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

There is some truth in how a slow-moving trainwreck is absolutely captivating to watch from the sidelines as it moves towards certain disaster. Nothing exemplifies this better than David Gregory’s documentary film Lost Soul, which turned out to be an incredibly addictive and entertaining in-depth look at just how the production of the 1996 adaptation of the Island of Dr. Moreau ended up becoming such complete clusterfuck.

The whole thing is just completely fascinating. The behind the scenes stories told in this are so crazy that you just could not make them up if you tried, it’s just sheer insanity oozing from each nook and cranny. Everything from the screenwriter (and original director) Richard Stanley using blood magic to get the studio allow him direct the movie after they had expressed strong interest in giving the project to Roman Polanski to Richard later getting fired from the movie, just days into the shoot, and then sneaking back to the set  in secret, disguised by one of the animal man masks used by the extras in the movie and just then hanging around, consumed by a perverted curiosity to see what was happening to his dream project, entirely unbeknownst by the studio who had banned him from the set. Richard actually even made it into the final cut of movie in his disguised form, you can spot him from few shots where he’s visible in the background if you know where to look.  It’s little details like that that make the entire thing so mad that you find yourself laughing uncontrollably due to how absurd the stories are. 

There is one particularly delightful section of the film that I loved where you hear several accounts of how Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando acted on the set. Kilmer apparently was a real douche and he and Brando didn’t get along at all, so much so that they even had the cliché “I won’t come out of my trailer until he has come out of his trailer first” fight at one point that shut the entire production down for hours. As for Brando, like you would be expect, he was acting in the most outrageous manner possible, insisting on rewrites and completely bizarre wardrobe choices, like the infamous ice bucket hat. All the stories about him are so uncanny and hilarious. And it just gets better and better when you start to learn what it was like after John Frankenheimer, who was brought in to direct this Titanic of a movie after Stanley was fired, got to the set and somehow managed to make the production even more of a hellish experience than what it already been. One of the highlights concerning the stuff about Frankenheimer’s involvement is the anecdote about how he at one point had gotten so fed up with Kilmer and his bs that he actually exclaimed “If I was making ‘The Val Kilmer Story’, I wouldn’t hire that prick!” I just completely died of laughter when that story was told, it just perfectly capsulated the nightmarish and nerve wrecking circumstances and general atmosphere of the disastrous set in Australia where the movie was shot.

I had actually seen the final Frankenheimer version of the Island of Dr. Moreau, so going in I actually had some real context already formed in my head, but frankly it doesn’t really matter if you are or are not  familiar with the movie before seeing the documentary. It’s very accessible and entertaining on its own. It certainly helps in hindsight explaining why the final cut of Moreau is such a mess,  but I kinda see this actually also working perfectly as a sort of preface to when you about to watch the movie for the very first time. If nothing else, it would prepare you mentally to what you were about to experience: sheer, incomprehensible madness.

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