The full ugly story of what became of Richard Stanley's studio debut unfolds in David Gregory's sprawling documentary LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY'S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU on Blu-ray and DVD in various editions from Severin Films.
Although the promotional artwork for LOST SOUL is of director Richard Stanley seemingly taking the place of Dr. Moreau about to be overrun by his beasts, the more apt dominant image is of Stanley in the midst of a hurricane railing against the gods (which indeed underlines the closing credits). It is rare – especially before the proliferation of social media – that audiences get to hear in detail the behind the scenes stories of a studio film that are not publicity-friendly, much less an over-budgeted flop, and viewers of LOST SOUL will walk away with thinking considerably less of several of the people involved while also perhaps recognizing that the admirably ambitious Stanley may indeed have been a bit out of his depth in the studio system. It is either a testament to the determination of director David Gregory (PLAGUE TOWN) or to just how nightmarish the experience of working on what would become John Frankenheimer's THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU was that so many people on both sides of the camera are willing to talk about it in such a candid manner.
Having made a name for himself as a new voice of genre cinema with HARDWARE, Richard Stanley then tangled with Miramax over his cut of DUST DEVIL which the independent studio severely re-edited (Miramax only trimmed HARDWARD for an R-rating in the states) and spent much of his own personal funds on getting the rights and materials back to create his cut of the film as it would be shown in the UK and other territories. From his cottage in the mountainous region of Montségur, France, Stanley shows us what remains of the materials he compiled developing his version of the Wells novel from age nine upwards and how he collaborated with artist Graham Humphreys on a series of drawings to help pitch the film. New Line Cinema's Bob Shaye (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET), script reader Tim Sullivan (2001 MANIACS), and producer Edward Pressman (THE BAD LIEUTENANT) recall the role former head of production Michael De Luca had in bringing new talent to the studio including David Fincher (SE7EN) and Stanley.
Initially conceived as a moderately budgeted picture with DAS BOOT's Jurgen Prochnow (who appeared in John Carpenter's IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS scripted by De Luca for New Line) as Moreau, the possibility of getting Marlon Brando for the lead – despite his notorious difficulty on his previous New Line venture DON JUAN DEMARCO – lead to an increased budget and the possibility of securing Stanley's other choices Bruce Willis as the hero and James Woods as Montgomery. While Stanley sought an ideal location in Queensland, Stan Winston Studio went to work on months of pre-production development of the creature effects. When Willis had to pull out because of his divorce from Demi Moore, Val Kilmer – fresh off the success of BATMAN FOREVER – was approached to take over the role. Coming across as arrogant and disagreeable to Stanley and not wanting to work the required schedule, Kilmer be recast in the role of Montgomery (replacing Woods) and Rob Morrow (NORTHERN EXPOSURE) was cast in the lead.
Through the testimony of Morrow, co-stars Fairuza Balk (RETURN TO OZ) and Marco Hofschneider (EUROPA EUROPA), creature performers Fiona Mahl (as one of the sow ladies), David Hudson (the Bison Man), and Neil Young (as the Boar Man), Stan Winston effects artists Bruce Spaulding Fuller (THOR) and Dave Grasso (JURASSIC PARK), production runners Hugh Dickson (RAW MEAT) and Oli Dickson, and production designer Graham 'Grace' Walker (DEAD CALM) among others, we get the ugly details of Kilmer's disagreeable treatment of cast, crew, and particularly Stanley as well as Brando's determination to reshape the script to his whims and fancies (the machinations of both sidelined Hofschneider's character with Brando promoting RATMAN's Nelson de la Rosa to Moreau's "Mini Me"). Already in over his head, Stanley's days were numbered with a mutinous cast and weather that would soon wash away half of the set (at which point Morrow pulled out, although there is no mention in the documentary at all about David Thewlis as his replacement). When he was let go (through his agent rather than in person), he was paid his full salary on the stipulation that he stay away from the production should it; although he eluded the runner who were supposed to ensure that he got on a plane home. Production resumed under the direction of John Frankenheimer who had also replaced Arthur Penn on THE TRAIN and Charles Crichton on BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ; and that is where things became even more volatile…
The documentary is available from Severin in three editions: a single-disc Blu-ray, a single-disc DVD, and the three-disc "House of Pain" edition. All three feature the same content on the first disc while the three-disc features a DVD and a CD audio book. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen transfer is of course a patchwork of sources in various formats, resolutions, and quality with the interviews and details of Stanley's and the Stan Winston Studio artists' conceptual drawings as well as the film clips benefiting from HD. Music and additional effects on the LPCM 2.0 stereo track are supportive without distracting from the dialogue (optional English subtitles are also provided).
The BD50 release undoubtedly better compresses the disc's extras better than the DVD edition taking into account the ninety-nine minute film and over two hours of additional extras. Labeled "outtakes" are extensions of the interviews excerpted in the film. The lengthiest and most satisfying is with Stanley (47:36) who expands upon his comments in the film about Britain's seemingly disinterest in adapting Wells, and the particularly British flavor of the writer's works (and his reluctance to Americanize his script as expressed in the documentary). While he took New Line's signing Polanski onto the film as a betrayal, he now concedes that a Polanski version would likely have been closer to his original script. He also mentions that he wanted Kryzstof Kieslowski's composer Zbigniew Preisner (THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE and the "Three Colors" series) to compose the score; and that the composer had actually begun work on the main theme. Marco Hofschneider (16:33) gives us a bit more on Kilmer's jerky behavior, Frankenheimer's cruelty towards Stanley regular William Hootkins (BATMAN), and the cast's reluctance to promote the film before release. Frankenheimer's assistant director James Sbardellati (5:45) briefly discusses his viewing of Stanley's unusable rushes from the hurricane shoot while Walker (2:18) recalls how proud he was of the Moreau compound set. Graham Humphreys (1:17) displays some prop art he designed for the film, including some drawings meant for the scene in which Barbara Steele was teaching an orangutan. Steele appears in an audio interview (5:19) in which she recalls her first meeting with Stanley (who she felt possessed the "staggering psychic stature" of Orson Welles) and that Stanley told her that her character was a continuation of the scientist she played in Joe Dante's PIRANHA. Hugh & Ollie Dickson (1:19) gives us a bit more on their chauffeuring Brando and playing chess with him.
Stanley provides commentary on a gallery of Humphrey's conceptual art (14:32) which includes proposed cover designs for the script, artwork on the unused sloth people (meant to be stop motion animated), and pieces that touch upon the theological aspects of Stanley's adaptation. The archival interview with Frankenheimer (6:02) is alternately frustrating and amusing as he lies through his teeth about his affable working relationship with Brando – who he insists deferred to his directorial choices – and Kilmer (for whose bad behavior he attempts to explain away and apologize for). "The Beast of Morbido" featurette (9:43) finds Stanley at the Morbido Film Festival promoting a screening of LOST SOUL in beast make-up by former Stan Winston Studio artist ? He manages to convey his ill feelings towards Frankenheimer's film in good humor and jokingly suggests that actress Balk may have brought some bad mojo to the film having played witches in THE CRAFT and THE WORST WITCH. "The Hunt for the Compound" (6:18) finds David Gregory and crew searching for what remains of the Moreau set in Cairns. Although the set was destroyed, the non-indigenous plants planted by the set dressers have flourished. In "Boar Man Diary" (15:15), actor Neil Young – with his back to the camera the entire time – reads from his daily recollections which touch upon being in make-up on days where no footage of him was shot as well as the ballooned shooting schedule and salary. The first disc closes out with a trailer (2:03) for the documentary.
The second disc is titled "The H.G. Wells Files" and has as its principle extra a lost 1921 German silent adaptation of the Wells novel by Urban Gad with no title on the print, but IMDb lists the film's English title as "Island of the Lost" (61:48). Previously thought lost – LOST SOUL cites the first adaptation as the Erle C. Kenton 1932 adaptation ISLAND OF LOST SOULS – this liberal adaptation is interesting if not entirely successful. Starting out with a certain light comic tone, a bottle washes ashore with a message from Jane Crowford (Hanni Weisse) who has been missing for three years and claims to be held prisoner on an island. Recognizing the handwriting to indeed be that of his missing fiancé, social-climbing Robert Marston (Alf Blütecher) is more concerned about the news being discovered by his new fiancée Evelyne (Ludmilla Hell). His con artist doctor friend Ted (Tronier Funder) advises him that the best way to prevent Evelyne from finding out is to find Jane before anyone else does and explain things to her. His publicity scheme in which he claims to have created the "artificial human" promised by missing scientist Dr. Thomason goes awry and he ends up accompanying Robert on his trip to the island by submarine. Arriving on the island with their black porter (who has only to shed his jacket to blend in with the island's few natives, including love interest Desdemona Schlichting), they discover that Jane is indeed the prisoner of Dr. McClelland (Erich Kaiser-Titz) who has been conducting experiments on the island. Robert and Ted have no trouble securing her freedom only to discover that McClelland's assistant Fung-Lu (Nien Tso Ling) – who has reluctantly signed away his record of his substantial contributions to the McClelland's experiments to support his opium addiction – only to discover that the submarine has been blown up. Taking shelter in the woods, a love triangle forms as Jane learns of Evelyne and falls for Ted only for Robert – believing he will never see Evelyne again – to try to reassert his claim on her. When McClelland is ready to use Jane (or parts of her) in his ultimate experiment, he sends his beast man to retrieve her.
If the film is not exactly PC in terms of minorities (although what film was during this period), its portrayal of the female characters is refreshing. Damsel in distress Jane wises up quickly to her former fiancé's true character, and the seemingly superficial Evelyn proves to be the most strong-willed and resourceful character (even if her initiating the rescue of Jane and Richard is motivated by her wanting "to get a look" at her romantic rival). The German intertitles are translated by optional English subtitles, and the windowboxed presentation is a tad cropped with the last lines of some long intertitles bisected. A Severin Films logo pops up in the right upper corner at intervals. Quality is only just fair, but what can you expect from a lost silent film? The music score is a compilation of Creative Commons royalty free music. The second disc also includes as an Easter Egg the 1909 silent short "The Invisible Thief" (7:25) about a man inspired by Wells' novel "The Invisible Man" to use an invisibility serum to perpetrate a crime.
The disc also features "H.G. Wells on Film" (18:59) in which expert Sylvia Hardy – author "H.G. Wells and Language" as well as contributions to the journal of the H.G. Wells Society – gives us a biographical overview of Wells, how his works performed in their own era (including affront from anti-Darwinists), as well as his unfilmable script "The King Who Was A King", the aforementioned short "Invisible Thief", the adaptations of Moreau, "First Men on the Moon", "The Shape of Things to Come" (on which producer Alexander Korda gave Wells creative control before realizing that the author did not know anything about film), and "The Invisible Men" as well as adaptations of his lesser known works like "Passionate Friends". In "Richard Stanley on H.G. Wells" (16:09), the director demonstrates that this knowledge and admiration of Wells extends beyond "The Island of Dr. Moreau" the various science fiction concepts he originated as well as the British social context of his works (as well as the utopian ideals they espoused). The "audio book" CD features Stanley himself reading Wells' novel, but this is not a CD you can just toss into your CD player for a listen. Since the running time is nearly five hours (290:54), the chapters are formatted separate .mp3 files which listeners may be better off copying onto whatever mobile device they use for digital audio rather than staring at a blank monitor for four hours. (Eric Cotenas)
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