LA Weekly scored an amazing interview with Richard Stanley, the director who was fired and replaced with John Frankenheimer three days into the filming of 1996’s disastrous, six-time Razzie winner Island of Dr. Moreau. The whole interview is worth reading, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight a few parts. How’s this for a lede?
The set was spooked by hurricanes, witchcraft allegations and Kilmer’s continual tantrums. The studio was terrified of losing millions. Three days after filming started, Stanley was fired. His replacement, veteran director John Frankenheimer, held his rescue mission in such contempt that chaos reigned. Kilmer and Brando commandeered the schedule. The extras blew their accruing per diems on drugs. Stanley, legally barred from the set, crept back on in a canine costume to bear witness, mourning that he had suffered “a full arc from creator to dog.”
Extras in creature makeup doing drugs, Brando and Kilmer arguing about the schedule, and all while the fired director sneaks around in a dog mask to survey the carnage? Can we get a movie about just that? Well, yes, we sort of can, as David Gregory’s documentary, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, will screen this weekend.
In talking about the documentary with LA Weekly, Stanley explained why he sneaked onto the set, and the schadenfreude is marvelous.
I was there largely because I was feeling sympathy for the cast members. Most of the cast members had come on board because I’d talked them into it, and then they were trapped under contract, unable to leave because they’d all been life-cast for the creature effects and they couldn’t recast the movie. No matter how bad they wanted to get out of the film, they had to be there or be sued for breaking contract. To simply take the money and run and leave Fairuza Balk and everyone else trapped there felt wrong, so sticking around meant I was able to show solidarity. Point of fact: It also cheered me up tremendously to see how much worse things were without me. We hadn’t been doing such a bad job after all. If everything had run like clockwork, I think I would have quit forever. Realizing that the budget had continued to skyrocket, that was very satisfying. There was something like 40 shooting days after I left where they never got a shot off at all. Day after day, it was completely out of control, and the budget quadrupled because they gave Frankenheimer a lot more slack than they gave me. The overhead was something close to $150,000 a day without getting a shot. No matter what you think, there’s no possible way I could have made a worse job of it.
Stanley also defended Marlon Brando:
I never thought that Brando was the problem. He always behaved in a very gentlemanly manner and was very, very nice to me. I don’t really know what planet Val [Kilmer] was coming from. But Marlon was always very friendly. I think that comes through in the documentary: His first act on set was to introduce himself to everyone and shake the paws, claws and trotters of the various creatures. He felt contempt for the confusion. By the time he arrived there, the script had been effectively destroyed. They started rewriting the script instantaneously, and that process never really stopped — I think virtually everyone on that project tried to write the script at some point.
He went on to say none of the dialogue in his original script was used in Island of Dr. Moreau. Wait, so you mean Stanley didn’t pen the immortal line, “Mayday. Mayday. I’m being held by a pig lady”? We balk at accepting this.
Stanley described the process of watching Frankenheimer’s version as being “like having somebody sandpaper my brain,” but not before he dropped a bit of news that was our initial reason for noticing this interview: Stanley is making another go at creating the version of Island of Dr. Moreau he never got to finish.
It’s too early for me to name the company involved, but I was actually put under contract in January to write a new draft of The Island of Dr. Moreau, which is already completed and delivered.
Could it work? Well, some things have changed in the 19 years since the previous version.
I don’t honestly think at that point in time anyone really understood the movie. New Line said that all of a sudden they were making a movie about dogs with machine guns that was some kind of art film. Now, of course, we’re living in a universe where people have seen Guardians of the Galaxy and the idea of dogs carrying machine guns no longer seems like a way-out art-house idea. I suspect the original script simply came too early.
The plan is to release his version as a graphic novel next year, and seek a development deal from there. And how will Stanley’s version differ?
I think part of that problem is the world’s still not used to the idea of an epic fantasy film for adults. They’ve always had the desire in the last adaptations to make it safe for the family. The script I’ve turned in now isn’t so much R-rated as X-rated.
The script he turned in was X-rated.
For Island of Dr. Moreau.
We must confess that we’ve lost faith in the sanity of the world.