CAPSULE: LOST SOUL – THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ‘THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU’ (2014)

DIRECTOR: David Gregory

FEATURING: , Fairuza Balk, Edward R. Pressman, Robert Shaye, Tim Zimmermann, Rob Morrow, Marco Hofschneider, Graham Humphreys

PLOT: A documentary on the troubled production of 1996’s flop The Island of Dr. Moreau.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While there are more than a few weird stories featured in the film, a documentary about a film that ultimately did not get made is in itself not that weird anymore—there’s practically an entire genre now.

COMMENTS: The 90’s adaptation of H. G. Welles’ The Island of Dr. Moreau has the reputation of being among one of ‘the worst films ever made’.  That is an overstatement; the film’s actually a pretty decent time-waster, on its own terms. However, it is not among the greatest films ever made, and certainly not among ‘s best work (though I’d watch it over Reindeer Games anytime). At times, Moreau is an entertaining, muddled batshit mess, though it wasn’t intended to be.

It was meant to be the major studio debut of Richard Stanley, who, after making Hardware and Dust Devil (two films that I believe should be List Candidates), was poised to make the ultimate version of Moreau. Instead, it became a nightmare of production which ended up with Stanley tossed off of the film and replaced with veteran director Frankenheimer—yet the nightmare continued.

For years, stories have bounced around what actually happened. Lost Soul attempts to finally set the record straight about Moreau, to give a glimpse at what Stanley originally envisioned and to present what actually happened, as well as can be established from all of the guilty parties who consented to be interviewed. It’s a fascinating “unmaking-of” documentary that’s also illuminates the age-old conflict of Art vs. Business.

While it is a good accounting of the production, it isn’t by any means the whole story: noticeably absent from the doc is any input from , or , and Stanley doesn’t quite completely come clean about his state of mind at the time… but what’s there is suitably fascinating and quite damning. Actor Rob Morrow’s account of his experience, which I believe is the first time that he’s spoken at length about the film in any setting, is one highlight.

Filmmaking has largely become demystified over the past 30 years, but after watching Lost Soul, you will wonder how anything even halfway decent ever makes it out of the Studio Process.

DISC INFO: Severin Films has handled the recent releases of Stanley’s films to home video in grand fashion (great transfers with excellent extras), so of course there’s no exception with Lost Soul. For the hardcore Stanley/H.G. Wells/Moreau fan, the 3-disc ‘House of Pain’ Edition is the one to go for. The documentary is on Blu-ray disc, along with outtakes from several of the interviews (for those who couldn’t get enough of the already dishy stuff used, check out what’s dished in what they DIDN’T use…); a gallery of concept art by artist Graham Humphries with commentary with Stanley; an audio interview with , who was intended to have a cameo in the film; an archival interview with John Frankenheimer; plus several smaller featurettes. The second disc— “The Wells Files”— is a DVD with the featurette “H.G. Wells On Film” with scholar Sylvia Hardy and another with Stanley talking about Wells’ work, and specifically on the themes in “Moreau” that attracted him. The most notable feature is a recently discovered German silent film, Insel Der Verschollenen (Island of the Lost) which appears to be the earliest film adaptation of Welles’ story (and which maintains the tradition of deviating wildly from its source material). There’s also an Easter Egg hidden on this disc… The third disc is a bonus CD-ROM, an audiobook recording of Wells’ novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau” read by Richard Stanley. If that’s too much immersion, then just go for either the 1 disc Blu-ray or DVD edition (buy), which only feature the movie & movie related extras, eschewing the bonus discs material on Wells.

Richard Stanley

The Island of Dr. Moreau script – Screenplay by Richard Stanley, Michael Herr and Walon Green

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: “The creation of the H.G. Wells’ story’s third official screen incarnation was beset by disasters even more bizarre than the delirious mess of a feature finally released in 1996, with stars Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer reportedly rivaling even Mother Nature as destructive on-set forces… David Gregory’s pic can hardly help but fascinate with its mix of archival materials and surviving-collaborator testimonies.”–Dennis Harvey, Variety (contemporaneous)

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