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In 1995, visionary writer/director Richard Stanley got the green light for his dream project: an epic adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island Of Doctor Moreau starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. But only days into production, an unprecedented storm of natural disasters, monstrous egos, and disturbing imagery – along with chaos, insanity and witchcraft – would trigger perhaps the most infamous behind-the-scenes catastrophe in modern movie history. (From Severin’s official synopsis)

 Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stalney's Island of Dr. Moreau
Last year, Frank Pavich made a brilliant and dynamic documentary about the unmaking of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ill-fated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, appropriately titled Jodorowsky’s Dune. Its (much deserved) success over-shadowed the smaller premiere of David Gregory’s exploration of another famously cursed adaptation of a classic sci-fi novel. Lost Soul covers the brief ups and many downs of Richard Stanley’s elaborate reworking of H.G. Wells’ The Island Of Doctor Moreau. Jodorowsky’s career predates Stanley’s by a couple decades and is much more prestigious (its likely that the incredibly film-literate Stanley even counts Jodorowsky as an influence), but their uncompromising artistic temperaments and ambitious goals are similar. The comparisons extend to the fact that the finished Dune and Island of Dr. Moreau – directed by David Lynch and John Frankenheimer, respectively – were notorious flops and critically despised upon release. Lynch’s Dune eventually found a cult following (thanks in part to an extended cut), but Frankenheimer’s Moreau is still seen as a failure.

Gregory knows his way around a showbiz documentary. Aside from 2008’s Plague Town and an entry in the 2011 horror anthology Theatre Bizarre, his resume is defined by dozens of long and short form features that have been used for DVD/Blu-ray extras, including the celebrated Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (2000). With this experience in hand, he does his best to make a dynamic presentation of talking heads and still frames. This usually involves the use of Ken Burns-styled floating stills, but some of the production art/storyboards have had minor animation or at least the illusion of animation. Extra space is filled with sometimes zealously frenetic stock footage, which, even at its cheesiest, is still appropriate for the material.

 Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stalney's Island of Dr. Moreau
Gregory structures Lost Soul in a nice straightforward manner that sets up who Stanley is/was and what brought him to New Line Cinema’s attention. At the time, he was given the chance to make his dream project, Stanley had only two feature films under his belt. The first was an indie sci-fi project called Hardware (1990) that surmounted budgetary difficulties and received half-decent distribution in the United States. This was followed by the existential South African-set Dust Devil (1993), which enjoyed a relatively free-range movie-making process, but was marred in post-production woes when the Weinstein Brothers (always the villain in these types of situations, it seems) demanded heavy edits. This was his first battle with the studio system, one that left him weary of the process, yet New Line’s early promise of a grand, $35 million budget and access to top Hollywood talent was enough to allay his concerns. Gregory establishes all of this very quickly and follows it up with a rundown of the history of Wells’ original novel, the political atmosphere that surrounded its inception, and the official and unofficial film adaptations, via Stanley himself.

Next, the would-be director and conceptual artist Graham Humphreys discusses the early ideas for his version of Dr. Moreau. The whole of Lost Soul moves quickly, which fits the frantic, mile-a-minute way Stanley tells stories, but, if I have one complaint, it is that these fascinating, unrealized concepts zip by way too fast. From here, the film takes more time with the design of the beast people, including rehearsals and make-up effects, on its way to the often sad, sometimes funny meat of the story – Stanley losing control of his film to John Frankenheimer. The behind-the-scenes anecdotes are fascinating enough to sustain a decent documentary, but Gregory and editor Douglas Buck elevate the material by covering alternate points-of-view. Stanley is at the center of the story, but he doesn’t dictate its entire perspective and there are a handful of tasty discrepancies in the various accounts. The lack of participation from various cast members (Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider, Fiona Mahl, and Rob Marrow are the only ones to contribute) isn’t too disappointing, because there’s already too much time devoted to wacky Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer stories, but Frankenheimer’s opinions might have been a fantastic foil.

 Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stalney's Island of Dr. Moreau

Video


Like most retrospective documentaries, Lost Soul is a mish-mash of media and source material. This 1.78:1, 1080p presentation is as uneven as one would expect. The interview footage was recorded using some kind of consumer-grade digital HD camera (I’m not sure what exact model was used), which looks sharp, but is definitely limited in terms of noise and compression artefacts. The stills – art, photos, scans of news articles – and newsreel/television-type footage is sometimes purposefully flecked with faux film or video damage (lots of fake grain and dot crawls), but tend to feature strong colours (which is super important for the production art) and solid element separation. The footage from Hardware is all in HD, because Severin has the release rights to it, as are some shots from Frankenheimer’s finished film, while images from Stanley’s music videos and Dust Devil are pretty low quality, including a lot of blocking and banding. It can be rough, but all of the roughness is acceptable considering the source and subject.

Audio


Lost Soul is presented in uncompressed, LPCM 2.0 stereo, which is certainly good enough for a documentary that is mostly driven by talking heads and really rough home video footage. Some of the interviews are better recorded than others, but overall clarity remains consistent, at least in terms of volume. There is almost no audio from Hardware, Dust Devil, or the final product of Dr. Moreau. Mark Raskin’s eclectic music gives the stereo channels a little more to do during stock images and sits effectively enough under some of the interviews.

 Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stalney's Island of Dr. Moreau

Extras


Disc One (Blu-ray):
  • Outtakes:
    • Richard Stanley (47:40, HD) – The director has a lot of opinions and here they are, all at once.
    • Marco Hofschneider (16:30, HD)
    • Jim Sbardellati (5:50, HD)
    • Graham ‘Grace’ Walker (2:20, HD)
    • Graham Humphreys (1:20, HD)
    • Hugh and Ollie (1:20, HD)
  • Graham Humphreys’ Concept Gallery with commentary by Richard Stanley (14:30, HD) – This relatively in-depth look at the production art and Stanley’s extended interview (above) helps to extend the pre-production process that is somewhat neglected in the film, itself.
  • Archive interview with John Frankenheimer (6:00, SD) – This is about it for Frankenheimer’s side of the story. Unfortunately, he’s on a press tour, so he’s toeing the company line as to not offend anyone (except Stanley, of course).
  • Barbara Steele Recalls Moreau (5:20, HD) – An audio interview with the Queen of Horror, who recalls her brief time filming for an early version of the film.
  • The Beast of Morbido (9:40, HD) – Footage from the fim’s premiere at the Morbido Film Festival, where Stanley donned monster make-up.
  • The Hunt for the Compound (6:20, HD) – A look at the film’s locations today.
  • Boar Man Diary (15:20, HD) – Actor Neil Young (no relation) reads from his personal on-set journal.
  • Trailer

Disc Two (DVD):
  • Insel Der Verschollenen (aka: Island of the Lost, 1:01:50, SD) – A once lost, recently re-discovered 1921 silent version of The Island of Dr. Moreau from Germany, directed by Urban Gad. The image quality is decent, despite years of wear and a Severin watermark popping up every once and a while. I’m not so sure about the piano accompaniment, but I suppose that some kind of music was required.
  • H.G. Wells on Film (19:00, SD) – Wells expert Sylvia Hardy discusses the author’s early history and the many, many adaptations of his novels (though she sticks closest to the Moreau movies).
  • Richard Stanley on H.G. Wells (16:10, SD) – Stanley discusses his love of the author.

Disc Three (CD):
Richard Stanley reads The Island of Dr. Moreau (audio only)

 Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stalney's Island of Dr. Moreau

Overall


Lost Soul is a must-see for fans of Hollywood drama and the unique cinema of Richard Stanley. My only complaint is that director David Gregory doesn’t spend more time exploring Stanley’s pre-production process, but this three-disc set’s extensive extras fill in an awful lot of the missing information via extended interviews and a guided look at the concept art. It also includes a previously lost silent German version of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, a reading of the novel by Stanley, and more. The A/V quality is often limited by the material, but is certainly acceptable. Any readers that would prefer to ‘try before they buy’ should probably know that Lost Soul is streaming on Netflix in both the US and UK right now.

 Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stalney's Island of Dr. Moreau

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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