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This is the story of the film, Lost Soul, the Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s The Island Of Dr. Moreau. It is a film about the making of the 1996 film, The Island Of Dr. Moreau starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. It is a film about the making of a film, but it is a far superior film than the film it is about. When we last left young director Richard Stanley, he had just gotten good news: the film he had brought to New Line Cinema was going to star Marlon Brando. And now the bad news! It would be directed by ...Roman Polanski? Huh? Dr. Moreau was his movie. He developed it and brought it to producer Edward Pressman. "What about me?" Stanley thought. He did what anyone in his situation would do. “Knowing the odds were stacked against me, I resorted to witchcraft.”
Okey doke! The fact that Mr. Stanley is not joking is but one of the many, many, reasons I prefer Lost Soul to the movie it's about. “At that point in time I was friendly with this warlock chappy in England, Dr. Edward James Featherstone, commonly known as Skip.”
Whatever Skip The Warlock did it must have worked, because after meeting with Brando, Stanley was back on board, with Brando stipulating he would only make the movie if Stanley was at the helm.
The Island Of Dr. Moreau is the story of a mad genius destroyed by his own creation. Guess what Lost Soul, the Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s The Island Of Dr. Moreau is also about? It could also have been called, “With The Best Intentions,” because, what is true of human/animal experiments is also true of Hollywood mega-productions. People tend to think their bad ideas are good ideas when they first have them.
All looked wonderful at first, the project was chugging along, with Marlon Brando set in the lead and Bruce Willis and James Woods (both then at career peaks) cast in the other starring roles. A location was set. Believe it or not, a place near Cairns, Australia called Cape Tribulation. As if taking its cue from the location's name, the production started to suffer trials and.... well, you get it. Bruce Willis was getting divorced and dropped out of the movie. At this point Stanley recalls, a haunted look crossing his eyes, “I then made another strategic error. I met Val Kilmer."
Kilmer was in, inflating the budget even more. Richard Stanley's moderately priced, gritty retelling of H.G. Welles' classic novel was turning into a multi-million dollar Hollywood mega-production starring two of the most notoriously difficult actors in recent memory.
Of course, everyone had the best intentions. For while. But according to Lost Souls, not long after taking his part, Kilmer decided he was too busy to do it and demanded 40% fewer shooting days. Stanley solved that problem by giving Kilmer James Woods’ part. Goodbye, James. Then Rob Morrow joined the cast, taking Kilmer’s part after Kilmer took Wood’s part.
The production moved to Cape Tribulation. Stanley, in pre-production but already under the intense pressure, began to withdraw into himself. In the words of one of the producers, “The closer we got to production, the more isolated he made himself. The more unavailable he made himself.”
Rob Morrow added, “It was clear quickly that he might have been in over his head. Not because of anything except a lot of forces that were not aligned for him.” Again, this is the story of a man trying to tell the story of a man who is destroyed by his own creation.
My favorite Stephen King novel is 11/22/63, which tells the story of a man who finds a time portal nestled in the back of a run down diner. The portal takes him back to the early 1960’s. He decides to stay in the past until November of 1963 when he plans to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK. The problem he encounters is that the past does not want to be changed. Everything under Heaven and Earth is allied against him. He gets sick, there’s a storm, he’s in a car accident…
The same forces seemed to have gathered against Richard Stanley in his attempts to make The Island Of Dr. Moreau.
Juuuuust before filming began, Marlon Brando’s daughter Cheyenne tragically died. She was twenty-five. Unsure if Brando would even show up, much less perform, production proceeded, albeit cautiously. But the streak of bad luck was just starting. Stanley’s assistant got bit by poisonous spider. According to Stanley, Skip The Warlock, in London, came down with a mysterious illness that caused his bones to deteriorate. It also, according to Stanley, caused his spells to come undone.
Despite this adversity, filming did begin on The Island Of Dr. Moreau. With Brando in Los Angeles, the schedule went out the window. Some scenes were grabbable and so they were grabbed, but according to the documentary, Kilmer butted heads with Stanley from day one. Kilmer was unhappy. Rob Morrow, spooked by the chaos, was unhappy. Marlon Brando, back in Los Angeles, was in mourning. Then a hurricane struck, washing away many of the sets. Now everyone was unhappy and the sets were in the ocean.
New Line knew a change had to be made. They had millions invested and could not just pull the plug on the movie. But they could pull the plug on the director. So they did. Richard Stanley was fired. He had been shooting for three whole days.
Stanley was packed up and sent home. But he didn’t actually leave. Like Dr. Moreau, he quietly retreated into the nearby jungle. And waited.
This story, stranger than fiction yet so very true, unfolds in the riveting, Lost Soul, the Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s The Island Of Dr. Moreau. It is that rarity of rarities, a movie about a movie that is more entertaining than the movie it is about.
And the story is only beginning. To be continued.