The Introduction of “The Island of Dr. Moreau”

 

For the opening sequence of the film “The Island of Dr. Moreau” Richard Stanley and John Frankenheimer set out to create an environment that clearly communicates the psychological horror aspect of the film. The key notion is that what the viewer is about to watch is full of mystery, dread, and unsettling concepts. This is accomplished in the arrangement of design elements at work. The opening starts out slow with a shot of clouds moving in against a blood orange skyline. This shot is meant to ease the user while at the same time creating a sense of unrest. The notion of a skyline shot is generally utilized to create a sense of ‘ma’ (which roughly translates to gap, space, pause, or the space between two structures). These shots are meant to create a moment of peace and reflection. However through the use of color, this feeling is warped into something uncomfortable, preventing this sense of pause to from. At this point in the intro, the video bleeds a thin serif into focus, adding to a feeling of unrest aided by a sharp orchestra that slowly ramps up in intensity. This vague unsettling start builds the initial sense of mystery and discomfort that will soon be followed by the title sequence.

Enter the title and emerging eye. This eye becomes a symbol to the notion of observing the all following events. The way in which it moves sporadically lends the feeling of discomfort and unrest. At this point the typography is displayed in an erratic manner, sharing similarities with Dadaist art. This typographical treatment works with the now sharp music to create confusion and unrest.  For the remainder of the film intro, the use of jump cuts is predominately used, never allowing the viewer a moment of pause. This couple with distorted type jumbled across the screen is meant to generate confusion, each article shown as an index to the theme of this scifi novel, but none showcased in such a way to make that connection obvious. There is a heavy focus on the imagery of cells, reproduction, and biology. This all serves as the index to the story’s focus on mutation. However, the way in which it is presented alongside the distorted arrangement of type brings doubt to any direct connection at all. The interjection of the visuals of eyes serves a dual purpose as both an index to mutation and biology and a symbol of mystery, discovery and revelation. Shots of a storm are also presented in the intro to show that the prior unsettling sky has now become a storm. There is a strong feeling of anxiety that is generated from the sequencing of events that help connect the psychological horror that comes from the presentation of ideas present in the film.

When discussing lighting, it is important to notice the contrast in lighting between showing biological components comparative to the outside world. Biology is shown in bright colors versus the piercing dark visuals of the outdoors scenery. This creates an unnerving association with the objects displayed. The environment is shown as dark and foreboding while the biological cells are shown as luminescent yet unnatural. It should be noted that most microscopic biology shares a bright orange hue. This color used in such a way has the tendency to appear alien and unsettling.

The speed in which information is presented also is a main factor in creating the mood of this intro. Alongside the abundance of jump cuts, the erratic movement of text never allows the eyes to rest. While certain arrangements of type form the credits, the rest of the type is simply placed as a means of visual noise. The imagery as well is sped up to such an extent that it feeds into the chaos. At specified times in the video (at 1:30 for instance) the visuals slow down slightly before ramping up again. This creates a false sense of security in the viewer who might think the intro may have come to a conclusion. Such moments reinforce the idea that any sense of peace to be had is false in bravado. The music works in tandem to the visuals acting as an agent to the speed and presentation of the jump cuts.

Still despite this supposed chaos, there is a strong hierarchy of information presented. The imagery is always in the background where type formulates the foreground. Even with the typographical components, information that’s meant to be read is presented in a prevalent white type distorted only slightly by accompanied distorted text. The rest of the text, presented in wilder arrangements and fonts, is prominently black allowing it to mask itself with the visuals more. This allows the intro to still successfully present the appropriate information while maintaining its identity.

 

It is imperative to state that  ‘The island of Dr. Moreau’ is not a horror film by trade. The movie tends to be more on the edge of suspense and action. However, from the inception of the book, the horror elements rest in the conceptual ideologies. The book and movie are meant to get the reader to question the concept of forced genetic evolution and the nature of humanity. This intro sequence succeeds in its delivery of setting the tone for these concepts. By watching this intro sequence, the viewer is informed of two things: they are traveling to a land that is dangerous, and that something horrifying is going to be some kind of biological horror awaiting there. In this way the intro sets the viewers expectations, creates a mood, all while masking its content.