Val Kilmer has had a vast and varied career, ranging from Top Gun to True Romance. Recently, Kilmer was back in the headlines again after the release of his documentary, Val, which explored his life and career by providing revelatory insights and detail. After its premiere at Cannes, Val received glowing reviews from critics and was welcomed by the actor’s fans as well.
The documentary was released at a time when there were many conflicting reports about Kilmer’s health and the rumour that he had cancer. Although the actor had denied it at first, Kilmer later confirmed that he had been cancer-free for years now but he had to use a feeding tube as he had lost the ability to eat. He also recovered his voice thanks to cutting-edge AI technology.
Val talks about a lot of interesting periods in Kilmer’s life which features unseen footage spanning back 50 years. One of the incidents that the documentary does discuss is Kilmer’s difficult time on the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau which was probably among the most problematic projects he has ever been a part of.
While Kilmer has long been criticised for his antics on the set of that film, he provided his own version of the story in Val. The Island of Dr. Moreau was an attempt to make a film adaptation on the basis of the famous novel by H. G. Wells. However, it turned out to be a nightmarishly convoluted job that was bogged down by a lot of issues.
Kilmer’s role was actually supposed to go to Bruce Willis, but he ended up dropping out due to his marital issues with Demi Moore (his wife at the time) which ended in divorce. Kilmer was brought in and he was excited about the opportunity of starring alongside his idol Marlon Brando. However, he was served his own divorce papers on the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau which led to him having flare-ups with many cast and crew members.
The only way that Kilmer was going to work on the project was by committing only 60% of the time that Bruce Willis had agreed upon, a decision which made things difficult for director John Frankenheimer who had only been brought on a few days before shooting began. Richard Stanley was supposed to direct the film at first, but he was fired for not being able to control Kilmer, which ended up sending him over the edge and leading him to destroy documents and taking a hiatus from filmmaking.
Frankenheimer wanted his actors to follow his instructions closely but Kilmer had a problem with that, clashing with the director on a regular basis because of the lack of creative freedom. “Even if I was directing a film called The Life of Val Kilmer, I wouldn’t have that prick in it,” Frankenheimer later remarked while talking about the actor.
His collaboration with Marlon Brando was less than desirable as well since they both had trouble keeping their egos in check. Brando famously lashed out at Kilmer on one occasion, advising him to not confuse the size of his paycheque with the amount of talent he had which also contributed to the negative press surrounding The Island of Dr. Moreau.
All of this ensured that The Island of Dr. Moreau ended up being a critical and commercial failure. Kilmer has tried to justify what happened on the set in various interviews and autobiographical works but the legacy of those incidents is one really terrible film.