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

Dept. of Doomed Documentaries


As the penultimate part of his Richard Stanley Retrospective, Iain delves in to the 2014 documentary on Stanley’s experiences on the doomed 1995 production of The Island of Doctor Moreau.

When I started this Richard Stanley retrospective, I’d never heard of Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanleys Island Of Dr.Moreau. Originally, the retrospective was just an excuse to finally watch Hardware and Dust Devil, movies I’d been meaning to get around to for years. That there were only three films in Stanley’s oeuvre also played a part. But it was only after doing more research and finding out why Stanley hadn’t made any major films in the 27 years between Dust Devil and Color Out of Space, that I got really interested. Lost Soul recounts the experience of Stanley and other filmmakers who were involved in the 1996 New Line Cinema production of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. A project that went wildly off the rails, drove Stanley from the industry, and resulted in one of the worst reviewed films of all time.

Outcast of the Islands

Pre-production art of Moreau with his dog-men

After the relative successes of Hardware and Dust Devil, Stanley’s next project was to be a gory, gritty retelling of Wells’ tale of mutants and hubris, a book that the director had  a lot of affection for and, as the documentary lays out, some familial links to.  

What was originally planned as a relatively modest production with Jürgen Prochnow as the titular doctor, it ballooned out of control with the addition of Hollywood legend Marlon Brando as Moreau and 1996’s man of the moment Val Kilmer.

As I sat down to watch Lost Soul I expected a somewhat sycophantic profile of the director and his side of the doomed film’s production. What I hadn’t expected was for director David Gregory to have secured interviews with many of the film’s cast and crew. He even managed to secure the involvement of Robert Shaye, founder and former president of New Line Cinema, for a brutally honest retelling of events.

Told through a mix of interviews, behind the scenes footage, and simply animated photos from the time, Lost Soul succeeds in being an enjoyable movie; far more than the actual Island of Dr. Moreau.

From the initial 2000AD style illustrations that Stanley and friend/costume designer Graham Humphries came up with to try and drum up financing, through anecdotes of winning over Marlon Brando and his laser pointer triggered dogs, to the eventual completion of the film by John Frankenheimer, this hugely entertaining documentary recounts how things happened with multiple interviewees providing corroborating accounts for many of the zanier on-set stories. Even after Stanley is exiled from the production, there’s still another hour to go!

“I Made Another Strategic Error, I Met Val Kilmer”

Richard Stanley

Stanley himself is a hugely entertaining character, with a clipped South African accent, a penchant for flouncy shirts and a flair for the dramatic. You know you are in for a show as he describes early sketches for the movie as “a brief glimpse into the workhouse of filthy creation”.

As well as the behind the scenes crew and production teams the filmmakers also secured interviews with actors Fairuza Balk and Marco Hofscneider, as well as a host of extras. With all the makeup effects for Moreau’s mutants having been been custom made to fit the extras, the production couldn’t really fire anyone or shut down the production to reorganise. The result is almost two “making of” documentaries in one.

As for those concerns there would be too much fawning over Stanley? The film doesn’t shy away from highlighting some of his own failings as a first time director of such a big crew. Apparently he preferred communicating with the production through storyboards rather than production meetings, a mistake that would cost him later, once the unfortunate events started to pile up.  It’s one of the few failings of the documentary that many of the more outlandish tales of the his behaviour aren’t addressed directly with him.

“Vision? That’s An Overused Word”

It was Brando himself who asked for a bucket of ice to be placed on his head to keep his character cool.

Another pity is the lack of Ron Perlman, especially considering they managed to get some time with Rob Morrow, who managed to  jump ship between directors. Seeing as no one had anything nice to say about Val Kilmer however, it’s no wonder he decline to be involved.

Here are some of the things I learned about The Island of Dr. Moreau from the documentary:

  • Bruce Willis and James Woods were supposed to play the Douglas and Montgomery roles, respectively.
  • After Willis’ exit due to his ongoing divorce from Demi Moore, Kilmer took the main role of Douglas, only to ask for 40% less shooting days after he’d already signed on.
  • Before Stanley’s exit, Rob Morrow (Dr. Joel Fleischman from Northern Exposure, Don Eppes in Numb3rs) ended up in the role of Douglas but made a quick escape as directors changed.
  • Being a extra on a film in crisis can be quite lucrative as they were paid to sit around all day doing nothing.
  • Val Kilmer was (is?) a massive dick.

With just Stanley’s side of things Lost Soul would be a cinematic curio. With all the other interviews and behind the scenes footage it becomes compelling, entertaining viewing. A must watch for anyone with an interest in how the sausage is made in big budget Hollywood, and how easily it can all go very, very wrong.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau
97 minutes
Director: David Gregory
Cast: Richard Stanley, Edward R. Pressman, Robert Shaye, Graham Humphreys, Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider, and Rob Morrow

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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