How two egos took down an oddball
Among the core victims was Richard Stanley, who was in the process of carving out a nice little career as a genre director (Hardware, Dust Devil) when he found himself at the helm of his dream project, adapting one of his favorite authors in a breakout opportunity. Then things went horribly, horribly astray, in a series of unimaginable events this documentary explains in detail, as actors, executives, crew and Stanley himself recount a film shoot that could have doubled for that of Apocalypse Now. (In an odd coincidence, Francis Ford Coppola considered shooting Apocalypse Now in Cairns, Australia--Moreau's shooting location.) The story shared by those who spent months on the set, including The Craft's Fairuza Balk and German actor Marco Hofschneider, is hilarious, yet depressing, as Stanley, the cast and crew and, ultimately, the film were sacrificed on an altar of ego, to please Brando and his co-star/co-combatant Val Kilmer.
The documentary's strength comes from three main sources: candid interview subjects, incredible stories (especially about Brando and Kilmer), and Stanley, who's the kind of unusual character that's utterly compelling, what with his interest in witchcraft and off-kilter personality. A quality documentary makes you care about its subject, and it's hard to not pull for this guy, despite him being the author of his own destruction at times, as he didn't allow himself the best odds for success. However, trying to overcome Brando and Kilmer (who, based on the interviews with people like New Line executive Bob Shaye, were battling everyone, including each other) was a losing battle, so it's somewhat satisfying to see what happens when veteran director John Frankenheimer takes the reins after Stanley is fired, especially when you learn how Stanley finally responded to how he was treated. If someone wrote this story as a fictional film, a sequel in spirit to Tropic Thunder, it would be considered too unrealistic to work. So instead, it actually happened.
Though Balk and Hofschneider get MVP honors for their participation in this fun, fast-moving documentary, offering up utterly ridiculous memories from the experience and re-telling them quite well, there is a host of people who have plenty to say, from actors (including one-time cast member Rob Morrow) to producers to drivers, like one intriguing fellow whose attitude makes him seem destined to have worked on the film. It helps that Brando and Frankenheimer are dead and Kilmer (who unsurprisingly did not participate in this film) is far from the star he once was, which frees people to talk about the whole mess honestly and openly. The producers in particular are great as they explain when the tide turned and they realized things weren't going well on this project. But it's Stanley who's the star of the show, offering up a wealth of background on his vision for the film (including gorgeous concept art) and holding nothing back. Maybe one day, in a Kickstarter world, he'll get to make his version. We just have to make sure when the cameras roll, cameras are there to capture what happens behind the scenes.
The audio is presented as a LPCM 2.0 track, which sounds purely center-balanced, doing the trick to keep the dialogue clean and easily understandable (lots of accents in here), while mixing in the music at appropriate levels. Nothing about this stands out, but there are no pain points either.
An archival interview with Frankenheimer from the film's publicity junket (6:02) is fascinating in relation to the film, as he is asked about difficulties with actors and Stanley, among other topics, and maintains positivity, contradicting everything the documentary shares. Tough spot for him to be in.
Though she was cut from the film, Black Sunday star Barbara Steele shares her memories from the production in an audio interview (5:19), discussing her work with Stanley and an orangutan, as well as some notes on Brando. The piece plays with a photo from the set, making it a great inclusion for her fans and those curious about rumors of her involvement.
"The Beast of Morbido" (7:43) gives us more Stanley, as he hits the 2014 Morbido Film Festival in Mexico to promote the documentary and does so made up as one of his Moreau creatures. Here you get to watch the make-up be applied and see him stalk the streets. In a Q&A, he talks about Kilmer's effect on the production's mojo, curses and the presence of evil people in the world. He's certainly never boring.
"The Hunt for the Compound" (6:18) tracks an attempt to find through decades of overgrowth to find the film's set in Cairns, which seems like a bad idea, as is always the case when wandering in Australia, the most deadly continent. That goes double for eating something you might find.
The final featurette is "Boar Man Diary" (15:15), where Australian actor Neil Young, who played Boar Man, reads from the diary he kept during the shoot. Shock of shocks, he's not glowing in his thoughts on Brando and Kilmer, getting a bit more aggressive than most of the film's participants. He's also quite funny, which makes for a good listen (the featurette looks over his shoulder as he reads.)
The extras on the Blu-ray conclude with this film's trailer (2:23).
Once you're done with the extras on the Blu-ray disc, there's a DVD titled "The H.G. Wells Files." Here there's more to check out, starting with prolific director Urban Gad's Insel der Verschollenen (Island of the Lost) (61:53), a recently-discovered silent German film version of the story from 1921. It's a loose adaptation (Moreau isn't even a character) and it's not a great one at that, focused more on relationships than the genetic experiments taking place on the island. Of any of the issues, including sub-par special effects and the troublesome depiction of two "natives," the biggest problem is the music, as Kevin MacLeod's royalty-free instrumentals, though perfect example of silent-era songs, are often a bad fit thematically for the action on-screen, expressing a light-hearted tone for a film that needed something darker. (Another bone of contention is the presence of a Severin watermark, nay, logo in the upper-right corner for much of the film.)
After delivering a biography of Wells and establishing his love of film, a featurette with expert Sylvia Hardy (19:00) focuses on film adaptations of Wells' work, looking at the difference between versions, with her opinions on their quality (spoiler: she's not a fan of Burt Lancaster's Moreau.)
Stanley is back to offer his thoughts on Wells as well in a 16:10 featurette, where he praises the author for the incredibly innovative ideas he introduced through his writing, including time travel, aliens and DNA. The would-be director also looks at themes in Wells' stories, including the idea of what humanity means, offering plenty of insight into Wells' connection to the world at large (including the threat he posed to the Nazis.) The knowledge and passion Stanley has for Wells and his writing is evident in his review of his work.
A third disc offers even more Stanley, as he reads the 22 chapters of Wells' book, presented as 22 mp3 files on a CD-ROM. He's got the voice for giving the story the right gravitas in his reading. If you've never read the novel, it's a good way to get your introduction.
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