The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

Literally, how did this get made?

Bruce Willis was originally the lead, but allegedly dropped out in the aftermath of divorce procedures from his wife Demi Moore. He was replaced by Val Kilmer, who had limited availability and unlimited anger issues after he too got divorce papers. Then Rob Morrow quit because the script kept changing. Brando left after his daughter committed suicide and upon his return, he would refuse to learn his lines and only listen to an earpiece.

Oh yeah — Richard Stanley also had been fired days into production and replaced with John Frankeheimer, who saw this as anything but his dream project.

I mean, what could go wrong at this point?

After spending four years developing the films, Stanley had come to work with New Line, who responded by going behind his back to offer the film to Roman Polanski. Furious, Stanley got a meeting with Brando, who unexpectedly — or not, as Stanley had undergone a magick ritual to gain the actor’s trust — proved very sympathetic to Stanley’s vision. That said, Stanley was beyond familiar with the source work, as well as its connections with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which became Apocalypse Now, which still fascinated Brando. Even better, Stanley was directly related to African explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who had been the inspiration for Conrad’s lead character — and Brando’s role — Kurtz.

That said, days into filming, Stanley was having difficulty with New Line executives and Kilmer, who was a legend of ego on this film. At one point, the former Batman burned a crew member in the face with a cigarette.

Stanley was fired, but disappeared, finally showing up in dogman costume and acting in the very movie that he was to direct. Oh yeah — the full fury of nature would also destroy much of the set.

This movie is an example of actors off the literal rails, with Brando’s wearing an ice bucket on his head with the idea that he had mutated into a dolphin and the bucket was to cover up his blowhole. He also pushed for Nelson de la Rosa, the world’s smallest man, to be his mutated twin. Brando was obviously in a much better movie than the one that we’re watching.

Meanwhile, the actors playing Doctor Moreau’s children had a better time than anyone else, pretty much using the movie’s long periods of downtime getting up to alcohol and drug-addled craziness. Again, they were in a much better film than ended up getting unspooled on the screen.

Charitably, this movie is a mess. Would it have been better if Stanley stayed on board? Well, it certainly wouldn’t have been boring.

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