|'one of the most disastrous film shoots of all time which produced such pearls of wisdom as John Frankenheimer's claim that 'even if I was directing a film called The Life of Val Kilmer, I wouldn’t have that prick in it''|
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley's Island Of Dr. Moreau is an odd fish. Part way between existential expose of the movie business and those who populate it and a behind-the-scenes documentary extra of the sort you would find on any common or garden DVD release, it's difficult to entirely quantify the film. On the one hand, it looks fairly cheap and the apparent lack of any quality on-set footage demonstrably hurts it. On the other, who doesn't want to see even part of the story of one of the most disastrous film shoots of all time which produced such pearls of wisdom as John Frankenheimer's claim that 'even if I was directing a film called The Life of Val Kilmer, I wouldn’t have that prick in it'.
Like almost all disasters, Lost Soul's explanation of how 1996's The Island Of Dr. Moreau ended up as one of the biggest turkey's of all time is rooted in the mantra that it's never just one thing that causes a catastrophe. Like The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen after it, Dr. Moreau was a production mired in everything from weather-based disaster, to the near madness of its stars; from studio influence (or lack thereof), to personal visions that defied all logical realisation. Director David Gregory delights in the minutiae of explanation and soundbite. This is the antithesis of a red top newspaper, which might run a story blaming the whole thing on Marlon Brando's ego (though that too was clearly a factor).
It helps that, whilst Gregory cannot get Brando and whilst Kilmer seems to have refused to appear, he does have Richard Stanley. The original director of the film (he wrote the script, completed pre-production and oversaw all of three days of the shoot), Stanley is a man who tells Gregory's camera with a straight face that a warlock got him the job in the first place and that, when things went wrong, it coincided with the same warlock falling gravely ill. Quite which of these things influenced the other is left for only Stanley to know. Despite his anachronisms though, he is a captivating character of honesty, creativity, subtle brio and deep seated honesty. He is, warlock and all, very easy to like, in the same way that, recently, the stories about the Conran brothers (who made Sky Captain And The World of Tomorrow, impressed George Lucas and promptly exited Hollywood, stage left) have also been. Perhaps, depressingly, there is just no room in Hollywood for the true nice guys, the ideas men and the boundary pushers.
There are gaps though and the slightly shoddy production values do hurt it. Two Australian stoners who tell of driving Fairuza Balk halfway across the country to get away from the set and who sneaked Stanley back into the production as an extra in full face mask, take forever to get their story out and aren't pressed on detail. Gregory is missing not only Brando and Kilmer, but also producer Michael De Luca, who must have a story to tell (he takes a lot of the blame and does not have a credit on the eventual film). John Frankenheimer's AD offers a lot of value ('they'd gone all the way out to the jungle... and planted more jungle!'), but the film is perhaps also missing a Frankenheimer figure; someone to offset Stanley's niceness and fire off some revealing broadsides. Still, given the characters involved, this is probably as close as you'll get and even at this distance it's a very entertaining reveal.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley's Island Of Dr. Moreau was playing on UK Netflix.