One of the worst movies of the '90s gets an amazing tell-all documentary.
Like 2002's Lost in La Mancha and last year's great Jodorowsky's Dune, the new documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Doctor Moreau is another glimpse into a movie that could have been but never was. The difference between those movies and this one is that The Island of Dr. Moreau was released; New Line Cinema put it in theaters in 1996 with John Frankenheimer credited as director. That version quickly gained a reputation as one of the worst movies ever made. Lost Soul offers some explanation as to why that is.
I can't exactly remember why, but I know I was really excited to see Dr. Moreau back in '96. Maybe the trailer was great. I'm sure my fascination with monster movies and elaborate creature makeup played a huge role. To say that I was...disappointed...with the end result would be an understatement. I have not returned to the movie since.
That's when shit gets completely crazy. Stanley was replaced by John Frankenheimer, a filmmaker in need of a hit who took the job because New Line agreed to pay him a ridiculous amount of money. Rob Morrow quit and was replaced by David Thewlis. Both Kilmer and Brando wreaked absolute havoc on the set; they hated each other and everyone else, behaved badly throughout and made the shoot a miserable hell for everyone involved (prompting Frankenheimer to reportedly quote about Kilmer "They could be making a movie about that guy's life and I still wouldn't fucking cast him!"). Richard Stanley was paid off his full director's fee and was ordered to get on a plane immediately; instead, he went and hid out in the Australian jungle (where the movie was shooting) and eventually snuck back onto set as an extra. You cannot make this stuff up.
Lost Soul is full of fascinating stories like this courtesy of interviews with Stanley, producer Edward R. Pressman, co-star Fairuza Balk, Rob Morrow, Marco Hofschneider and many more. Unlike the other would-be movies mentioned at the top of this review, Lost Soul doesn't offer much of a glimpse at the film that could have been; except for seeing some concept art and hearing Stanley discuss his vision (in a very fast, very monotone speaking style that is distinctly his own), we don't get much of a sense of what his version might have been. And yet even with that little information, we can still safely assume it would have been much better than what was eventually produced, which is a train wreck of epic proportions and a movie with behind-the-scenes stories so terrifying they could frighten off any would-be filmmaker from ever picking up a camera again.
If nothing else, we should applaud director David Gregory for seeing to it that some good came out of Moreau, even nearly 20 years after the fact. There is something so singular about the perfect storm of disaster that led to the '96 adaptation (including actual storms) that it deserves to have its story told. That the documentary is this entertaining is value added, as there seems to be no end to the insane and amusing anecdotes. I'm sad about what the experience did to Richard Stanley, but remain hopeful that he will someday have the last laugh. Lost Soul is a step in the right direction. It's a great film about a very bad film.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau is currently available on VOD and iTunes.