Presence Of Marlon Brando Ensures Intriguing Characterization
One of the major factors that goes into a film’s success involves casting. Often it’s the first decision made on any movie project.
In many cases, in fact, there would be no film at all if some bankable actor or other, regardless of his or her suitability, hadn’t committed to a script (or at least the idea of one). Producers know that certain screen presences are like found money; if they’re in the movie, fans will fill the seats.
Marlon Brando is far past the day that the imprint of his name above the marquee will ensure box-office success. Only the most obsessive of his fans will show up for something like “Don Juan DeMarco” or “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” the latter of which is available on video this week (see capsule review below).
And yet if you passed on either film, or any of the other recent performances by this eccentric, brilliant actor, you missed out on the absorbing, continuing story of a true Hollywood legend. Troubled, self-absorbed, temperamental to a fault and far past the day when he boasted the torso of a bodybuilder, Brando is still capable of owning the screen in any project he undertakes.
In “Dr. Moreau,” for example, he cloaks his 300-pound-plus body in white caftans and headdresses. Whatever the real reason - can it be anything other than vanity? - the movie accommodates the conceit with a ready explanation: Brando’s Dr. Moreau has become so sensitive to the sun that he must protect himself from ultraviolet rays (this also explains the mime-like white makeup).
Since he is limited in his movements, Brando must depend on his ability to project a character into the scene. And even now, no one can do that better than he. Self-absorbed, melodramatic, the epitome of overbearing fathers, Brando’s Dr. Moreau becomes his own worst enemy - and doesn’t even know it until it’s far too late.
Compare what he does here to his best work as a young man. In “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951), Brando took a role that he used to fire up the New York stage and flared it across the big screen with a physical heat that has never been surpassed.
In “One-Eyed Jacks” (1961) and “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1962), whatever their respective limitations as films, Brando still struck a powerful pose with two very different performances.
By the time he pulled off two other of his best and most varied performances, “The Godfather” and “Last Tango in Paris” (both 1972), Brando appeared to be aging gracefully. “Apocalypse Now” (1979), though, showed his physical decline.
Yet just 10 years later, Brando reinvented himself as the non-mobile actor he has now become. In “A Dry White Season,” he portrayed a South African attorney whose accent is no less authentic than his powerful presence; he had become a performer who can affect an audience through the mere suggestion of strength.
He was even able to make that presence seem romantic, as he did while seducing Faye Dunaway in “Don Juan DeMarco.”
And it is that Brando who, while on the screen, lifts “The island of Dr. Moreau” up from the pulp cinema that it ultimately becomes. It will be intriguing to see, as the years past, if he will be able to pull any other performance magic from out of his XXL sleeves.
So, it has come to pass that “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America” is the past week’s top-grossing film. Considering that one of the larger houses at the East Sprague Cinemas was nearly full for the 7:35 show on Sunday night, the film’s popularity is easy to understand.
And yet - how do we explain it? If anyone can explain why this MTV cartoon, which boasts pee-pee humor and third-grade-level animation, made more than $20 million during its first weekend, I’ll be happy to pass the news along.
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The Island of Dr. Moreau
Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis and Fairuza Balk star in this third adaptation of H.G. Wells’ story about a mad scientist (Brando) who fills a jungle island with humanoids.
There is little about this film that makes sense, but at least it is fun to watch anytime Brando is on the screen. When he disappears, Kilmer is almost as entertaining (especially when he does a spot-on Brando impersonation) for a while.
Ultimately, though, they both disappear, which leaves us with a science-gone-horribly-wrong parable that is as old as science itself. Also starring Ron Perlman (of television’s “Beauty and the Beast”) and Temuera Morrison (“Once Were Warriors”) in heavy makeup. Rated PG-13
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW Now available: “Death Artist” (New Horizons), “Island of Dr. Moreau” (New Line), “Of Love and Shadows” (Buena Vista). AVAILABLE TUESDAY: “A Time to Kill” (Warner), “The Stupids” (New Line).
This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW Now available: “Death Artist” (New Horizons), “Island of Dr. Moreau” (New Line), “Of Love and Shadows” (Buena Vista). AVAILABLE TUESDAY: “A Time to Kill” (Warner), “The Stupids” (New Line).