There are those of us – this reviewer included – who believe that Richard Stanley could have become one of the world’s truly great filmmakers, if the Gods had been on his side. His first film, Hardware, is a cult classic. His second film, Dust Devil, was even better. But both Hardware and Dust Devil hit major bumps in the road – Hardware was famously smacked with a lawsuit from 2000 AD, and Dust Devil was so badly butchered by Miramax that it was lost in the wilderness for several years. Even though Stanley’s Final Cut of the movie is now available on DVD, it has never received the acclaim it deserves. And then came the straw that really broke Stanley’s back: The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Creating a definitive cinematic version of Dr. Moreau had always been Stanley’s dream, and David Gregory’s fascinating documentary elegantly charts how that dream quickly became a nightmare: from an early crisis meeting with the film’s star, Marlon Brando, that had Stanley so worried he asked a Warlock friend to supply some magical intervention, to the infantile super-brat tactics of the film’s other leading man, Val Kilmer, who was not only locked in psychological warfare with Brando, he was also intent on undermining Stanley at every turn, to an unprecedented tropical storm that destroyed most of the film’s sets, to New Line Cinema’s decision to replace Stanley with the despotic John Frankenheimer, to the rumour that Stanley – instead of boarding the first flight out of Australia, as New Line demanded – had ‘gone troppo’ and was living out in the jungle smoking superhuman amounts of pot and laying grandiose plans to sabotage the production… this is, by a very long way, the most astonishing and engrossing filmmaking documentary we have ever seen. Although it’s obvious that Gregory’s sympathies lie – quite rightly - with Stanley, it is still a very even-handed piece, loaded with straight-to-camera contributions from Stanley, various members of his cast and crew (but not Kilmer, unsurprisingly), and even one or two of the New Line execs. On top of all that, the film is illustrated with a rich cornucopia of photographs, ‘behind the scenes’ footage and some truly astounding storyboard art.
The fact that Stanley wasn’t allowed to make ‘Moreau’ is tragic, but it’s even more tragic that the experience burned Stanley so badly he has all but retreated from the world of cinema. Perhaps, one day soon, he will be tempted to return. But until that happens, Lost Soul is a teasing ‘what if?’ and a fine testament to the power of Stanley’s original vision.
LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: DAVID GREGORY / STARRING: FAIRUZA BALK, HUGH DICKSON, OLI DICKSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW