The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau

For anyone who has any interest in movies, a 2014 documentary ‘Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau’ makes compulsive viewing.  Directed by David Gregory, the doc explores the making of the 1996 film ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’.

The story is long, with many twists, but goes something like this…

In 1896 H.G.Wells wrote a science fiction novel ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’ in which a shipwrecked man, Edward Prendick, discovers an island where an English physiologist, has retired to perform gruesome experiments in vivisection on jungle animals. Prendick discovers Moreau is experimenting on humans. Believing he may be Moreau’s next victim, Prendick flees into the jungle where he lives amongst the Beast Folk, half animal and half human creatures whom Dr Moreau has experimented on.

Moreau tracks down and confronts Prendick and explains the Beast Folk are animals who he has tried to transform into humans. Moreau is striving to create a human from an animal and believes he is close to achieving this. However Moreau is killed by a puma and so Prendick lives on with the Beast Folk, who gradually begin to return to their animal ways. Eventually a boat drifts onto the island, allowing Prendick to escape and make his way back to London, where he lives in solitude, fearful that the humans around him are reverting to an animal state.

The book was turned into a film in 1932 starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi.

A young director, Richard Stanley, having had minor hit films with Hardware in 1990 and Dust Devil in 1992, wrote a screenplay and was backed by New Line Cinema to make the film with a budget of $35 million. The documentary really gets into gear as we go through the preparation, in which all seems well. A spectactular location is founding Cairns, Australia, and Bruce Willis, James Wood and Marlo Brando were lined up to star.

The story takes a dramatic twist as we see everything begin to unravel. At the last minute Roman Polanski is brought in to direct. Richard Stanley demands a meeting with Marlo Brando and, with the help of a warlock and some magic, he wins his support. Bruce Willis pulls out and is replaced by Val Kilmer, who then demands a smaller role. Kilmer is given James Wood’s minor role. Kilmer and Brando don’t get on, the demands of filming with a large crew are too much for Richard Stanley who loses control and is removed from the set by New Line. Experienced director John Frankenheimer is brought in to finish off. Richard Stanley is living wild in the jungle around the set and makes his way back as an extra where, hidden behind a dog mask, he features in the scene where Moreau’s laboratory is burnt down.

This is an engrossing tale of ego, power, money and movies. Against all odds Richard Stanley came within a whisker of making an original horror movie before forces beyond his control brought complete catastrophe. This is an incredibly entertaining look at movie making, how a fine movie script was ruined and a huge budget (which ballooned from $8 million to $40 million) was wasted.

For anyone involved in any creative project this documentary serves as a warning. The movie suffered from a total lack of team work. Egos caused conflict. Although the original idea was fabulous, it takes a lot more than good ideas to create something of worth. The execution of any idea is the major part. Also, any large endeavour requires a team, who all need to pull together to finish.


I watched ‘Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau’ on Netflix.