Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Movie Miscellany - The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

To follow up last weeks' post on proper lab procedures in The Fly, this week we're taking a look at extreme ethical issues that can arise from deliberate experimentation rather than just a lab experiment gone wrong.

First off, The Island of Dr. Moreau definitely falls into the category of kind of awful yet entertaining, as many of these movies do. But it does do a good job of portraying just how wrong genetic recombination of human and non-human DNA can go. Interestingly enough, the movie takes place in 2010.

In a nutshell, when referring to genetic engineering as it's presented in the movie, I'd say it's a bad thing. Each species' DNA is the result of millions of years of evolution, and trying to string together the very separate branches of the mammalian family tree isn't going to end well. Their behaviors and bodies won't mesh well, as is quite evident from the movie.

In the book Dr. Moreau is driven to perform all his experiments simply out of curiosity, while in the movie he's motivated by the desire to create the perfect person. So do either of those motivations justify all the pain caused? My answer would be no.

The movie raises the Machiavellian question of whether the end justify the means. I generally say no to those questions, but in this case, the logic is counter-intuitive to begin with. What's the point of creating a perfect human from a non-human? If we learned anything from The Fly regarding good lab practices, one of those things should have been starting small and working your way up. In this case that mantra would translate to making a perfect person from a person before trying to make a perfect person from an animal. Duh.

But I think HG Wells bypassed this obvious argument in the book and instead opts for a Dr. Moreau motivated by curiosity. Which I don't really think is any better. Experimentation for the sake of experimentation is great, but causing all that suffering negates the wonderfulness of said experimentation. Again, this reiterates the importance of thinking through an entire experiment, which happens to also be a good life lesson in general. Think about the results your actions will produce, rather than doing something just for the sake of doing it.

When it comes to less dramatic genetic recombination, it's much more of a grey area, and I think the ethics merit a case-by-case discussion. Not copping out, I just really think that the issue's way too nuanced to be adequately addressed here. Especially when I still want to throw in my two cents' worth of usual commentary.

The Island of Dr. Moreau features a number of big-name actors, most notably Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, to whom I both say, whoa. You both do an excellent job of playing crazy while lowering the bar for those to come.

I do have to say though, there's nothing more fantastic than watching a beefy skirted Val Kilmer using all that brawn to hoist and carry…a cage of bunnies. Then you watch him kill a bunny with his bare hands. And then you get to watch him get progressively crazier throughout the movie. Val, I appreciate that this was a new type of role for you, and I bet you had a lot of fun doing it, but this was not the zenith of your acting career.

Marlon Brando was introduced to me in his role in the Godfather, which I love dearly, but I hadn't seen anything else of his until The Island of Dr. Moreau. I know that he often gets the title of best actor ever, but what struck me most was how much weight he gained. But I was very excited to find out that his role was the inspiration for Austin Powers' Mini-Me.

In conclusion, what ego-inflated scientist wouldn't want to take over some remote island, genetically engineer the animals, and set themself up as a demigod to the population who reveres them as their creator. But scientists, this is not the best use for your skills.

If your ego really needs fed, try solving one of the world's greatest pressing issues. World hunger, the oh-so-many diseases all over the planet, there are so many options! And solving one of these problems will have the whole world revering you, not just some mutant population in the middle of nowhere. You may not get the creator worship, but you'll get revered as a savior, which everyone knows is even better!

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