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

Rating: B-

Dir: David Gregory

I still have never seen the 1996 Island of Dr. Moreau, whose disastrous production this documentary covers in painful detail. It is, by all accounts, an awful movie. However, after watching this, I’m frankly impressed the studio managed to get anything which could be released at all, because I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a more catastrophic attempt at making a film. While there’s no denying the passion original director Richard Stanley brought to the project – and, I think, if given full creative control and sufficient time, he could have delivered a very good end product – he was, from the get-go, entirely incapable of making the transition from small-budget genre pieces to a big-budget Hollywood film.

Not that it was all his fault; circumstances conspired (despite Stanley’s use of occult methods!) against the film. A storm flooded the Australian set, star Marlon Brando showed up late, after his daughter committed suicide, and late replacement Val Kilmer appeared intent on disrupting proceedings. Stanley melted down, was relieved of duties and replaced by John Frankenheimer, who had little or no interest in the material, and had an even worse rapport with the cast and crew. It’s likely a case where watching the multiple pile-up is more entertaining than picking through the wreckage, though notable by its absence is the other side of the coin, with no contribution from Brando, Frankenheimer (both of them being dead ‘n’ all) or Kilmer (just his career).

The result is thus mostly sympathetic to Stanley, portraying him as an auteur, chewed up and spat out by the Hollywood machine; close to 20 years later, he has never made another narrative feature.  I’m fairly sure he actually bears a bit more responsibility for the failure, and there are hints suggesting his on-set behaviour was not impeccable. On the other hand, most of the really staggering stuff appears to have happened after he was fired, and was living as a hippie on a nearby farm [though, amusingly, Stanley returned to the set as an extra and can be seen in the final version!]. It’s one of those cases where, if this was made up, nobody would believe it – though I can imagine it as a Werner Herzog meta-movie, if only Klaus Kinski was still alive – and you will at least discover the inspiration for Dr. Evil’s “Mini-Me”.