On Film, 'The Doors' Divided Its Surviving Members

Val Kilmer in a scene from 'The Doors'
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After years of planning, moviegoers finally got to see a film depicting the life and career of The Doors' frontman Jim Morrison - a project that led to mixed feelings among his surviving bandmates.

After nearly a decade of development hell, the wheels for The Doors started moving when Oliver Stone, the brash filmmaker behind '80s classics like Platoon, Wall Street and Born on the Fourth of July, was hired to co-write and direct the biopic. Stone's hiring was a decision that divided the band's other three members: guitarist Robby Krieger was vehemently opposed to a film until Stone was hired, while keyboardist Ray Manzarek saw Stone's commission as the worst of all possible ideas for The Doors.

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"I think it was hard for Ray, he being the keeper of the Doors myth for so long," actor Kyle MacLachlan said, being the only of the people portraying Morrison's bandmates (alongside Kevin Dillon as Densmore and Frank Whaley as Krieger) who didn't get to consult with the man he was playing. (Manzarek claimed he wanted the film to focus on the band as a whole instead of Morrison, while Stone recalls their interactions devolving into domineering shouting matches.)

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Ultimately, despite a committed performance by Val Kilmer as Morrison (who studied original multitrack recordings with the band's longtime producer Paul A. Rothchild and sang all the songs himself in the final film), the rest of the band came to side with Manzarek. Historical inaccuracies included the misrepresentation of iconic performances like the taboo-busting version of "Light My Fire" on The Ed Sullivan Show and exaggerations in the infamous Miami concert in 1969 that led to Morrison's career-damaging arrest. "It was not about Jim Morrison," Manzarek later huffed. "It was about Jimbo Morrison, the drunk. God, where was the sensitive poet and the funny guy? The guy I knew was not on that screen." Densmore concurred in his memoirs, suggesting the movie was more of a "myth...muddled through the haze of the drink."

Audiences and critics were similarly divided - while the performances drew praise, the script and themes did not - leading the film to fail to break even at the box office. "The experience of watching The Doors is not always very pleasant," Roger Ebert wrote. "There are the songs, of course, and some electrifying concert moments, but mostly there is the mournful, self-pitying descent of this young man into selfish and boring stupor."

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