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

As a film fan, I’ve learned to appreciate the behind-the-scenes stories of movies more and more over the years. Seeing the creative processes really provides a whole new level of insight into the finished product.

That said, while the story of a great movie can be fascinating, there are two types of stories that, as a rule, have a much higher potential to be interesting. The first of these is the stories of the films that didn’t make it – the untold stories that fell through in production. The second is those movies that turned into such God-awful messes that one can’t help but ask ‘What on Earth happened to cause this?’

Luckily for me, Lost Soul is a combination of both of these stories.

Lost Soul Poster

For those who don’t remember (and that may be a lot of people) the 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau has a strange place in film history. Even in pre-production, it was a very troubled shoot for a number of reasons. Then the finished movie came out- and is remembered as being among the more infamous flops of the 90s.

Lost Soul chronicles the entire process of the movie from its inception as the brainchild of cult director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) to the added wild card of Marlon Brando, to Stanley’s dismissal and replacement with John Frankenheimer, and finally the film’s disastrous finish. It’s a journey that is considerably more interesting and entertaining to watch unfold compared to the movie in question.

"HOLLYWOOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?"

“HOLLYWOOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?”

As far as the untold stories go, this movie admittedly doesn’t give us too many details. Which is a shame because what we do hear and see sounds like it could have been great. From interviews, we get a sense of how passionate the eccentric Stanley was about doing an adaptation of Wells’s classic and doing it proper justice. The concept art alone is the kind of thing I’d gladly buy a print of.

Of course, considering the sheer amount of insanity that the story we did get delivers on, it’s not too hard to see why Stanley’s plans take a backseat to the unfolding car crash. The result leaves one with the twin feelings of feeling bad for the players involved (well, most players -from everything relayed, Val Kilmer sounds like a colossal prick) while also being unable to look away as the next turn of madness unfolds.

Rod Serling was supposed to be in this shot as well, but seeing as it's a delivery room, they took one look at his cigarette and sent him outside.

Rod Serling was supposed to be in this shot as well, but seeing as it’s a delivery room, they took one look at his cigarette and sent him outside.

One of the things I have to give director David Gregory some commendation for is the range of people he gets to speak about their experience on this project. Besides Stanley, the most well-known player they have for comment is Fairuza Balk (who one gets the sense was happy to get a lot of what she has to say in this off of her chest) with most of the rest of the main players, I suspect, just wanting to forget this happened. Instead, Gregory assembles many people from both the studio end and the crew end of the spectrum to offer their perspectives.

This variety helps give the movie a greater element of nuance. With a story like this, it would be all too easy for Gregory to turn it into a tale of studio bigwigs knocking over a misunderstood artist and taking his movie from him. Instead, this telling also lets us get a sense of some of the logic that went into the studio’s side of things as well, because even before they stepped in, things were going wrong. Even with many of those failings out of Stanley’s hands, we are allowed to see where their judgments were coming from.

As a minor note, and possibly a weird demonstration of dumb luck for him, the movie completely overlooks David Thewlis's rather late game addition to the cast. In fact, this production still is one of his only appearances in the documentary.

As a minor note, and possibly a weird demonstration of dumb luck for him, the movie completely overlooks David Thewlis’s rather late game addition to the cast. In fact, this production still is one of his only appearances in the documentary.

Besides the fact Stanley’s untold version of the story is only touched on in passing in the first act, the other area where it could be said this film stumbles is, like that issue, born of the movie’s title. While I understand the reasoning that lead to them invoking Stanley’s name to make it more clear the version of Moreau in question, it’s a title that does feel a bit off when a large chunk of the movie is about the time when he was MIA and everything was going to Hell on its own.

For a fun piece of trivia - pictured here, Richard Stanley and the dogman mask he wore to sneak back onto the set.

For a fun piece of trivia – pictured here, Richard Stanley and the dogman mask he wore to sneak back onto the set.

As tales of cinematic failure go, this one leaves me with a sort of split feeling. Like movies like Lost in La Mancha and Jodorowsky’s Dune, there’s that sense of sadness that we’ll likely never fully know what we missed. On the other hand, like accounts like Final Cut and The Disaster Artist, any sense of sadness is also checked by a mix of fascination and perverse amusement with seeing just how badly everything went wrong.

It’s not even out of a sense of spite from either the filmmaker or the audience – Gregory is largely sympathetic to most of the players in this saga with the exception of Kilmer-it’s more the sheer unbelievability of it all that bumps it from just a sad story to a case of ‘how much weirder can this get?’

Pictured - an approximation of Fairuza Balk's reaction when she talked to Brando and realized (in her own words) "He's just fucking with us!"

Pictured – an approximation of Fairuza Balk’s reaction when she talked to Brando and realized (in her own words) “He’s just fucking with us!”

In a way, the overall feeling of Lost Soul is one that’s a bit hard to place. There is the sense of empathy for Stanley as well as the people who went on the journey with him. At the same time, like many of them, there’s a strange sort of ‘look back and laugh’ feeling to just how ridiculously it all turned. That the film also ends with discussing Stanley’s potentially returning to the director’s chair also gives a bit of hope that after everything that happened, he hasn’t been completely beaten yet.

So there you have it, probably one of the more memorable ways to take lemons and make cinematic lemonade we’ll likely see for a good long while.

It’s a bit of a shame this one’s not getting more distribution. If you can find it and have any interest in strange production tales, this is one of the greats and a light, but comprehensive, breakdown of how it all came to be. For being a fairly brisk 100 minutes, its impressive just how much happens.

Plus, is it ever a bad time for stories of Marlon Brando jerking people around?

Really?

Pros:

-Fascinating subject matter makes for a great hook

-Good cross-section of people interviewed gives the account a very balanced look

Cons:

-For as interesting as it is, we only get fleeting clues about what Stanley originally had in mind

-Holy crap, Val Kilmer was a dick

Rating: 4/5

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This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... ...is this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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