Directed by David Gregory
Cast: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Robert Shaye, Rob Morrow
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Some of the most intriguing ‘Making of’ documentaries are, unfortunately, about films that have either not come out or had a hell of a time doing so. Hearts of Darkness, Lost In La Mancha and many others came from a place of extreme difficulty to try and bring a sense of order to things. While we wait for a blow-by-blow account of The Adventures of Pluto Nash, we can spend some time on Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau. The director of cult classics Hardware and Dust Devil’s handling of H.G. Wells’ story was capsized by inexperience, ego and bad luck.
Stanley himself is a fascinating character, a man of obvious intelligence and imagination, but a little too left-of-centre to truly work in Hollywood. Early on, one of the many interviewees remarks that from literally day one, it seemed like he couldn’t be the leader of men and women, which directors are required to be on even the easiest of film shoots. This certainly bears out.
Indeed, what is somewhat surprising about the film is the fact that just around half the runtime deals with the film after Stanley left the project and was replaced by John Frankenheimer. Considering the film’s title, you would expect the piece to revolve around Stanley himself, but while he is the spark for the troubles, the material arguably gets more interesting after he leaves the screen; even when not involving the new director, the film still verged wildly off course, due to Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer’s rather blatant attempts to mess with everyone around them.
Stanley has some solid stories, though the suspension of disbelief you have to take with some may be a bridge too far – his tales about his use of witchcraft are, frankly, bobbins – but it’s the on-set accounts of Kilmer and Brando that really entertain, if in a somewhat more tabloid-y kind of way. Kilmer’s constant undermining of everyone around him and Brando’s insistence that he will only act when his bizarre demands are met engage very well, though some tales are less involving.
The film completely fails in its attempts to paint Frankenheimer as a bad guy: one story, in particular, even seems to generate tumbleweeds on screen, as the crew member nervously laughs when he realises that no one else is really reacting to his tale. We also have a bit of a missed opportunity in the way that Stanley talks at length during the film’s first section about the vision he had, in terms of imagery; we are told later on that the story changed markedly after he left, but we never get a sense of what Stanley’s story actually was. One interviewee remarks that the script was “amazing” but we never get to see his version really being discussed.
There’s a fair bit of talk about Stanley generally, which you have to somewhat just go with – there’s little challenging of him throughout, whereas some negative stories about him are, specifically by Fairuza Balk, who incidentally comes across as an incredibly loyal member of the team and someone you’d want to have on your side.
Lost Soul is an entertaining watch but beyond some fun on-set gossip, it doesn’t really feel like it’s getting to the real heart of what went wrong (the lack of several key cast members, among them ostensible lead David Thewlis, is a real shame). Stanley seems to be happier not being in the industry and many in it no doubt agree, but it is a shame; while his genius isn’t really substantive here, he’s obviously a heck of a personality.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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