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Tuesday, July 14, 2015


As one who has never seen the 1996 version of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU with Marlon Brando in the title role, I guess I'm a good test subject as to how interesting a documentary about the making of the film might be. 

Having just watched LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY'S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (2014) by director David Gregory (THE THEATER BIZARRE), I can safely say that it's easily one of the most fascinating and altogether fun docs on moviemaking gone wrong that I've ever seen.  It avoids being just another "talking heads" fest by augmenting the interview subjects with plenty of interesting graphics, film clips, etc. to illustrate what's being said. 

Richard Stanley, of course, is known for his superlative 1990 sci-fi classic HARDWARE and its less successful follow-up DUST DEVIL.  In the early 90s he managed to get New Line Cinema interested in his idea for an adaptation of one of his favorite novels, H.G. Wells' tale of genetic man-animal mutations "The Island of Dr. Moreau", which he believed had never been done justice to before (especially with the hopelessly bland 1977 version directed by Don Taylor and starring Burt Lancaster as Moreau).  Stanley liked the horrific original 1932 film with Charles Laughton, yet it still deviated wildly from the source material.

With a go-ahead to do the film his way, Stanley began filming in Australia on his first big studio production, little realizing the cinematic train wreck over which he was about to preside.  Amidst second thoughts about him by studio president Robert Shaye (who is among the many cast, crew, and other interested parties interviewed for this documentary), Stanley encountered hurricane-force winds, torrential rains, his own insecurities, and--most damaging--star Marlon Brando's initial absence due to the tragic suicide of his daughter.  

Added to this was his difficulty in casting co-starring roles, losing both Bruce Willis and James Woods early on and, later, QUIZ SHOW's Rob Morrow who ended up frantically begging his agent to get him out of the project.  Landing then-hot Val Kilmer seemed like a coup at first, until the actor's colossal ego and unbearably uncooperative behavior--one crew member describes him as a "prep school bully"--leads to even more intolerable conditions for Stanley and others during the early days of the shoot.

When it begins to look as though the film's present director isn't going to be able to get it together, he's fired and replaced with old pro John Frankenheimer.  The director of such classics as THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE has rescued troubled projects before, and despite his disinterest in any kind of "vision" of Wells' story and his abrasive, dictatorial attitude on the set, New Line honchos are confident he'll get things back on track. 

The last thing they expect is for things to go even more off the rails than ever.  Kilmer adds to the growing chaos by becoming even more demanding and hard to please, but that's nothing compared to what happens when the film's most dreaded monster, Marlon Brando, finally arrives on the set.  After that, everything finally shifts into full-tilt, absolute madness. 

Even Frankenheimer is at his wit's end when Brando and Kilmer's dueling egos take over the production as well as Marlon's "whimsical" take on his character, which includes wearing white body makeup and wedging an ice bucket on his head.  The two actors also make mincemeat of the script in seemingly nonsensical ways, while insisting on other changes that repeatedly bring everything to a screeching halt.

Brando in particular takes none of it seriously in any way  and, according to witnesses, at times even seems to be actively sabotaging the project for his own amusement, seeing how far he can take his willfully ridiculous behavior and still have everyone rush to accomodate his every whim. 

At this point it probably would've taken Francis Ford Coppola to mold the astronomically eccentric Brando's behavior into a semblance of the Moreau character, whether according to Richard Stanley's original conception (now hopelessly lost) or the "get-er-done" non-vision of his stodgier replacement.

As one crewmember comments: "I will Richard's defense any day, that Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer were there to mess with the film as much as possible."

The whole thing becomes an utter farce, as seen through the disbelieving eyes of castmembers Fairuza Balk and Marco Hofschneider (whose many personal observations during the documentary add much of its flavor) and others, while dozens of elaborately made-up "manimal" extras enjoy months of highly-paid leisure time which they spend getting high and having sex. 

Meanwhile, Stanley himself (who never left the country and is considered "missing" by the studio) is discovered living in the wild not far away and, after sneaking onto the set with the help of sympathetic extras, ends up playing one of the heavily-disguised background manimals himself. 

As interesting as any fictional character, Stanley partly credits a chaotic upbringing by his mother for his creative drive and offbeat imagination, and claims to have used witchcraft to influence the New Line execs while pitching his movie.  Film writer Kier-La Janisse even mentions his "esoteric witchiness" while describing the eccentric filmmaker.

The Blu-ray disc from Severin Films is in full HD widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and subtitles in English.  Extras include extensive cast and crew interviews (including almost 50 minutes with Richard Stanley), a concept gallery featuring fine Graham Humphreys art, archive footage of a John Frankenheimer promo interview, an audio interview with Barbara Steele, a trailer, and assorted other featurettes.  The film is also available as a Blu-ray/DVD/CD set (with even more extras) and as a single DVD.

I read Wells' novel in college and have seen two film adaptations--the Laughton and Lancaster versions--and now I can't wait to see the Brando film simply to witness the disastrous end result of the horrific gestation process detailed here.  LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY'S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU is a fascinating subject for genre film fans, who should find the film instantly engrossing, as well as anyone who likes to see what goes on behind the scenes in the movie business when good intentions are trampled and twisted beyond recognition.

Buy at the Severin Films Shop:
Blu-ray + DVD + CD
Blu-ray single disc

Street date: July 14, 2015


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