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“LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU” (Movie Review)

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Riding high on the wave of unforeseen success created by his arty 1990 dystopian flick HARDWARE, Richard Stanley turned next to a passion project adaptation of H.G. Wells’ THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU—which, after years of expending chutzpah and actualizing willpower, the South Africa-born writer-director somehow manages to get his provocative, imaginative take on the story green-lit by New Line with Marlon Brando installed in the lead role… 

…only to learn the studio had decided Roman Polanski should direct.

In response, Stanley did two things, one completely normal—demanding, as screenwriter and project originator, a tête-à-tête with Brando—the other deliciously eccentric:

“Knowing that the odds were stacked against me, I resorted to witchcraft,” Stanley recounts in ridiculously entertaining, endlessly fascinating documentary LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. “At this point in time I was friendly with this warlock chappy in England—Dr. Edward James Featherstone, commonly known as Skip. Skip had been shown to demonstrate his ability to fix things; to do invisible mending before. So I said, ‘My God, Skip, you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to save my movie.’ At the exact same time I went into the meeting on the other side of the world Skip convened his coven, cut his arm, drew a sigil, and did some kind of routine to fix it.”

The spell worked, if only briefly. Suddenly Brando, who hadn’t even wanted to take a meeting with the young director in the first place, was insisting on Stanley’s involvement. In a flash, Polanski was out. Alas, from there bad chased worse for Stanley—apparently not even black magic is a match for Val Kilmer’s ego—and what followed as cast and crew set out for idyllic Cairns, Australia truly beggars belief.

A hurricane returns the production, in both a figurative and literal sense, to a state of nature. The antics of the supporting cast of monsters flirting with anarchy after New Line dumps Stanley in favor of prickly PROPHECY helmer John Frankenheimer. Brando and Kilmer’s epic (and frequently absurdist) clash of ids. Co-star Fairuza Balk’s endearing, fiery histrionics. The horndog carousing and tiny booty shaking swagger of the Guinness Book of World Records’ “smallest man on earth” who Brando molds into a sort of proto-mini-me. Stanley’s sojourn into the rainforest where he settles on a “very nice spot—no crocodiles, halcyon weather, coconuts, yam, and fish in the river” and—I’ll be deliberately vague here to avoid spoilers—slowly transforms from ringmaster to one particularly unruly beast in the circus. The…

Well, honestly, the anecdotes and bullet points could fill twice the space allotted for this review.

To strip it down to the barest bones, what we have here is a perfectly realized, impeccably paced film truly worthy of the oft-too-casually tossed about accolade instant classic—think the landmark nuttiness-behind-the-scenes APOCALYPSE NOW doc HEARTS OF DARKNESS cross-pollinated with such quirky, dish-y genre deep dives as AMERICAN MOVIE and BEST WORST MOVIE and you’ll be getting pretty damn warm. It is, at turns, hilarious, edifying, and heartrending.

Though ostensibly a film about the disaster that befell a visionary filmmaker who stumbled into the meat-grinder of an “independent” studio in the midst of what former New Line Cinema script reader/producer Tim Sullivan dubs an “identity crisis” brought on by misguided “euphoria”—i.e. hard-won success subverting the majors paradoxically twists into a desire to use newfound resources to become the majors—what LOST SOUL actually does is reintroduce us to a man who was tempted and challenged and misused and psychologically traumatized, yet refused to surrender his integrity at no small cost to his career.

Stanley held that apple in the palms of his hands, but when the moment of truth came he did not bite.

Would it be preferable to live in a perfect genre-friendly world where Stanley’s exquisite mindfuckery had been allowed to continue apace? Absolutely. At the same time, an example of how to remain noble amidst perfidy and failure is far from worthless.

And, anyway, if LOST SOUL gains a fraction of the audience it deserves, Richard Stanley’s desert-wandering days will be over in short order. The pure charisma, brilliance, and, yeah, total idiosyncratic fucking weirdness he exudes in this film is utterly enthralling. Personally, I’d sign over my life savings to have him adapt last week’s grocery list.

Here’s hoping Stanley takes this opportunity to convene the right coven, draw the right sigil, and get back on track for HARDWARE 2 or, better still, another trip to that elusive ISLAND.

4_skull

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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