Documentary / Reviews

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) review

Lost Soul blu

Starring: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk

Directed by: David Gregory

Widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made, 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau had a troubled production, which is chronicled in this documentary.

In the early ’90’s, a few new directors were on the horizon in the Hollywood landscape.  David Fincher (Seven, Gone Girl).  Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia).  Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko, Southland Tales).  Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil).  Fincher and Anderson are widely considered to be two of the best directors in cinema.  Kelly has fallen from grace and has directed nothing since 2009’s The Box.  Where did Richard Stanley go after the promising start of his career, which only includes the two films listed above?  What happened to him to make him forsake Hollywood and his dream of making movies?  Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau answers those questions and examines his ill-fated attempt to direct H. G. Wells lesser known work, his firing, and the hiring of John Frankenheimer (Ronin, Birdman of Alcatraz)to complete the film.

After a promising start directing Hardware, of which I am NOT a fan, Richard Stanley began working of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Based upon the story by H. G. Wells,  he found a producer in Edward R. Pressman (producer of, among other things, The Crow and Conan the Barbarian) who managed to get the film greenlit through New Line Cinema.  Stanley managed to bring Marlon Brando on board, then Bruce Willis and James Woods.  Willis backed out after his divorce from Demi Moore, and Val Kilmer was brought in to replace him.  Kilmer was a handful, took over James Woods’ role, knocking James Woods out of the production, and Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure) was brought in to replace Kilmer as the lead.  Soon, though, Morrow dropped out.  Marlon Brando wouldn’t show up to set.  It was a nightmare from beginning to end for the fledgling director.  Soon, Stanley was fired and John Frankenheimer was brought in to finish the film.

As you can see from that small paragraph above, this was a troubled production from the start.  From an inexperienced director, eccentric by anyone’s estimation, to an inexperienced crew to weather problems to stars who were not cooperative, this production was a disaster.

lostsoul4__largeThis film is a rare look behind to curtain of a troubled Hollywood production.  While everyone is quick to agree that Richard Stanley was in over his head, many of the crew and actors were loyal to him to a fault.  Fairuza Balk, in particular, still seems to have problems with the way Stanley was treated by the studio.  Occasionally tearing up, she describes the problems on the set and her contractual obligations requiring her to continue with the filming despite her loyalty to Stanley.  She also describes how John Frankenheimer was a tyrant on set, rude and not particularly caring about the finished film.

As I watched the film, I found that Stanley never once actually said anything negative about the people involved with the film.  He has apparently moved past it in his life.  Some of the producers and cast members and crew members were a lot less gracious about his termination.  Even the producers disagree with the way Stanley was treated, even though they will be the first to admit he was too young and ill prepared for such a big production.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau is a rare look behind the Hollywood curtain at some of the twisting labyrinths studios create to churn out a product for profit.  This is a fascinating film.  While I don’t agree that The Island of Dr. Moreau is one of the worst films in history, it certainly could have been better.  After watching this, I find that perhaps Richard Stanley’s version may not have been any better than what we got in the theaters in 1996.  It seems that some of the stranger elements of the film, Marlon Brando aside, may have come from Stanley.  Who can say what might have been.

If you have any interest in film or the workings of Hollywood, you should watch this documentary.  It is a fascinating film exploring the the production, which in itself was a darker story than the one being told in the film.  I just wish they could have interviewed Val Kilmer or David Thewlis, who is never once mentioned in the film, despite replacing Rob Morrow.

***1/2 out of ****

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