Maybe one shouldn't play with witchcraft. That's one lesson learned the hard way in David Gregory's new doc Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau. Gregory's look is a cheeky, brisk overview of a disastrous slog of a film shoot. The inventive and vibrant (in its heyday) New Line Cinema originally funded oddball filmmaker Richard Stanley (who directed the flawed but interesting cult hit Hardware) to direct a modestly budgeted remake of H.G. Wells' Island of the Dr. Moreau. Original casting choices fell through and the film ended up with notoriously cantankerous actors Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando in the leads. In this doc, Stanley comes off as a sympathetic, genial nerd who tried to make an artistic passion project using vivid, extensive makeup effects (spearheaded by Stan Winston; this doc reminds how awesome and eerie practical make-up effects look compared to the CGI sheen today) but was frustrated by the studios altering of his vision and also couldn't manage the bloated egos and bizarre antics of his two stars. Quickly Stanley was replaced by veteran director John Frankenheimer who stepped in to salvage what was left of the picture and script and who also clashed with much of the cast, including magnetic Fariuza Balk who serves up some great, salty interviews. Dry-humored castmate Marco Hofschneider (of Europa Europa fame) gives some interesting anecdotes on the set and also on Brando and a dismissive Kilmer.
Sometimes bad shoots can deliver solid films but the end result for Frankheimer and co. was a forgettable misfire. The doc made me want to re-watch Island, which I haven't seen since it came out in theaters in 1996 and which I barely remember except for Brando's white makeup and bandage muumuus. Lost Soul isn't really a life-changing picture but a fun little watch for those interested in the pitfalls and difficulties of filmmaking and some behind-the-scenes drama. **1/2