Sean K. Cureton

Lost Soul & The Imagined Genius

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on August 1, 2015 at 11:06 am
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)
Directed by David Gregory
Netflix Rating: Really Liked It

More interesting than a Hollywood documentary about the greatest film of all time is a Hollywood documentary about the worst film of all time. 2013’s American-French picture on Frank Herbert’s Dune, and one of its planned feature film adaptations by Chilean avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, titled simply Jodorowsky’s Dune, details the strange, surreal adventure that it took Jodorowsky over the course of pre-production to plan the grand space epic that he intended to make; a space opera to rival the likes of Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Terminator, and the like, all of which supposedly have their roots in Jodorowsk’s masterpiece that never was. Whether or not any such shaggy dog stories hold water in regards to how things actually occurred at the time of these proposed features pre-production stages, the zealotry inherent to the talking heads who act as unholy disciples of their chosen idols and attendant Gods are perversely compelling; the films that they imagine in their minds are obviously greater than any that might have actually been made, in the past or future. Such is the case with David Gregory’s feature film expose on John Frankenheimer’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, which was initially pitched, conceived, and set to be directed by South African genre-guru Richard Stanley, of Hardware and Dust Devil infamy. Like Jodorowsky’s Dune, Gregory’s Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau is a fever dream of unbridled passion and ambition; the film that it purports to be submerged beneath the depths of Frankenheimer’s critical disaster of 1996 one that appears seemingly inspired, with Stanley portrayed as the misunderstood, eccentric genius behind it all.

In Gregory’s film, Stanley is something of a chimera of the popular imagination of the early 20th century, with his debut directorial effort, Hardware, released in 1990, being a schlocky, sci-fi horror piece that continues to enjoy significant cult appeal to this day. Following his first film, Stanley was entrusted with a significantly more substantial budget on Dust Devil, which was subsequently distributed in the U.S. by Miramax, and enjoyed notable domestic distribution, but only after the American studio had edited the film down to a trimmer 87 minutes from Stanley’s more substantially envisioned original 120-minute runtime, a trend that was reflected in both the U.K. and overseas. Stanley’s original vision for Dust Devil was only to be realized years later in a 105-minute final cut overseen solely by the film’s director, but by that time Dust Devil had already become a unilateral flop at the box office, making Stanley into something of a pariah in Hollywood, where he might have otherwise next set his sights. By some stroke of what might be considered luck by a few, New Line Cinema, which at the time was much maligned as a genre-film powerhouse in Hollywood, offered Stanley an exclusive contract to make a film based on H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, a story, moreover, that Stanley had already been puzzling over for some time, and had substantial visual ideas for that might very well have made for a visually thrilling cinematic experience. However, as Gregory’s documentary makes exceedingly clear, Stanley’s erratic behavior and inability to cope with the demands of a major motion picture studio in Hollywood proved too much for the stresses demanded by a project of 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau’s size, and Stanley was ultimately replaced by John Frankenheimer who proceeded to produce one of the worst movies of all time.

Based on the talking head testimonies provided by Gregory’s collected panel of actors, filmmakers, and Stanley himself, The Island of Dr. Moreau, which starred Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, might have been something far greater than what it actually turned out to be. Based on the concept art that Stanley is able to produce from the pre-production process in Lost Soul, the movie that Stanley had intended to make might have been an interesting one in the same way that Jodorowsky’s Dune appeared to be, and Stanley obviously had significant experience with both the novel upon which his script was based and the prior feature films made from the source text. Unlike Jodorowsky, Stanley is presented in Gregory’s film as an artist able to articulate his vision to those around him, even as his planned production ultimately got away from him due to its grandiose scheme and visual super-profundity. The Island of Dr. Moreau as Stanley wanted to tell it is a film that begs to be seen, but alas, like Jodorowsky’s failed genre experiment, one that becomes so excessive in its conception that the reality of bringing it to life proves too ungainly a task to be accomplished by anyone, including the artist himself. If Jodorowsky failed because his was a genius that bordered on near schizophrenic insanity and inarticulate majesty, then Stanley failed due to a more sympathetic innocence and naïveté regarding the realities of a Hollywood production and his own more personal brand of creative impropriety.

In Gregory’s Lost Soul, the genre-guru behind the cult-classic Hardware and its successor Dust Devil comes off as an appropriately charming and warm artistic savant; Stanley’s vision is immediately recognizable though lost in the translation of a language which neither the director nor his audience is entirely able to understand, parse, or distinguish. In the story of the making of The Island of Dr. Moreau Gregory presents his imagined reality that almost was as the fantasy that it still remains, and with good reason which Gregory fully excepts and realizes. Where Jodorowsky’s Dune never fully acknowledges the unreasonable nature of its claims upon the legacy of its featured legend, Lost Soul presents what happened only, whatever film Stanley might have been able to make lost to the irreconcilable nature of the past, and gracefully so. In Lost Soul, Stanley never appears as maniacally solipsistic as Jodorowsky so often does, instead taking the tone of a tempered, calm being reflecting on the past with the wisdom granted by loss and regret, two feelings which Dune’s would-be director apparently has no conception of or intention towards feeling in kind. Frankenheimer’s The Island of Dr. Moreau is an odd fish, and Gregory’s Lost Soul explains why in minutely documented detail via fawning fan-service of its exiled primary director Richard Stanley, a character in the film who is sympathetic and lovable, making Gregory’s film a well made apology for a fantasy appreciated on its own terms.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau is available on Netflix Instant View, and is My Movies on Netlix: Recommendation of the Week.

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