The original director of the catastrophic 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau, who was quickly dropped by the studio only to see his work turned into a literal disaster movie, is hoping to return to the project 21 years later. Richard Stanley was unceremoniously dumped by New Line during filming, in favor of John Frankenheimer (Reindeer Games, Ronin), and the whole production became the stuff of cinematic lore. But now Stanley is hoping to return to his initial vision and do the story justice.
The Island of Dr Moreau is the 1896 novel by author H.G. Wells that is as relevant for its anti-vivisection stance today as it was back then. Two major movies of the story exist already, but Stanley had been working on an updated version for some time before landing the project with New Line. After two cult Indie films (Hardware and Dust Devil), it was his first major studio film, and he was confronted by the egos of Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. What followed was a series of so many insurmountable problems that it become the subject of a 2014 documentary, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, which became a film festival hit. Once Stanley was replaced by Frankenheimer, many visuals and plot developments were lost and it was a massive flop on all levels. It is now held as a benchmark for movies ruined by behind-the-scenes drama.
Since he left the incident behind him, Stanley has filmed only documentaries and segments for genre anthologies. But in an interview with Birth.Movies.Death. he reveals that plans are afoot for him to return to the project and hopefully film a new adaptation of the story:
“At this stage, I can’t say exactly by who, and how long it will take, but the project does live again … 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 final designs of the creatures in the Frankenheimer version were disappointing, and I think there’s huge room for improvement. That’s something I’ve been talking about with the project’s backers at some length … They seem to understand the film a bit better, and realize that the creatures are the stars of the movie, not the humans. That was the essential mistake made in the New Line version … 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.”
Although details are vague as to who is involved in the development stage at this point, Stanley is optimistic that the production will translate into “three feature films or six television hours.” He is also adamant that the material would be indicative of an R-rating as opposed to the PG-13 given to the Brando film.
While this seems optimistic at an early stage, those that have seen Lost Soul will know of the huge amount of distinctive design work and visuals that he has accumulated over the years, most of which was barely touched upon in the final incarnation of the film. It’s early days, but it will be fascinating to learn if Stanley’s version will eventually be shot, especially as recent attempts by Leonardo DiCaprio and the Sleepy Hollow creator failed to make it to the screen.
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