Fantastic Fest 2014: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau

Hollywood studios are the real monsters in this warts and all doc

Fantastic Fest 2014: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau

John Frankenheimer may have snagged the director's credit for 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, but it was initially the vision of South African auteur Richard Stanley, who was hand-chosen to helm by New Line Pictures on the basis of his equally visionary 1990 film Hardware.

Lost Soul presents all sides of the story: Stanley’s, New Line execs like Robert Shaye and Michael DeLuca, actor Fairuza Balk, and former Alamo Drafthouse/Fantastic Fest programmer Kier-La Jannise. Interweaving myriad memories of the production from Stanley and “humanimal” actors on down, this is the most fascinating and thorough “doomed production” tale since Terry Gilliam’s Lost in La Mancha.

Clashes with the studio were almost inevitable in hindsight. Stanley was known — if he was known at all — for the futuristic (and prescient) killer robot masterpiece Hardware and, less so, for his 1992 followup Dust Devil, which also suffered at the hands of U.S. distributor Miramax. Given to quirky outfits and raised by a self-styled “witch” mother, Stanley was and remains equal parts outsider artist, shaman, and technically accomplished film director. Unfortunately, with big bucks riding high on Moreau, his script, storyboards, and main story were quickly quashed – three days into shooting – by the increasingly nervous suits at New Line, who then imported Frankenheimer into the director’s chair.

Whereas Stanley’s script drew directly from H.G. Wells' celebrated 1896 sci-fi novel, transporting the events in the a more current time frame, his outrageously entertaining and futuristic ideas were considered too radical for a mid-1990’s movie-going sensibility. (Echoes of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s similarly doomed Dune abound.) It didn’t help things that a bizarre Marlon Brando, reeling from his daughter Cheyenne’s recent suicide, ended up being cast as the titular doctor, nor did the unwanted inclusion of a egomaniacal Val Kilmer help the situation. But by that time, it was out of Stanley’s hands: New Line gave him his director’s fee and, perhaps realizing his temperament, issued a restraining order against the ex-director.

Longtime doc director David Gregory hasn’t managed to dig up any comments from either the late Brando or Kilmer, but everyone else, including Stanley, seems eager to set the record straight, chief among them Balk, who sympathizes with Stanley’s giddy excitement on set and cops to exiting the film with a crew member and traveling all the way of across the continent. She returned to the Frankenheimer production, but her recounting of Stanley’s hopeless plight is moving; she’s still angry about the shoddy treatment Stanley received.

As for the extras and the featured actors who had to endure grueling makeup sessions every day to turn them into the half-man/half-animal beast-men (and -women), they’re decidedly split. Some think Stanley was woefully underprepared for the by-the-books rigors of shooting a major Hollywood production on a remote island off the northern coast of Australia (cue hurricane destruction of already-standing sets), while others mourn the film that could've been.

Most everyone agrees that the long-haired prophet-naif was an excellent change of pace from working for more elder Hollywood directors (cue old yeller Frankenheimer). And they're frank regarding the notion that there was probably too much booze, sex, and drugs on-set to manage the increasingly frequent downtime as New Line struggled to nail down a proper way forward that wouldn't lose millions for the small, upstart company. Like Hearts of Darkness, Gregory’s film unravels the knotty skein of hearsay and the completely unsaid, while giving ample screen time to Richard Stanley himself. It was, after all, his whelping in the beginning, and yes, it’s true: He did sneak back onto Frankenheimer’s set under the heavily made-up guise of a dog-man. Commitment: It’s not just a word, it’s a guy in a dog mask terrifying a whole studio with rumors of sabotage and witchcraft. Only in Hollywood? Only with Richard Stanley.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau screens again Tuesday, Sept. 23, 12noon.

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Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, Fantastic Fest 2014, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's, Richard Stanley, Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, New Line Pictures

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