• Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley's Island Of Dr. Moreau

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: July 28th, 2015.
    Director: David Gregory
    Cast: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider, Robert Shaye, Edward R. Pressman
    Year: 2014
    Purchase from Amazon

    The Movie:

    Richard Stanley was an up and coming whiz kid in the early nineties when his first two features, Hardware and Dust Devil, earned him a reputation as a distinctly creative filmmaker able to bring in a project on a low budget. He was also a big H.G. Wells fan so he quite actively started talking to friend and cohort Graham Humprhy’s about getting work started on an adaptation of the writer’s infamous The Island Of Doctor Moreau. A lifelong fan of the book, he managed to get producer Edward Pressman on board and after a bit of work, it looked like things were starting to come together.

    From there, the film got optioned by New Line and started attracting some name stars. Rob Morrow, popular at the time for Northern Exposure, was involved but it wasn’t until Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando were brought into the cast that it really started to pick up. Stanley, still more than a little green behind the ears, went off to the rainy Australian coast to make his dream project a reality… and then he got canned. The film was infamously handed over to a crotchety John Frankenheimer, then on a bit of a downslide and thankful for the work, and would go on to become a notorious flop.

    Stanley, meanwhile, didn’t leave Australia and because of this, paranoia started building amongst the cast and crew that the strange director with the wide brimmed hat and the white linen suit might just be trying to sabotage the entire production…

    Without going too heavily into spoiler territory, David Gregory’s documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley's Island Of Dr. Moreau is the fascinating and true story of crushed dreams, egomaniacal actors and… witchcraft (no, really). In many ways the entire shoot was a calamity of errors and while you can’t fault Stanley for not knowing quite how to deal with Val Kilmer at his most arrogant, give the guy credit for impressing Brando, a man known for showing little more than absolute contempt for most of the people he worked with later in his career. In fact, the stories of Brando’s insanity on the set are some of the highlights here, whether it be how he messed with Marco Hofschneider by trying to speak German to him or how he replaced the poor guy with the world’s shortest man (a hyper sexualized and prone to dancing Nelson de la Rosa of Rat Man fame!) or how he demanded peacock feathers be placed behind him or an ice-bucket made for his head.

    There’s a lot more to this than just crazy Brando stories, however. The first two thirds of the movie showcase input from Stanley and Humprhy’s as they talk about all the blood, sweat and tears that went into this. Contrasting this is feedback from Bob Shaye of New Line, some of his affiliates and input from Pressman. As all of this plays out you can quickly see how it gets out of hand – weather conditions pound on the cast and crew, actors don’t show up, people leave the set, the jungle locations become rather unforgiving and a whole lot of people get drunk, high or laid. Throw a cranky, old school Frankenheimer into the mix once Stanley gets the boot and, well, it’s a big, crazy mess.

    But Gregory documents this well. Having previously worked with Stanley on the Theater Bizarre anthology, it’s safe to assume that they like each other and that probably went a long way towards getting the fairly reclusive director to tell his side of the story on camera. You can tell, at times, that this still stings a bit for the guy and you can’t fault him for that either. Fairuza Balk shows up here and basically defends Stanley at every opportunity, while two drivers named Hugh and Ollie tell the truth about what really happened to Stanley when he disappeard. Hofschneider is a blast to listen to as he recounts his experiences on the set with refreshing honesty and a great sense of humor while plenty of archival stills, photos, illustrations and clips help to provide the historical context needed to pull something like this off. Nicely shot and well edited, this is a fascinating movie that ranks alongside great ‘crazy movie shoot’ documentaries like Hearts Of Darkness.


    Shot on digital HD and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen, Lost Soul looks pretty good on Blu-ray. The newly shot footage is generally pretty nice looking, showing strong detail and nice colors. The archival footage is all over the place, as archival footage tends to be. There are no problems here though, the movie looks good.

    The only audio option on the disc is an LPCM 2.0 Stereo track in English with optional subtitles provided in English only. The same sort of thoughts apply to the audio that apply to the video – the newly shot stuff is clean, clear and nicely balanced while the archival stuff is only as good as the source material will allow for. Again though, no problems to note.

    This three disc set includes a pretty solid array of supplements. The first disc contains over an hour of out-takes that break down as follows: forty-seven minutes with Richard Stanley, sixteen minutes with the consistently entertaining Marco Hofschneider, six minutes with Jim Sbardellati, two minutes with Grace Walker and then a minute a piece with Graham Humphreys and that loveable duo, Hugh and Ollie. There’s a lot of good stuff in here and if you found the interviews to be the most compelling part of the production, as some definitely will, you’ll want to take the time to sift through this stuff, it’s pretty interesting.

    The first disc also contains some additional interviews, starting with a six minute vintage piece with John Frankenheimer. Here the director dutifully toes the line, talking up the shoot in fairly positive terms and discussing the cast’s more interesting contributions in surprisingly docile fashion. There’s also an interview here with Barbara Steele, who speaks for five minutes (it’s an audio only interview) about her time on set in which she was supposed to be playing Moreau’s bride to be.

    Also include on the disc is a great concept art gallery that’s basically a fourteen minute slideshow available with commentary from Richard Stanley, a nine minute piece called The Beast of Morbido in which Stanley attends a screening of Lost Soul, The Boar Man Diary featurette which is fifteen minutes of excerpts taken from a diary kept during the shoot, an interesting six minute location featurette where we return to the wilds of Cairns to see what’s left of the set and a trailer for the feature.

    Exclusive to the special House Of Pain three disc edition is the inclusion of a DVD of the 1921 German version of The Island Of Doctor Moreau entitled The Island Of The Lost that includes English subtitles that translate the German intertitles. This version follows two men as they head to a mysterious island after reading about some dubious experiments. It’s light on monsters but the makeup that we do see employed here is pretty interesting. There are also some pretty cool sets on display here so if it isn’t necessarily the most accurate take on the source material it’s still fascinating to see and a nice addition to the disc. It’s also pretty incorrect in its portrayals of the native people depicted in the film – very much a product of its time but definitely worth checking out. The standard definition presentation, which includes regular Severin watermarking in the top right hand corer from time to time, looks pretty decent – it’s more than watchable.

    Also included on disc two is a nineteen minute interview with Sylvia Hardy, an H.G. Wells historian. She talks about his work as a writer and also offers up some thoughts on the different movies that have been made based on his work over the years. She provides some welcome historical context and offers some interesting insight into what makes his work so compelling. Stanley also pops up on this second disc for a featurette in which he hikes around the mountains and speaks about his appreciation of Wells’ work with all the bizarre dramatic flair you’d expect from the man.
    Also exclusive to the House Of Pain edition is a third disc that contains a brand new audiobook recording of The Island Of Dr. Moreau read by Richard Stanley. This is the entire book, from start to finish, read in Stanley’s inimitable style and while it’s been made as a CD-Rom (not an audio CD so you can’t listen to it in your car!) it’s still worth checking out.

    The Final Word:

    Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley's Island Of Dr. Moreau really does a great job of peeling back the layers of one of recent cinema history’s most baffling ‘what if’s.’ Obviously we’ll never know how it would have turned out had Stanley been left in charge but hearing, first hand, what really went down on this infamously doomed production is as entertaining as it is fascinating. Severin have rolled out the red carpet with the three disc edition, including the equally excellent silent adaptation of the book and the audio CD read by Stanley. A very impressive set in every way you could hope for – highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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