Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) is one of those few “making of” documentaries that tells a genuinely interesting story. The circumstances surrounding and major players involved in the filming of The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) are profoundly strange, bordering on unbelievable. This perhaps could have been intuited by those who have seen the final film, or even just clips of it on YouTube, which is a mess to say the least. Lost Soul focuses on the previously neglected story of Richard Stanley, the original director of The Island of Dr. Moreau, his vision for this adaptation of H.G. Wells’s novel, and how he came to lose control of his crew—and some might argue his mind—early on during principle photography for the film.
As Kier-La Janisse explains in one of the opening interviews of Lost Soul, Richard Stanley experienced a meteoric rise to fame—at least within the genre film community—following his directorial debut Hardware in 1990 and his subsequent film Dust Devil in 1993. While he developed a quirky reputation, due largely to his interest in folklore and witchcraft, it was clear that Stanley was a talented young director poised for horror/sci-fi greatness.
Given his love for the novel, penchant for sci-fi filmmaking, and lucid artistic vision, Stanley seemed an ideal candidate to pen a screen adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau. In Lost Soul he explains that this was the third official adaptation of the novel, and should have been the most satisfying. Not only was Stanley’s adaptation picked up by New Line Cinema, but he was also allowed to direct (though New Line originally considered Roman Polanski for the role)—a decision made following a surprisingly pleasant conversation Stanley had with Marlon Brando who had been cast in the role of Dr. Moreau. An illustrative example of Stanley’s eccentricity comes early in Lost Soul: he gives credit for his amicable interaction with Brando to Skip, his “fixer” from whom he had asked for magical support before the meeting. However, The Island of Dr. Moreau as envisioned by Richard Stanley would never be made, despite all of his excitement at the prospect of full creative control. Lost Soul tells the story of why, in a relentlessly compelling and enjoyable way.
It is better to let Lost Soul speak for itself when it comes to the multitude of circumstances and obstacles that led to Stanley’s removal as director of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Suffice it to say that many elements worked against him and indeed the production in general. Lost Soul tells it all from the death of Brando’s daughter Cheyenne—which delayed the shooting of all scenes featuring Dr. Moreau—to the loss of Bruce Willis and James Woods who were initially attached, the general clashing of strong personalities (especially once Brando and Val Kilmer got on set), and even a hurricane. Indeed, Lost Soul makes a strong case for The Island Dr. Moreau really being a perfect storm of production nightmares. The film only grows more compelling after Stanley is replaced by John Frankenheimer and numerous rewrites, along with Brando’s outrageous whims, wreak havoc upon his original vision. There really are a wealth of hilarious anecdotes here to be enjoyed by any viewer.
Lost Soul is an extremely enjoyable documentary. It tells a story worth telling while managing to keep viewers engaged and wondering whether or not things can get any more bizarre. The film may lead some to wonder what Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau could have looked like, and it makes a rather strong case against the use of big-name, big-ego stars. In the end, Lost Soul is a cautionary tale about a talented and passionate artist who could not thrive in the world of commercial film production.
Lost Soul is streaming now on Netflix and will be available via Severin Films’ 3-Disc Blu-ray release on July 28th, 2015