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Film on the Internet: LOST SOUL

Lost Soul is really Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, but I’m not putting all that in the title. Unlike the absurd and hapless film explored in this must-be-seen-to-be-believed documentary, I like to at least occasionally err on the side of restraint.

Back in the early 1990s, Richard Stanley was an up-and-coming genre filmmaker who had received (probably slightly outsized) praise for promising early work like Hardware and Dust Devil. I’ve seen Dust Devil, and it was not enough for me to laud its director as a fledgling genius, but it was interesting, scrappy little film possessed of a distinct enough vision. You can see why people would mark Stanley as someone to watch.

Next up was Stanley’s passion project … once he could find someone to finance it. He wanted to adapt The Island of Doctor Moreau, but he was broke and needed a studio to buy the rights for him; armed with a pitch and some truly excellent concept art, he turned to New Line Cinema. Executive Bob Shaye was unimpressed with Stanley personally–“Nobody takes four sugars in his coffee and walks out as a solid citizen”–but the idea of a contemporary Moreau had legs. For right now, Stanley could be in charge of it, but New Line was clearly looking to replace him.

Stanley had to make himself indispensable, so when the studio wanted Marlon Brando for Moreau, Stanley quickly did everything he could to get Brando on his side. He didn’t have as good of luck with the film’s other major star. As he puts it, “I then made another strategic error. I met Val Kilmer.”

I’ll risk hyperbole by saying that at this point in the documentary, Lost Soul feels a little like Roar. You’re watching a story of people insistently trying to pretend everything is fine while they’re being slowly buffeted about by a tumultuous sea of lions that could, at any moment, tear them to pieces. That’s just what it’s like to watch the saga of a 1996 movie that cast both Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.

I don’t want to spoil all the twists and turns Lost Soul takes, especially if you also haven’t seen the number of mind-boggling decisions on display in Dr. Moreau (one of which involves pianos). But I don’t think it’s saying too much that at one point, Richard Stanley reportedly climbed a tree and wouldn’t come down, poor Rob Lowe called Bob Shaye in tears begging to be let off the project, and Fairuza Balk threatened to cut herself open with a sushi knife. All of that is, of course, leaving out the section of the documentary that feels like it’s on the cusp of turning into harrowing true crime.

Lost Soul is at its best when it’s giving you plenty of opportunities to shamelessly gawk at its spectacle, whether you’re marveling at the piles of money New Line effectively burned to see all this through or wincing at how thoroughly Stanley self-destructs when his dream movie grows around him like monstrous, expensive kudzu. Occasionally, it tries to evoke a touch of pathos for Stanley’s ruined career, and it has half a point: Stanley wound up with way too much to handle, and he might have done quite well with a smaller-scale Moreau. But since his own reckless immaturity here goes a long way towards earning those years in the wilderness, it’s hard to feel too bad for him–and since his brief career rejuvenation with Color Out of Space was followed by allegations of serious domestic violence, it gets even harder. (Also, his decades-long commitment to his stupid fucking hat tries my patience, so there’s that.) The people you really wind up feeling for are the ones on the sidelines: the endearing supporting actor watching his role shrink away to nothing, the crew putting in long hours while Kilmer and Brando mutually refuse to come out of their trailers, and Stanley’s assistant and his shaman both suffering gruesome and debilitating tragedies. Those are the moments when you stop laughing.

If you come for the tale of artistic hubris, stay for the Marlon Brando impressions and the one proposed movie swerve I’ve heard that’s wilder than Tommy Wiseau’s “maybe Johnny is vampire” idea. And, possibly, for a subtextual case for the high value of professionalism.


Lost Soul is streaming on Tubi.