Edward and pulls a gun on him, then when Montgomery turns his back, Moreau kills Montgomery. The creatures see his body and then turn on Moreau for breaking one of his own laws and they kill him.

In order to keep the creatures in line, Edward (who has escaped) tries to convince them that Moreau is still alive and even though they can’t see him, he see’s them so they better behave. He even strings up Moreau’s dead body as a distraction while he and the woman and M’ling, one of the domesticated creatures, run for it. The creatures don’t buy that Moreau is still alive though, and M’Ling dies defending them, similar to the panther woman in the ’32 movie. And I have already talked about the ending-as the animalness in Edward dies away, the humanness in the panther woman also starts to die away.

1996 movie

In this version, one of the creatures, the hyeena-man, takes out his implant and can no longer be subdued. He leads a revolt and he and others go into Moreau’s home and while at first Moreau is very friendly, he starts to fear them but when he tries to electrocute them it doesn’t work because they have removed their chips. They then kill Moreau.

Montgomery is all drugged up and goes crazy. He ruins the medication that prevented the creatures from reverting back to their animal ways, and also passes out drugs to them and things get wild before Montgomery is shot by the creatures. The creatures all have guns and are just gunning down everything at this point.

Edward and the panther woman try to get away but she is killed, then the hyeena-man tries to get Edward to call him a god. Edward says how a group of them killed Moreau and ate his flesh, so there are now multiple gods. The hyena-man then kills the other creatures that helped him kill Moreau and this causes an outburst with lots of shooting and the hyena-man and other die and the place is on fire.

In the end, Edward makes a raft to sail out to sea and get back home. There are still some creatures left, but they are going to continue on their lives peacefully on this island.

Book ending

In the book, Edward is outside smoking one day when the panther woman who is still a work in progress escapes. As Moreau chases her, he and she both die. Montgomery, who is an alcoholic in the book who has a fondness for the creatures, decides to give them alcohol. Things get crazy and stuff burns down and Montgomery and other creatures die.

Edward, who has no means of escape, then has no choice but to remain on the island and he is there for like another 10 months! He also tells them that Moreau is still alive even though they no longer see him. He is now an omniscient god that looks over them. The creatures believe him and he says, “They were staggered at my assurance. An animal may be ferocious and cunning enough, but it takes a real man to tell a lie.”

He spends time with the creatures but over time they become more and more animal like. He also says how he becomes more animal like. We read, “I too must have undergone strange changes. My clothes hung about me as yellow rags, through whose rents showed the tanned skin. My hair grew long and became matted together. I am told that even now my eyes have a strange brightness, a swift alertness of movement.”

We don’t hear many details from this time though and there is a segment which reads, “There is much that sticks in my memory that I could write, — things that I would cheerfully give my right hand to forget; but they do not help the telling of the story” Which I think is lazy writing-sorry HG! But why tell us how there are these horrible stories you could tell, but simply won’t. Like if it is something that crazy, I want to hear about it! So don’t tease us and then be like, oh but I won’t tell you.

Eventually he is able to construct a raft and sail out to sea where he is picked up by a ship. He says how when he is back amoung humans he basically suffers from PSTD and how he sees an animalism in his fellow humans. The book reads,

Then I look about me at my fellow-men; and I go in fear. I see faces, keen and bright; others dull or dangerous; others, unsteady, insincere, — none that have the calm authority of a reasonable soul. I feel as though the animal was surging up through them; that presently the degradation of the Islanders will be played over again on a larger scale. … I shrink from them, from their curious glances, their inquiries and assistance, and long to be away from them and alone…When I lived in London the horror was well-nigh insupportable. I could not get away from men: their voices came through windows; locked doors were flimsy safeguards. I would go out into the streets to fight with my delusion, and prowling women would mew after me; furtive, craving men glance jealously at me; weary, pale workers go coughing by me with tired eyes and eager paces, like wounded deer dripping blood; old people, bent and dull, pass murmuring to themselves; and, all unheeding, a ragged tail of gibing children. Then I would turn aside into some chapel, — and even there, such was my disturbance, it seemed that the preacher gibbered “Big Thinks,” even as the Apeman had done; or into some library, and there the intent faces over the books seemed but patient creatures waiting for prey. Particularly nauseous were the blank, expressionless faces of people in trains and omnibuses; they seemed no more my fellow-creatures than dead bodies would be…

Vegetarianism

In all of the movies Moreau and Montgomery are vegetarian, however in the ’96 movie Montgomery has one of the domesticated creatures prepare a rabbit he has killed for Edward. Moreau is aghast at this though and has it sent away. In the book they do eat meat and specifically get rabbits to breed on the island so they can eat their meat. But Montgomery prepares the meat himself so as not to arouse M’Ling’s animal instincts. However, part way through the story they worry M’Ling is becoming more animal-like and Montgomery admits to teaching him how to skin and prepare a rabbit to eat which is a big no-no.

H.G. Wells himself was a vegetarian and animal rights are definitely a theme of this book since Moreau doesn’t experiment on humans but animals. The Time Machine definitely has an anti-meat-eating message and if that was re-made I could see them focusing more on that aspect with how inhuman animal farms can be that mass produce our meat. Wells was definitely ahead of his time in many ways. He also says how the creatures are taught to be monogamous, but over time the female creatures are the ones that start disobeying that law and the animals start to have multiple partners.

Religion

In all of these Moreau compares himself to God, creating a new kind of human life. He also creates laws for his new beings to abide by. Yet he is hypocritical and will break his own laws, which is what upsets the creatures.

In the book they also don’t see him as someone capable of dying, and when Edward tells them he is actually still alive they are willing to believe him. The ’77 and ’96 movie also have these themes which are critical of religion.

Wells was at times atheist, but his spiritual views changed over time and at certain points he did believe in some kind of higher power. I am a religious person, and I enjoy reading stories that are critical of religion and warn against blindly following spiritual leaders.

Speaking of religion, in the ’96 movie Edward says that what Moreau is doing is Satanic and says he is insane for doing what he is doing. Moreau then responds quote the scripture, “Judge not lest you be judged…he without sin cast the first stone…”. If I were Edward I would be like, um yeah I am fine judging you because there is nothing I have done that is nearly as twisted as what you are doing so I am okay “casting the first stone”, you sick wacko.

The creatures

In the ’32 movie and ’77 movie the only female Moreau has created is the panther woman but, in the book, and ’96 movie there are also female creatures and they even procreate. Though in the book they say oftentimes the females will eat their own young.

In the ’96 movie, Moreau has this tiny creature that is basically he mini-me that dresses like him and is kind of his number one ally. The scenes with them were so bizarre and over the top (like them playing the piano together) but I loved it. And he is a real man by the way who was 2′ 4″.

In the book there is another creature that is spoken of which had escapes while Moreau was working on it. It is so creepy I want to read this section about it, “It killed several other things that it caught. We chased it for a couple of days. It only got loose by accident — I never meant it to get away. It wasn’t finished. It was purely an experiment. It was a limbless thing, with a horrible face, that writhed along the ground in a serpentine fashion. It was immensely strong, and in infuriating pain. It lurked in the woods for some days, until we hunted it; and then it wriggled into the northern part of the island, and we divided the party to close in upon it…” He mentions this when he says he used to try and create random creatures, but after this one he decides to stick with only making humans.

In the book we also know he will combine a variety of animals together to make human and certain creatures are described as being a hybrid. For example, there is a hyena-swine-human which is brought up many times and is very disturbing. This is in the ’96 movie, the main hyena guy is called a hyena swine but I don’t see anything swine like about it tbh.

Part way through the book Edward is thinking about the creatures’ pain and we read, “I had shivered only at the days of actual torment in the enclosure. But now that seemed to me the lesser part. Before, they had been beasts, their instincts fitly adapted to their surroundings, and happy as living things may be. Now they stumbled in the shackles of humanity, lived in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand; their mock-human existence, begun in an agony, was one long internal struggle, one long dread of Moreau — and for what? It was the wantonness of it that stirred me.”

Which movie is best?

The 1932 movie is considered the best adaptation by most. I do think Laughton is a great Moreau and the makeup is quite good. The stabbing of him in the end was also pretty wild. The 1977 movie I would say it the blandest in large part because Lancaster as Moreau was just kind of meh. Montgomery was also pretty forgettable as well. The only one that is memorable is probably Barbara Carrera as the “panther woman” because of how stunning she is. The effects of the animals was really good too.

I would say the 1996 movie is my favorite though and also the most faithful to the book even though it does make some changes. Brando and Kilmer in their respective roles as Moreau and Montgomery are very memorable and again, the practical effects were impressive.

I need to watch the documentary about what a nightmare this movie was to shoot, but for those who have watched it-share the most interesting factoid in the comments!

Book vs movie

When it comes to book vs movie, I will compare it with the ’96 movie since that is my favorite. The movie does try to capture certain themes of the book such as religion and then ending when he returns to the normal world in the movie as well, he talks about how animal like and violent humans can be. But all of the themes were better done in the book I would say. As Wells said of the ’32 movie, this one too likes to focus on the horror aspect and things really do just go off the rails in the end with all of the creatures shooting their machine guns and getting crazy.

I think I will say the book wins. I would love to see a newer remake of this though! There is also the book called The Daughter of Doctor Moreau that I want to read now and by the time this video is released I will have probably read it and will share my thoughts on it in the comments. You can also follow me on goodreads and follow my book reviews!

Thank you for watching this video, comments your thoughts down below and if you want more hg wells content and have not yet watched my time machine video I will link to it on the screen tso that you can check it out! Don’t forget to like and subscribe!