Tuesday, July 14, 2015

LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY'S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (2014)


LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY'S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (2014) 

Label: Severin Films
Region Code: A

Rating: Unrated
Duration: 100 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA  2.0
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 
Director: David Gregory
Cast: Richard Stalney, Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider, Rob Morrow, Bob Shay

Synopsis: The filming of the ill-fated 1996 version of H. G. Welles’ THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU is the stuff of legend. For the first time since he was unceremoniously escorted off his longtime dream project, Richard (HARDWARE) Stanley reveals in detail his spectacular original vision and how it was all ripped apart at the seams. Cast members including Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider and Rob Morrow, executives and producers Robert Shaye, Edward R. Pressman and Tim Zinnemann, concept artist Graham Humphreys, members of the Stan Winston Makeup Effects team as well as a host of cast and crew members recall the stories first hand of colossal egos run amok, a production way out of control, and how the original filmmaker was banished from the set but wouldn’t let go. Directed by David Gregory (PLAGUE TOWN, THEATRE BIZARRE, THE GODFATHERS OF MONDO), this is the sensational story of what could have been a science fiction masterpiece which became a huge creative and financial disaster; the story of the outsider artist versus Hollywood machine.


I remember catching Island of Dr. Moreau in the theatre at the time the movie was in cinema and thinking it was a rather silly adaptation, Marlon Brando parading around in white face with an hat full of ice. It had its moments but it was a film I never went back and watched, it is widely considered a very bad film and I would have to agree with that assessment. This documentary doesn't serve to re-write history, holding the film up as some misunderstood lost classic of cinema, instead it paints a lunatic image of the film that could have been and why the movie as it stands is such a wreck.


Richard Stanley emerged on the scene with two compelling movie, the science-fiction cult-classic Hardware (1990) and the shape-shifting demon horror film Dust Devil (1992) and the young auteur seemed well-suited to helm a new adaptation of the H.G. Wells science fiction classic. As so often happens the young auteur thrown into a big-budget Hollywood production was bound to hit a few snags and of course that's exactly what happened. Only a few days into filming Stanley was yanked from the project and replaced by Hollywood veteran John Frankenheimer (Manchurian Candidate). 


I love that enough time has elapsed since the making of the film that the participants -- including director Richard Stanley -- are comfortable enough to be open and pretty darn candid about the experience in retrospect. For his part Stanley openly amidst that the failure rest on his shoulders as the director of the film, but we get a broad enough picture to see the confluence of machinations that lead to his removal from the film including the difficulty of working with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer - two notoriously difficult Hollywood actors with huge egos. 


It's quite a fascinating documentary as we go further down the rabbit hole of the production with memorable recollections from cast and crew, including several new lines executives, Bob Shay among them, who didn';t seem to care for Stanley from the beginning, but who had already invested so much into the production they couldn't just cut and run from the production at that point, hence they brought it Frankenheimer whom had previously worked under similar condition after a director had been fired from a project. 


Many of the cast and crew remember him as an old school tyrant who barked orders, but I imagine that is such a stressful situation for all involved, I don't think they completely demonize him but for sure both Marco Hofschneider and Fairuza Balk paint a less than favorable image of the man. In many ways maybe Stanley got of lucky without having to deal with the strange demands and egos of Brando and Kilmer, who by many accounts seem to have been just fucking with Frankenheimer at certain points, seemingly set on sabotaging the film. 


There are some great stories from Stanley who speaks about the evolution of the project which amounted to a passion project, the guy was completely absorbed by the project, showcasing the fantastic creature designs done by San Winston and his crew, sharing early concept art by illustrator/artists Graham Humphries, whom I had no idea was involved on the project, that was just one of may revelations this brought to the forward for me. Another f my favorite entries would have to be Stanley enlisting the help of a witch doctor to help secure the deal with New Line, later recalling how when the witch doctor became ill with sickness how his spell casting came undone and had that contributed to the unthreading of the project, regardless of your belief in karma and the witchery the story is compelling and Stanley is quite a tale spinner, which makes for easy digestion.  


I had always heard about Stanley living in the jungle and visiting the set disguised as one of the dog-faced extras after his removal from the project, it was great to hear about from his own mouth and from the cast and crew on set, of finding Stanley living off the land just down river from the production. This is one of my favorite documentaries this year and one I highly recommend for fans of movie-making who want to watch the how and why of one of the more memorably bad movies of the 90s.


Onto the extras we have over seventy-five minutes of outtakes with additional interviews with director Richard Stanley, Marco Hofschneider, Graham Humphries, Jim Sbardellati, Graham Walker and Hugh and Ollie, with the bulk of that going to Richard Stanley who goes more in depth about his creative ideas for his version of the film, some strange stuff but compelling to hear about just the same. 


There's an Graham Humphries Concept Art Gallery with commentary from the director who goes in depth with the idea behind each panel, and some of the artwork is fantastic and vibrant, my favorite being a panel of the House of Pain with Moreau appearing as a Christ type figure of sorts with a Cthulu type tentacled creature in the background. Made me wish for an animated film or graphic novel using those original ideas -- that would be amazing. 


Frankenheimer passed away in 2002 but we do get an archival interview from around the time of the movie's release and the guy is a total Hollywood pro as he describes how difficult it can be to take over a troubled production. In reality you know he must have wanted to murder both Kilmer and Brando who by all accounts made life miserable for everyone on the set, but during this interview he paints both as consummate professionals who he loved working with, no wonder New Line hired this guy. 


Horror legend Barbara Steele was set to be cast in the film as Moreau's former wife but it nevere happened, but she is represented here through an audio interview as she fondly recalls her meeting with Stanley, commenting on his passion and enthusiasm for the project, and also speaking about dinners with Brando and Frankenheimer, and apparently Frankenheimer threw some debaucherous Hollywood parties back in the day according to her. 


The last extras on the disc are a 10 minute featurette of a screening for the documentary from Mexico in 2014 with Stanley being made-up as one of the man-creatures, answering questions from the audience. There's also a six-minute piece that revisits the set location in Australia 20 years later, now covered in vegetative growth, but they still manage to find a few relics from the filming, including one of Brando's jars of Vegemite -- which he reportedly did not care for. 


The last of the extras are a reading from one of the boar men's diaries from his time on set which a few passages about the removal of Stanley and the arrival of Frankenheimer, plus a theatrical trailer for the film. 


Also available from Severin Films is the Special 3-Disc House of Pain Edition of the documentary which includes a bonus DVD of he recently discovered 1921 German version of the movie running 78 minutes with a featurette about Wells by Sylvia Hardy and another with Richard Stanley speaking about the author. Additionally there's a third disc with a new audio book recording of Stanley reading H.G. Wells "The Island of Dr. Moreau"

Special Features: 
- Outtakes - Interviews with Richard Stanley (48 Mins), Marco Hofschneider (17 Mins), Graham Humphries (1 Min), Jim Sbardellati (10 Mins), Graham Walker (2 Mins) Hugh and Ollie (1 Min) HD 
- Graham Humphries Concept Gallery with Commentary by Richard Stanley (15 Mins) (17 Images) HD
- Achival Interview with John Frankenheimer (6 Mins) HD
- Barbara Steele Recalls Moreau - Audio Interview (5 Mins) HD
- The Beast of Morbido - Featurette (10 Mins) HD
- The Hunt for the Compound - Featurette (6 Mins) HD
- Boar Man Diary - Featurette (15 Mins) HD 
- Trailer 

I find documentaries about doomed film productions to be quite fascinating, with the lingering question of what could have been and what went wrong, it is just so interesting to me as a movie fan. Following my viewing of the doc I wanted to watch the Frankenheimer movie again, which is probably not the intention of doc, but I will certainly have a new appreciation for the original concept as was never realized by Richard Stanley, and you just have to wonder what could have been if the studio had supported the young filmmaker a bit more, or if the confluence of circumstances had come together differently, would it have been something special or would it have just gone off the rails as the New Line execs feared? It's hard to say, but it is a fascinating journey, and this documentary is a fantastic watch
. 3.5/5  

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