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

August 19, 2015 | By


LostSoul_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Severin

Region: All

Released:  July 28, 2015

Genre:  Documentary / Film History

Synopsis: Surreal, funny, and ultimately tragic chronology of Richard Stanley’s quest to make a new version of H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau” before the production was overhauled with a new director.

Special Features:  6 Interview Outtakes:  director Richard Stanley (47:34) + actor Marco Hofschneider (16:32) + set builder Jim Sbardellati (5:44) + actress Graham “Grace” Walker (2:17) + artist Graham Humphreys (1:17) + production drivers Hugh & Ollie (1:19)/ Graham Humphreys Concept Gallery with commentary by director Richard Stanley (14:32) / 1996 Archival Interview with director John Frankenheimer (6:01) / Audio Interview: “Barbara Steele Recalls” (5:17) / Screening Featurette: “The Best of Morbido” (9:44) / Featurette: “The Hunt for the Compound” (6:18) / Diary Excerpt Reading: “Bear Man Diary” (15:14) / Trailer.




After switching from directing music videos to feature films with his punk, post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller Hardware (1990), Richard Stanley would follow-up with Dust Devil (1992), and what was supposed to be his Hollywood debut, The Island of Dr. Moreau, a revisionist version of H.G. Wells’ novel which had gestated in his conscious and subconscious mind for years, but two days into filming in New Zealand, Stanley was dumped by New Line Cinema, leaving the filmmaker scarred to the point of staying away from feature film directing ever since.

Severin co-founder David Gregory’s acumen for researching, interviewing, and weaving together a documentary narrative with dynamic twists and turns is already evident in his superlative two-part Video Nasties documentary Ban the Sadist Videos!, but this is a particularly affecting story because it illustrates in gory details how ego can wrestle a film away from a writer-director, and create a toxic production environment.

There’s a lot of hyperbole surrounding the film, as taken over by John Frankenheimer with script rewrites by Walon Green (The Wild BunchSorcerer), but it’s neither a turd nor a wrongly branded masterpiece – just a fascinating mess to connoisseurs of strange cinema, especially those intrigued by its insanely attractive casting of Marlon Brando as Moreau, Val Kilmer as his assistant Montgomery, and a young David Thewlis as stranded seaman Edward Douglas.

What makes the film equally compelling is knowing Stanley broke the rules of his termination fee and snuck onto set in creature makeup, just to see what the hell was being done to a project he’d been trying to develop into a film for years. Somewhere scattered within a few scenes is Stanley, a director reduced to an mutant extra, unable to halt a train wreck.

New Line’s former CEO Bob Shaye knew he had a choice in shutting down the production once delays, bad weather, the quitting of original Montgomery Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure, Quiz Show), and firing Stanley had occurred, and it may well have been the sensible thing to do, giving Stanley the chance to chase his dream like Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote project at a later date, but Shaye felt he was trapped with costly pay-or-play agreements with the film’s two stars, and given the studio’s track record in financing risky yet star-studded ventures (The Astronaut’s Wife, Body Shots), there’s a sense Shaye had a perpetual delusion in believing if enough money was thrown onto the screen, gloss would somehow overshadow dross.

How Stanley was removed is an utterly fascinating and heartbreaking story, but if it could be distilled into one name, the poisoned pill was Kilmer, a huge star whose ego refused any respect or compromise. Brando simply didn’t care, knowing he was part of a mad circus troupe and had fun playing his own power trips, and while none of the surviving top stars were interviewed – Why would they comment on a film that’s since been eclipsed by better work? – Gregory managed to get a pretty robust variety of comments from multiple levels of over- and below-the-line personnel.

Shaye clearly disliked Stanley, Faruza Balk found the whole experience tragic, and Marco Hofschneider (Europa Europa) was, like many smaller cast members, around for months rather than the originally contracted weeks, seeing the production shift from an indie film to mid-budget studio picture, with a new director (Frankenheimer) who himself lost control of the stars and acted as a production coordinator than director.

Hofschneider’s recollections (and imitations of Brando and Frankenheimer) are pure gold, and the Blu-ray’s extras include interview outtakes, plus a frank diary reading (“Bear Man Diary”) of life on set that fill out the portrait of a troubled production.

Stanley’s own persona is a bit like a punkish, gothic rebel, a mystic wanderer who speaks in fast and long allegorical sentences that often sound like stream of consciousness emissions; rather than take his words literally, one has to pause and distill his replies because they’re filled with all sorts of literary, graphic, cinematic references. In the doc, they’ve been hammered down to core recollections, whereas in the BR’s bonus interview most of the replies are raw (hence the long running time).

Artist Graham Humphreys (who also appears in the doc) was with Stanley from conceptual drawings to sketches of actual film scenes, and there’s a poignancy in watching Stanley pull out old production art from a worn folder like brittle artifacts destined to lose their significance as the years move on. It’s a similar sense in a related featurette (“The Hunt for the Compound”) in which a camera captures the remains of the original Moreau set, which was blown up in the film’s finale, and exists only as wooden and glass fragments from a seemingly ancient colonial village.

Incredibly, even though no one was willing to speak about the 1996 film during its release, there’s a short yet fascinating p.r. piece with Frankenheimer who replies to blunt queries on the production with initial annoyance, then semi-diplomatic regards, and an assessment of the experience that’s pure bullshit.

Some may wonder the reasoning in documenting the history of doomed vision, especially a Hollywood production that didn’t set any precedent for handling bad egos and studio executives wanting to finish a bloody mess and earn some percentage of a bloated budget, but the reason Lost Soul is a worthy endeavour is simple: it’s an amazing little story, and the repercussions of the experience lie in Stanley’s decision to recede to a remote French mountain, stay away from feature filmmaking, and avoid queries that remind him of a dark period in his career.

He’s brave for reproaching and confronting Moreau, and perhaps the success of the doc will enable Stanley to return to active feature filmmaking, and with a vengeance.

LostSoul_HouseOfPain_3DiscNote: Severin also released a 3-disc “House of Pain” edition. Disc 2 contains a recently discovered 1921 German version of the Wells tale (Insel Der Verschollenen) with English subtitles, the featurette “H.G. Wells on Film” with expert Sylvia Hardy, and Richard Stanley reflecting further on Wells;  Disc 3 is an audio CD featuring Stanley reading Wells’ novel.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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