Fantastic Fest Review: LOST SOUL Is A Film Buff’s Dream Documentary

The director of HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL got kicked off his own film, and Marlon Brando drove it into the ground

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) is a shit film. You know it, I know it, hell, even the people who made it know it. But did it have to be that way?

Not many people realize that Richard Stanley, creator of the one-two cult hits Hardware and Dust Devil, was originally slated to direct Moreau. In fact, the entire project was his baby, his dream project since he was a little boy and was forbidden from reading the book by his parents, who claimed it would be too scary for him.

This of course only drew him to it more quickly and he soon was captivated by the story of a man who tried to become God only to have everything taken away from him.

After the success of Stanley's two insane and delightful films (watch Hardware immediately if you haven’t) he was ready for a big Hollywood film. So he wrote the script for Moreau, got some concept art together that showed him updating the H.G. Wells story to present day, and he convinced New Line to produce the project. It was originally supposed to be a modestly sized film - 8 million dollars - but then they got Marlon Brando attached, and things went south from there.

A big star requires more big stars, and Bruce Willis and James Woods were originally attached, immediately turning the film into a huge American fiasco rather than the smaller, authentic, British film Stanley had envisioned. They decided to shoot the film in the middle of an Australian jungle with lots of effects work by Stan Winston Studios, and the budget rose and rose as the film kept being changed more and more from Stanley’s original vision.

Weather issues, egotism, issues with actors dropping out, a fear of Stanley not being able to handle a film this big - all of these issues led to New Line getting scared and pulling the director from his own film, only to replace him with John Frankenheimer, who apparently came in just to finish the thing and could care less if it was actually good or had any artistic vision. He had that in common with his star, at least, as Brando was notorious for not learning his lines and making up his own ideas at his own whim. (His weird little primordial dwarf companion/twin? Solely Brando's idea.)

New addition Val Kilmer was also apparently a nightmare to work with, but he was a big star at the time so he got to do what he wanted, even going so far as to demand fewer shooting days than anyone else.

All of this alone would have made for a great documentary, but it gets even better. While New Line tried to get Stanley on a flight out of the country and out of their hair, he simply disappeared, seemingly into the jungle. The studio began to worry that he had sabotage on his mind and this is the moment that the story starts to feel larger than life, with some real parallels to the film.

This is an utterly fascinating and entertaining documentary, required viewing for anyone who loves to get a little more insight into the workings of Hollywood and to confirm that yes, it is a business first and foremost. Art comes second.

Stanley is a captivating figure in his own right (still wearing that hat all these years later!) and just to hear him wax poetic about the world he would have created would have been enough, even without the great interviews with all of the cast and crew involved with making this long, drawn-out trainwreck.

This is my pick of the festival so far. Severin Films has already picked this incredible film up so you should plan to see it soon. Stick it on your shelf next to Lost in La Mancha and Jodorowsky's Dune.