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

Year: 2014
Production Co: Severin Films
Director: David Gregory
Writer: David Gregory
Cast: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balik, Bob Shaye, Edward R Pressman, Rob Morrow

Hollywood loves nothing more than the crazy rebel who breaks all the rules, but the content on screen is usually completely at odds with the buttoned down corporate culture that produces large scale filmed entertainments in the modern world. But what the rest of us love are stories about when the rebellious aesthetic and attitude on screen bleeds off into the real world.

No idea what I'm talking about? Imagine a scenario where a visionary but prickly director is handed the reigns of a major movie being filmed in an unmanageable location with difficult actors and the production spirals out of control, suits panicking and talent dithering (including the director urgently calling a warlock back in London asking for a spell to turn fortunes in his favour), nobody with any idea what anybody else is doing.

When the suits finally manage to get near the drug-fuelled orgy the shoot has descended into they promptly fire the director – who disappears – installing one they think they can control but who turns out to be just as belligerent and gruff, destroying what little camaraderie still exists between the cast and crew and with as little control as his predecessor had.

Midway through the second half of the debacle and unbeknown to anyone, the first director – who's actually gone native in the jungle close by to smoke a shitload of pot and contemplate his navel – sneaks back onto the set in costume and ends up as an extra in the movie.

It sounds like it would make a great black comedy from the mind of some sarcastic screenwriter, mining everything we think we know about the egos and self-importance of movie types, but Richard Stanley (director of Hardware) did just that when New Line Cinema chucked him off the far north Queensland shoot of The Island of Dr Moreau and replaced him with John Frankenheimer.

After spending months upriver near the Cairns location, Stanley was eventually convinced to come back and check the shoot out by two local production drivers who'd befriended him, donning one of the animal costumes and ending up in some of the climatic sequences.

The movie was an embarrassment and a flop for New Line, it cemented Val Kilmer's reputation as Hollywood's most hard-to-wrangle star (there hadn't been any doubt about Brando for years), and that might have remained all we'd known about the movie for decades.

But one of the truest axioms of Hollywood is that everyone can finally tell the truth when the flurry of publicity is over, and documentarian David Gregory gets Stanley, New Line founder Bob Shaye, co-star Fairuza Balk and a huge cast of local actors and crew to spill the beans on the whole fiasco.

Stanley's having gone AWOL is just one of the priceless, stranger-than-fiction stories in Lost Souls, and he almost gets off looking like the only normal one until he talks about calling his warlock friend to cast a spell.

Sometimes, like in Back to the Future or Airplane!, chance, coincidence, accident and even a lack of creative control somehow conspire to make near-perfect movies. The Island of Dr Moreau was the complete opposite, a project where everything that can and did go wrong (tropical weather shutting everything for weeks was the least of it) conspired to ruin every aspect of the production from day one, the ruination painfully visible in the final movie.

Luckily there's still enough archive material and disgruntled people around to reveal what really happened, and in Lost Soul director David Gregory has done a great job bringing it all together and the movie is thoroughly entertaining in revealing it.

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