More than two decades after his first attempt at filming a classic H.G. Wells novel ended as a legendary disaster, the same director wants to give it another go.
The story in question is Wells' 1896 book The Island of Dr. Moreau, and the filmmaker is South Africa's Richard Stanley, whose feature film career launched promisingly in 1990 with the cult sci-fi film Hardware, but who crashed and burned with his 1996 adaptation of Moreau. He was fired after just a few days of shooting, allegedly because of his clashes with studio executives and stars Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, although he later returned to the set disguised as an extra and, according to some accounts, actually appeared in the film.
The entire story of that notorious production -- which was taken over by veteran director John Frankenheimer and rewritten on a daily basis while Kilmer and Brando competed to see who could act the most petutantly on set -- was chronicled in the 2014 documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (see more on that here). But despite suffering a complete breakdown due to his experience on the film -- he's never directed a feature since, although he's done screenplays, documentaries, and shorts -- Stanley has told Birth.Movies.Death that he'd like to give Moreau another shot:
“At this stage, I can’t say exactly by who, and how long it will take, but the project does live again, largely thanks to David (Gregory, Lost Soul director). We’re currently scripting and designing the thing. It’s going to be an all-new screenplay and an all-new cast of beast-people; the original creatures are copyrighted by Warner Bros. (parent company of New Line, which produced and released the ’96 film). I wasn’t particularly happy with them anyway. The final designs of the creatures in the Frankenheimer version were disappointing, and I think there’s huge room for improvement."
Like a lot of filmmakers these days, Stanley also noted that he might like to see his version of Moreau end up on the small screen rather than inside a multiplex:
“I’m hoping it will metamorphose into three feature films or six television hours. I’m actually pushing it toward the latter. I would prefer it to be on TV rather than as a theatrical movie or movies, because a) we would have less interference from the studio, and b) we could have an R-level product. I believe that going for the multiplex, it would have its teeth pulled and its nails cut again, and going to television, we could be pretty unrestrained in the way we approach the material. There are a lot of scenes I’ve always wanted to do, including those with the sexually charged dolphin people [laughs], that have fallen out along the way, which I would like to get back into it.”
I'm not exactly sure if Wells' rather slim (138 pages) book could actually be expanded successfully to six hours in either medium, but -- Stanley's comments about the dolphin people notwithstanding -- The Island of Dr. Moreau is a story that could hold up very well today. It follows a man named Prendick who finds himself after a shipwreck on a remote island, where the title scientist has created a race of human-animal hybrids through vivisection. The tale's themes of moral responsibility, godlike behavior, the nature of pain and cruelty, and humanity's relationship to other species are universal and just as relevant today as they were 121 years ago.
Moreau had been filmed twice before the 1996 movie — in 1977 with Burt Lancaster as Moreau and in 1932 as The Island of Lost Souls, with Charles Laughton in the role — and the first version is generally regarded as the best. The second adaptation reportedly had its share of problems too, although it ended up coming together in somewhat better shape than the 1996 debacle. But Stanley is holding out hope that a definitive Moreau can be made:
"The fact that it may now come back to life and happen all over again, after a 21-year period of lying dormant, feels a little bit like Evel Knievel trying to jump the Grand Canyon a second time, because there will be a built-in expectation as to what the f**k will happen this time...but I’m ready for it, and I’m praying that this time around, it will come out right, and a definitive Moreau can finally reach the screen."
Have you seen any of the three film versions of the Wells book, or the documentary about Stanley's "lost" version? Do you think the story is worth another adaptation, and does Stanley deserve another chance to get it right?