A remote jungle location. A quick need of peacock feathers. Confusion. A panicked Rob Morrow. Marlon Brando speaking German gibberish. Chaos. A hurricane. A young director over his head. Turmoil. Val Kilmer’s ego. Bizarre creative decisions. Ice buckets on heads. A fired director. A proposed dolphin reveal. Anarchy. Concerned studio execs. All-night parties. An angry veteran director. Witchcraft. A mini grand piano. An escalating budget.
All this and production on a film needs to get done and completed. This is the story of the making of the notorious 1996 sci-fi/horror/drama The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau is an incredibly compelling and engrossing tale, which gets crazier and more outlandish as it progresses. Watching the documentary and learning about all the far out behavior, animosity and disastrous production problems, you’ll be impressed the film managed to ever get finished in any state.
The film details the story of young director/writer Richard Stanley and how his promising directing career got derailed by the Moreau production.
He began work on adapting H.G. Wells’ book The Island of Dr. Moreau. It was a dream project for Stanley. He envisioned an assortment of ideas and had a vision for the story. It would be his first big Hollywood film and New Line Cinema was excited to work with this young talent. The film was greenlit and the enthusiastic Stanley went off to the remote jungles in Australia to make his film.
Unfortunately, from there everything else goes wrong. Stanley was well suited for smaller indie films, but with a studio backed film, pouring millions into production and heavyweight and immature stars to deal with, he was out of his depth.
The Island of Dr. Moreau would become a critical and commercial flop. One of those films that would become a spectacular oddity. A strange film filled with peculiar choices and at best be a film to watch out of curiosity or to revel in its ‘so bad it’s good qualities’.
This was not the project Stanley had dreamed of making.
Through a a good amount of interviews and perspectives, Lost Souls recounts the events, conflicts and difficulties that would make The Island of Dr. Moreau one of the most infamous and troubled film shoots in Hollywood history. It’s a wacko story and is compelling as anything that was put in the actual Dr. Moreau film! It’s funny, berserk and at times unbelievable.
There are too many highlights and stories that get revealed involving the production to recount here. Castmembers who initially thought they’d be on the job for a few weeks turned into six month stays at the remote location.
After being fired from the film, Stanley would disguise himself in heavy monster makeup and managed to spy on the set. Newly hired veteran director John Frankenheimer would have his hands full trying to make sense of the script and trying to control his two unmanageable lead actors. And New Line would hope they would get a releasable film from all the money they were spending on this fiasco.
The stories are so completely outlandish, it’s amazing to hear how a Hollywood production could go though such an ordeal. Stanley’s dream project turned into a nightmare. Or maybe more like a fever dream.
Interviews with Stanley, producer Edward R Pressman, Executive Producer Tim Zinnemann, President of New Line Cinema Robert Shaye, help tell the behind-the-scenes story of how Dr. Moreau gradually became more and more out of control and how Brando and Kilmer both seemed to be there solely to cause delays and drama.
Cast members, including Fauiza Balk, Marco Hofschneider and Rob Morrow, who had the good fortune to be let go from the film before things REALLY got nuts, share their experiences and perspectives.
One missing key cast member who declined to be interviewed was David Thewlis. Based on everything said here, I think his silence says enough. Not surprisingly, Kilmer didn’t participate in this documentary either.
Along with production designers, makeup artists and extras, they all all help tell their own war stories, experiences and encounters from the production. The film begins with Stanley’s promising initial idea of filming the Dr. Moreau story, through making concessions to a studio with their own demands, and then barreling through a cataclysmic production that got crazier and crazier as it went on.
Sure, the film ultimately got completed and released and turned out pretty poor, but it’s clear everyone had much more optimism with what they were contributing to make at the start. No one was planning on being part of a high-profile flop of a film.
Watching the doc and hearing the stories about Brando’s behavior you’ll be asking yourself why on earth were any films wiling to hire him? He was far away from his iconic performances of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Godfather. For the latter part of his career he had the reputation of being an overpriced hire who had utter contempt for acting, who would just seem to cause difficulty and not fit in with the collaborative nature making a film needs – that is, if he even bothered to show up at all!
“You had to just keep taking away problems he created in order to put the work off, until finally you got to work.”
Despite his expensive and difficult reputation, Brando’s participation in a film remained an allure to draw other actors in, just so they could work with him. I’m not sure what kind of “work” they got to experience with him, especially on Dr. Moreau. It doesn’t sound like anyone was very impressed with his contributions or far-out suggestions, some of which made it into the film. Balk shares some of her conversations she had with Brando the great thespian and his attitude is not very impressive.
Of course Brando was fed his lines through an earpiece, something he had been doing for a very long time at this point. Probably the best thing he contributed to The Island of Dr. Moreau was demanding his diminutive co-star Nelson de la Rosa be his constant companion onscreen. This became one of the most memorable oddball aspects in the film and opened up memorably being spoofed with MiniMe in the Austin Powers films.
Kilmer, also doesn’t comes off very well. He was at the height of his fame and based on the stories told in the documentary, he sounds like he behaved like a pompous, spoiled star who disrespected and alienated everyone around him.
Frankenheimer was one of many who did not get along with Kilmer and at one point allegedly said, “If I was directing a film called the life story of Val Kilmer I wouldn’t have that prick in it!”
In the end you feel sympathy for Stanley. He had a promising directing career ahead of him and he was clearly passionate to tell the Moreau story. The Moreau debacle would derail his career and sap his enthusiasm to return to directing any films, which he hasn’t since.
Whatever you think of the finished film The Island of Dr. Moreau, Lost Soul is a terrific, head-shaking and entertaining account of a film production gone horribly wrong.
Like other ‘making of’ documentaries about difficult film shoots (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse, Burden of Dreams, Lost in La Mancha) it ranks up there as a terrific companion piece in the category of ‘Crazy Film Production Stories’. It illustrates how the machine of Hollywood filmmaking can continue to grind forward despite any sensible person wanting to hit the brakes.
Lost Souls is a fascinating account of a film production gone haywire. Watch it!
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