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 (2014) is a documentary that tells the secret story behind Richard Stanley’s involvement, as the uncredited director and extra, in the cult movie The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996). After his cult successes Hardware (1990) and Dust Devil (1992), director Richard Stanley was given an $8 million dollar budget along with the stars Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer to make his dream project based on the H. G. Wells science fiction novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896). Stanley pre-produced and developed the script for 4 years only to end up getting fired 4 days into the shoot. It’s a “what might have been movie” in the vein of films like Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) or Lost in La Mancha (2002).
The film includes a variety of testimonials from Richard Stanley, the uncredited director, to the executives who really didn’t care about the project at all. From the executive point of view, it often seems as though those in control were only looking for excuses to replace the young eccentric Richard Stanley for an older military-esque figure. While John Frankenheimer, Stanley’s replacement, whose mission was to discipline the cast and crew into finishing this cursed movie, fit the bill – he did little to save the film.
When a creative young director used to work with low budgets is forced to try to direct A starts known for causing problems on set, it’s a recipe for disaster, the problems became clear when Val Kilmer, coming straight out of the set of Batman Forever (1995), refused to be directed by a young unknown introvert Richard Stanley. The unhealthy competition on set between Kilmer and Brando buried the project before it even began. The two famously difficult actors became increasingly erratic, weird and demanding as the production continued.One of the reasons for Stanley’s dismissal was his inability to “direct” the egos, but it seemed no one could. With no compelling reason Richard was laid off in less than a week into the shooting, only to be replaced by the veteran John Frankenheimer who was called in to finish the project as fast as possible. While he was hired for his military discipline, his negative attitude and leniency to Brando’s demands only further exacerbated the already troubled shoot.
Before production even began Val Kilmer seemed to already be tired of the project. Shortly before the film would move into shooting stage, he demanded a change in casting and to work 40 days less than initially. Brando was actually quite fond of Richard Stanley and it seemed had developed quite a few ideas with the young director in the pre-production stage. Throughout the shooting, it seemed that from one day to the next Brando would approach director Frankenheimer with new and increasingly absurd ideas about the script. While Brando’s ideas tread between silly and genius, it was quickly apparent that he had serious contempt for the production. His ideas were far more suited to Richard Stanley’s vision for one, but more notably, through his interaction with other cast members it was as if Brando was working subversively to make a mockery of big budget productions. While notoriously difficult, many spoke fondly of Brando. He only truly clashed with Val Kilmer, and was good natured if not self-involved.
From all the subjects that appear in the film, the person that brings more inspiration to the film and the views on Stanley’s ways is the actress Fairuza Balk, who played the role of Dr. Moreau’s daughter. She was not impressed with the director that was brought in to replace Stanley, according to Fairuza the director John Frankenheimer was mean, rude, constantly bad-mouthing the Australian crew. He would insult and scream his orders to the cast and crew with a military-esque tone that made everyone uncomfortable, “Things did not become “normal” with Stanley out of the picture, if anything, they got much weirder.” – states Fairuza Balk defending that Stanley’s inexperience wasn’t the problem, the problems came from above, from where the money comes from.
As the film develops it becomes increasingly apparent that the New Line Cinema executives weren’t particularly interested in making the movie in the first place, but when A list stars like Brando and Kilmer got attached to the project the sole objective was to push a film into a can with the $8 Million dollars they invested. Stanley’s vision became secondary and the need of a leader who would discipline the cast and crew on forcing a film to get done turned a project with so much conceptual potential, creative and intellectual investment brought by Stanley into a weak, passionless mess that lacks direction, mood and an aesthetic core. As much as the film is about this unique example of a particular film’s fate, it becomes emblematic for the true motives of the Hollywood machine.
While I personally have quite a fondness for the much maligned film, The Island of Dr. Moreau, the documentary nonetheless offers important insight into the troubled production. The documentary does lack the points of view of Val Kilmer though, who was universally viewed as one of the main reason for the film’s failure. Input from James Woods, who was cast and let go in favor of bigger stars would also have been interesting. The film lacks the passion of Jodorowsky’s Dune, in particular the absence of strong emotional threads. In the end, we are left with a big drama and a big failure, but the true sense of what was lost in the process is never quite clear enough.
Be sure to check out my interview with David Gregory where we talk about what inspired his documentary film and his own opinions on the final version of the Island of Dr. Moreau, the industry Richard Stanley’s last documentary film The Otherworld (2013) and Stanley’s love for witchcraft and supernatural themes.