Sunday, July 03, 2016

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau

Directed by David Gregory, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau is about the troubled production of the 1996 film The Island of Dr. Moreau that was based on the novel by H.G. Wells that was supposed to be directed by British filmmaker Richard Stanley. The documentary explores Stanley’s ideas for the film as well as what went wrong and how he got fired and then replaced by John Frankenheimer in what ultimately became an even more tumultuous production. Featuring interviews with Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Rob Morrow, Marco Hofschneider, producer Edward R. Pressman, and New Line Cinema studio head Robert Shaye. The result is a fascinating and entertaining film about the creation of one of the worst films ever made.

In the early 1990s having already made two cult horror films, British filmmaker Richard Stanley had dreamed about making a film version of H.G. Wells’ novel The Island of Dr. Moreau about a mad scientist who had spent years trying to make the perfect being by crossing human DNA with animal genes. For Stanley, adapting the story into a new setting while retaining many of Wells’ ideas was something that had been on his mind as well as create a version of the Dr. Moreau character that was closer to the Kurtz character from Heart of Darkness that Stanley believed was based on his great-grandfather in the famed hunter Sir Henry Morton Stanley. Having presented some ideas to New Line Cinema, Stanley would get the chance as his ideal choice to play Dr. Moreau was Jurgen Prochnow until New Line Cinema heard that Marlon Brando was interested in playing the part.

With Bruce Willis playing the role of the outsider and James Woods playing Dr. Moreau’s assistant, it seems like Stanley’s project would come true as he still had some road bumps to deal with. Especially as he was kind of an unknown director in Hollywood yet he had the support of producer Edward R. Pressman as well as actress Fairuza Balk who would play Aissa and German actor Marco Hofschneider who was cast as M’Ling. Stanley also worked with writers Michael Herr and Walon Green to work on the script as things begin to fall apart when Bruce Willis dropped out and was replaced by Val Kilmer who then wanted James Woods’ part. Kilmer ended up playing Montgomery while Rob Morrow was cast as Edward Pendrick. In mid-1995 when production was starting, things got bad as Stanley found himself fighting with Kilmer and dealing with weather and all sorts of problems. Brando hadn’t shown up due to the fact that he was dealing with the death of his daughter Cheyenne and after four days of shooting. Stanley was fired and was replaced by John Frankenheimer two weeks later.

The film also chronicles a lot of what Stanley was trying to do as well as trying to stand his own ground for the other actors and not be bullied by Kilmer. Especially as the four days of work he had done led to Morrow quitting the film because of all of the hostility and tension where he was replaced by David Thewlis who declined to be interviewed for the documentary. Balk talked about her attempt to escape the production following Stanley’s firing with the help of a few crew members who had also been dismissed only to be forced back. When Frankenheimer came in, the mood was different as those who were working with Stanley including some of the extras felt the production was becoming more tense and different. Especially as Frankenheimer had a more workman like approach as he didn’t take shit from anyone including Kilmer and Brando. Some of the actors such as Neil Young (not the rock artist of the same name), Peter Elliott, and Fiona Mahl talked about how different the mood had become and some of the debauchery they got themselves involved in because of Brando and Kilmer when they refused to come out of their trailer.

With the aid of cinematographer Jim Kunz, editor Douglas Buck, and sound editor Brian San Marco, David Gregory doesn’t just get a lot of juicy stories from the people he talks to but also some of the things that went on in the production. Even as Gregory and Buck would compile behind-the-scenes footage of things that happened including a lot of partying from the extras. Marco Hofschneider would tell these hilarious stories in his brief meeting with Brando as well as his encounter with Nelson de la Rosa who played Brando’s mini-me who had gained an ego throughout the set as Brando took a liking to him. With some electronic-based music by Mark Raskin, the film can be dramatic but also comical into how crazy the film had become where Stanley eventually came out of hiding to pretend to be an extra just to see how bad the production had become.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau is an extraordinary film by David Gregory. It’s a documentary that isn’t just entertaining but also kind of heartbreaking as it plays into someone who spent years trying to create his dream project only to have it taken away and let someone else fuck it up for him. In the end, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau is a marvelous film from David Gregory.

Related: Island of Lost Souls - The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996 film)

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