Note: there is a three-disc Blu-Ray edition of this film, but I received the regular one-disc Blu-Ray for review. To be honest, you’re much better off buying the three-disc version because it’s the same price as the one-disc Blu-Ray.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau review
1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau has the unique distinction of being one of the worst films of all time, even despite a cast that included Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer; with numerous attempts to bring H.G. Wells’ influential story to screen, this particular moment in cinema is considered the worst of them all. For a viewer, it’s easy to simply brush the film aside without pondering how it came to be a huge blunder for New Line Cinema and the prestigious actors starring in it, and for quite a while the only explanation for its horrendous quality was the word-of-mouth of the cast and crew denouncing it. With Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (which, for brevity, I’ll simply refer to as Lost Soul from here on out), director David Gregory (The Theatre Bizarre, multiple docs) seeks to paint a clearer picture of the events that led to the firing of Richard Stanley, the film’s original writer and director, and the reason for the jumbled mess of script and story that was left in his wake. While Lost Soul doesn’t excuse the final product, it does make for a comedic list of errors and bad luck, and allows the multitude of voices a chance to finally have their stories heard.
The sequencing of Lost Soul is fairly standard for a documentary, and Gregory does little to add glitz or flashiness to this film. The interviews are basic with perhaps some background music added, although there are a few visual graphics that break up the monotony of what is basically a series of one-on-one interviews with cast and crew. It differs significantly from what one might see in the highly-polished Crystal Lake Memories or Never Sleep Again, but at the same time it allows the viewer to focus on the facts specifically instead of the distraction of a graphically busy doc.
That ordering from pre-production to The Island of Dr. Moreau‘s debut allows Richard Stanley ample room to provide a look at his original intent when he set out to direct the film. Notoriously reclusive, Stanley surprisingly gives a comprehensive overview of his vision, from concept art to his work developing the set on the Australian coast known as Cairns. Stanley is a curious but obviously intelligent man, and these interviews provide a lot of depth to a mysterious individual who clearly believes in universal intervention, fate, and witchcraft.
Gregory’s dedication to giving each side a voice is impressive, though. Stanley’s interview takes up the bulk of the first act, but later, as the documentary moves into territory where Stanley was no longer involved, Gregory gives crew like Edward Pressman (producer), Tim Zinnemann (executive producer), and Bob Shaye (president of New Line Cinema) a chance to discuss the flip side of Stanley’s direction – in short, Stanley was just as reclusive as a director as he is in life, and his ability to handle a large cast and crew was seriously in question.
It amounts to a fascinating exploration of the terrible events that plagued the film, but even better are the tidbits from some of the actors and crew taking shots at Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando. Kilmer specifically is not here to defend himself, meaning the various stories about the difficulty working with his ego are not refuted. Brando’s characterization is less critical, although Marco Hofschneider and Fairuza Balk indicate that he wasn’t really too invested in the success of the film and was basically on set to cause even more problems.
Ultimately, Lost Soul provides a pretty fair assessment of the The Island of Dr. Moreau without placing blame on any one party. At the same time, it’s clear that Gregory is more interested in telling Stanley’s story as a displaced director, because that is a much more entertaining tale. Stanley does come off as slightly kooky, but his artistic vision is exceptionally better than what became of the film. Because of this focus, Lost Soul intentionally exaggerates the funnier portions of the behind-the-scenes anecdotes and leaves out the technical disasters, and one could find fault in this elision, if only because it’s not a comprehensive overview of the film’s creation.
But Gregory’s goal is to create a documentary that primarily entertains, banking on the fact that those watching will be interested in the eccentricities of the cast and crew rather than the budgetary and time-sensitive restrictions of shooting the film. It provides that entertainment with ease thanks to the cast interviews and their relating of hilarious stories from the field, and Lost Soul documents a comedy of errors that will delight fans (or critics) of The Island of Dr. Moreau and even those who haven’t seen it before. Richard Stanley’s interviews are just an added bonus, giving him a voice to clear his name and explain the multiple problems that caused him to get the boot. Lost Soul is a documentary that explains The Island of Dr. Moreau‘s flaws without excusing the final product, and it’s a film that admittedly becomes more entertaining than the movie it commemorates.
Click next for the Blu-Ray review.