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

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After hearing all the buzz on the newest Fantastic Four movie and the problems the cast and crew had with the studio and each other, I started getting more interested in that than the movie itself. Which went from boring to cliche, by the way.

It’s the perfect way to do some far off observing into how the studio views the subject itself versus how the filmmakers do. After deciding to look into some other filmmaker/studio clashes, I rediscovered the 1996 The Island of Doctor Moreau. Holy crap.

It took me a long time to realize that a movie being garbage wasn’t as simple as “[Enter actor/director’s name here] sucked!”

While that is the case many times, it can certainly go much deeper. The newest Fantastic Four is a great example of what happens when big business uses their big business money to finance a smaller director hoping to simply tell them what to do and get the best results. Regardless of what happened on the set of that film, I don’t think anything could compare to the lunacy experienced during the making of the ’96 Moreau. Sounds like wine.

I remember being a kid and watching the film based on HG Wells’ classic novel about a disenfranchised scientist who had virtually made himself god to these animal/human hybrids he’d made on an island. Creepy idea, and pretty edgy at the time considering vivisection was a heavily debated topic at the time as well.

With some creepily fantastic concept art and a nice cast lining up, things seemed to be running smoothly enough.

With some creepily fantastic concept art and a nice cast lining up, things seemed to be running smoothly enough.

In any case, the movie weirded me out. More than that, it grossed me out and I was faced with watching a film where the idea of a film was much better than the film itself. Even to this day, I imagine watching that movie again and thinking “Hey, it’s not that bad.” But I’ve been in the position too many times to not fight that thought.

But this post isn’t about The Island of Doctor Moreau itself, but the making of it. This documentary highlights some of the horrendous ongoings of a film that, after all is said and done, I’m really surprised they got an entire film released at all, so credit to them.

Richard Stanley was a writer/director with smaller, creative works to his name. Not that dissimilar to Gareth Edwards going from Monsters to Godzilla, Marc Webb and Colin Trevorrow going from films like 500 Days of Summer and Safety Not Guaranteed to The Amazing Spider-Man and Jurassic World.

It’s just they think now, I guess. “Hey, these guys made a good movie with a talented cast. So they’ll make our movie good. Plus they’ve got no power so they have to change anything we tell them to.” That’s how I imagine every major studiohead talking before production.

Only it didn’t seem to be even as simple as studio executives just “getting in the way.” No, from the weirdness of those involved to external forced that couldn’t be avoided, Moreau was doomed from the start. There don’t even seem to be any conflicting reports from the cast and crew interviewed here. There’s not any real “He said/she said,” “No, that’s not how it happened” stuff going on. Everyone seems to be in general accordance with each other. Examples, you say?

Does that hat count as one?

Does wearing that hat ALL THE TIME count as one?

Well, let’s start off with the general weirdness of writer/director Richard Stanley asking his warlock friend to bless his film.

“Knowing that the odds were stacked against me, I resorted to Witchcraft. At that point in time, I was friends with this warlock chappie in England…[the warlock] had demonstrated his ability to fix things, to do invisible mending before. So I said to him ‘Skip, my God you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to save my movie.”

Stanley goes onto say that while he was in LA to meet with Marlon Brando, “Skip” was on the other side of the world cutting himself in some blood ritual to make sure everything was going alright. This reminds me of the interview with Omen director Richard Donner somewhat dismissing all the claims that the set of The Omen was cursed, saying that on comedy movie sets, everybody remembers the laughs, but on a Horror/Suspense feature, people remember the creepiness.

But still, I can’t help but wonder with how bad everything go for the set of Moreau, Stanley hadn’t actually had the movie cursed. Before shooting, Marlon Brando’s daughter committed suicide as co-star Val Kilmer’s then wife sent him divorce papers on set. The divorce papers weren’t specifically mentioned in the film but it makes me wonder if that’s part of what made Kilmer so difficult to work with. But between Brando and Kilmer, you’ve just got to hear the cast/crew stories for yourself on how weird they made things.

It should also be mentioned that Brando’s character was practically made up by Brando himself due to the continuous “creative liberties” he took, deciding that the film was trash and didn’t matter anyway. This included having the world’s smallest man, Nelson de la Rosa go from playing a mutant extra to being in every single scene with Brando. This evidently gave the 2’4 actor a big head. If Brando loves you, how awesome are you, right?

Inspiring Mini-Me, the "all-white" look was Brando's idea as well.

Inspiring Mini-Me, the “all-white” look was Brando’s idea as well.

One cast member remembers the previously cordial de la Rosa telling him to shut up and punching him in the nuts for asking how his day was. The actor didn’t do anything because, as he put it, “If somebody had seen me kicking the smallest man in the world around, you’re in trouble.”

Watch this movie, currently available on Netflix. It really shows another side to the industry associated with big smiles and flashy cars.

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