Lord of the Flies Review

A plane entirely filled with fleeing English school-kids from an unnamed 'nuclear' war (presented as a sequence of still images in a prologue as if its detail isn't important) crash-lands on an uninhabited desert island. Congregating amongst the wreckage, the children splinter off into two separate factions, lead by two contrasting leaders. Jack (Tom Chapin) is a spoilt, headstrong, bullying wannabe leader, who assumes command of a group of choirboys. The others are lead by Ralph (James Aubrey), a natural leader and son of a naval officer who, with the help of bumbling sidekick 'Piggy' (Hugh Edwards), attempts to bring law and structure to the chaotic carefree lives of the marooned children. Eventually, the choirboys under Jack resort to brutal savagery, and it isn't long before the island has regressed to a tribal and murderous war-zone of differing political ideologies.


Based on the allegorical and heavily studied William Golding novel, Lord Of The Flies is rich in symbolism and has been interpreted/misinterpreted in many different ways. The film is essentially an excellent adaptation of Golding's novel, which maintains the essence of the author's original message whilst delivering stark visual discomfort, despite the immense beauty of the surrounding island locales.

Thematically, the film could be perceived in a number of ways. You could argue that Lord of the Flies instantly adopts a somewhat pessimistic stance - the notion that man is locked to society, and returns to savagery when freed from the confines of it. This is reflected in the choirboys' desire through the leadership of Jack to devote their efforts to bullying, tribal worship and hunting as opposed to following the rational preaching of Ralph and Piggy, not to mention maintaining the fire on the mountain, which is heavily linked to the children's rescue. However the film turns this notion on its head at the conclusion, with the boys being rescued by an adult naval officer. The adult represents a restoration of dignity and order, but is actually no different than the children he saves from barbarism. The officer is from a naval cruiser, on a man-hunt mission, seeking out the enemy. Although society might appear to be more civilised, it is actually still bogged down by other more covert forms of savagery that it pretends to distance itself from.


Secondly, you could argue that the main moral theme of Lord Of The Flies is concerned mostly with the prioritising of ethics over politics. Golding himself claimed that the moral deals with the notion that any society must depend fundamentally on the ethical nature of the individual and not on the strength of a political system, however well structured it might be. Placed in context with the film, it is likely that the affable bunch of children would have ever challenged Ralph's leadership, and therefore his social law and order, had Jack not imposed a threat and resorted to championing violent savagery.

Thirdly, the film could be perceived as an outright attack on political governments. The film was made in 1963, at the height of Red scare and the Cold War. Whereas Ralph represents conservative law and order, Jack is the anarchic threat that mounts a challenge for the leadership of the island (or 'country') and sways the children (or 'voters') by supplying them basic needs such as food, and pandering to their insecurities (hence the witch-hunting of the mythical 'Beast'). Also, the more rational and intelligent, yet physically inferior citizens such as Piggy have to disapprove on the sidelines as no-one listens. Only the natural leaders such as Ralph understand the importance of characters such as Piggy.

Finally, the film could be perceived as a tale of mere bullying, in which the more inwardly insecure characters such as Jack are jealous of Ralph's reliance on Piggy, and so turns to belittling him in order to further his own ego.


Symbolically, the film also has many deeper connotations. The most important character of the film, Simon, has the least amount of lines. He is either the political nihilist of the book, unable to be pulled towards either side, or he is even a 'Christ-like' figure, realising that the beast is actually what is merely residing within us, and being murdered for aiming to bring the truth to his fellow man. The director Peter Brook has often been criticised for not following the book and choosing to omit the conversation between Simon and the Beast. This is unfair, as the sequence has deeper and more spiritual overtones when left in a more ambiguous state. The conch is symbolic of the invisible and yet powerful hand of authority. It contains a mystical hold over the boys, who respect what it stands for, until it is destroyed, and thus authority has vanished. The fire used as a calling to passing aircraft or ships represents rationality and social advancement, since it offers the boys their only chance of rescue, and the only chance of an escape to a more 'civilised' society. When the fire can no longer be lit, it is as if chaos reigns, and hope has been extinguished.

Now that the GCSE essay is out of the way, what about the film? Lord Of The Flies is arguably the most evil depiction of children in film, because it doesn't rely on supernatural elements that make The Exorcist, The Omen or Village Of The Damned so genuinely terrifying. It's evil, because it suggests that these savage qualities are inherent in all children, and are just waiting to be awoken. The problem with a film such as Lord Of The Flies, is that where it suggests what would happen if children are left to their own devices, it certainly doesn't aim to be the definite proof of its suggestion. Readers of Golding's book and viewers of the film have often swallowed whole the core message of the film without subjecting it to an objective viewpoint; Lord Of The Flies is a 'what-if' approach to a complex social experiment, and doesn't claim to know all of the answers. Indeed, it doesn't even claim to know all of the questions. Golding himself claimed that he wrote the book to see what naughty behaviour children would turn to if left to their own devices, and the novel/film is a good test for this hypothesis, but nothing more. It certainly isn't a valid reflection of society if women are omitted, since sex, love and reproduction changes all of the rules of the test. The main difference between the film and the novel is that Golding based events around an approximately three month time period, whilst Brook believes that all that is needed is a weekend for savagery to rear its ugly head.

Masterful theatre director Peter Brook managed to do with a bunch of amateur children what the dreadful Lord Of The Flies remake couldn't, and that was to show the convincing degeneration of schoolboys into savage madmen. More than three thousand real schoolboys applied to act in the film. The successful applicants were whisked away during their 1961 summer holiday to a quiet island of Puerto Rico (owned by the Woolworth's chain!), and essentially re-creating the Lord of the Flies situation. The boys had no parents, all of the independence they wanted, and a close relationship with nature. Ironically, when the schoolboys returned to their classes after completing the film, they became active leaders in school and acquired brilliant academic records (one of the boys - Nicholas Hammond - went on to play Spiderman in the seventies television series). If anything, this is saying the opposite of the cynical message people claim the novel is spouting. The boys all perform wonderfully, despite lacking the obvious polish that trained actors can deliver. However, this approach ensures proceedings are all the more realist in its dramatic tone. The stand out is obviously going to be Hugh Edwards as Piggy, a character whose good hearted nature sucks the viewer in instantly, and whose downfall perfectly deposits a bad taste in the viewer's mouth.


Director Peter Brook delivers such a beautiful allegory that it manages to be rich in visual quality and heavy in symbolism, but yet it still effectively works as a character drama. Despite the age of the characters in Lord Of The Flies, Brook excellently portrays the clashing personalities and ideologies of the boys, without resorting to over dramatic plot devices. In essence, Brook manages to accurately portray Golding's novel whilst simultaneously leaving his thumbprint on the film, and this is a trait of a genius director.

The magnificent beauty of the scenery, shot entirely on location, is even more amazing considering the two cinematographers Gerald Feil and Tom Hollyman had never contributed to a film before. The stark contrasting images of brutal barbarism amidst natural beauty are perfectly rendered through the dazzling photography, which has a more documentary feel in its black-and-white form.

Lord Of The Flies is one of the greatest adaptations ever to grace cinema, and is both an excellent, if not more dominant companion to the novel whilst simultaneously standing alone as a classic piece of filmmaking. If you loved the book and desire it visualised, then the Peter Brook version of Lord Of The Flies is an absolute must-see.



Picture
The original print in which the transfer was taken from a 35mm answer print, itself made from the original negative. The transfer side of things is absolutely flawless, with superb natural white tones and brilliant contrasting blacks and whites. The print however, suffers occasionally with scratch line marks and dirt appearing moderately throughout. Even so, this is the best Lord Of The Flies has ever looked, and some of the sequences appear fresh as if they were made today. Presented in unmated 1.33:1, despite looking like it was original composed for 1.66:1, due to some excessive space at either the top or bottom of the frame on occasions. Even so, the fullscreen transfer adds to the realistic documentary feel.

Sound
Presented in the original monaural soundtrack, the sound is very audible although is slightly hissy. Most of the dialogue was post-dubbed because of much extraneous noise during the production, and this is only noticeable on a few occasions. Sometimes the sound volume levels fluctuates up and down, but this is due to the differing sources of noise (post-dub or on location).




Menu: A slightly inferior Criterion menu compared to some of their other releases, with a mainly text driven menu appearing on a few multi-coloured stills from the film.

Packaging: A stylish, minimalist cover artwork housed in a single black amaray casing, with fold out insert detailing chapter listings for both the film and Goldman's reading excerpts, combined with a few production notes.



Extras

Audio Commentary With director Peter Brook, producer Lewis Allen, cinematographer Tom Hollyman and cameraman/editor Gerald Feil: An excellently produced commentary, with the four participants recorded separately but edited together into one track. What makes this commentary better than most is the fact that Criterion has given it a chapter index that gives the viewer a rundown of subjects discussed. These subjects range from James Aubrey (Ralph) nearly halting the production by damaging his leg to Hugh Edwards (Piggy) improvising the story his character tells to the little 'uns.

Deleted Scene: A deleted scene lasting just under two minutes, which features Ralph and Jack arguing over the reasons behind their choice of survival plans. There's almost a competitive friendship between the two boys, which arguably would have strengthened the plotting of Jack's jealousy of Ralph. The scene is also backed with an optional commentary explaining the reasons behind its removal. Also featured is another optional commentary by author Golding, who reads aloud the related novel excerpt.

Behind The Scenes: A series of smaller features conveying the behind-the-scenes work of the crew. Home Movies and Test: A series of silent clips featuring a commentary from the contributors on some of the test footage set up by Brook and the cinematographers to master the use of the camera. Outtakes: A series of silent unused shots featuring commentary from the filmmakers. Production Scrapbook: A good, six-minute reel of production photos featuring a commentary on some of the techniques employed by the filmmakers.

The Empty Space: A two minute excerpt from Gerald Feil's 1972 documentary The Empty Space which shows Brook at work directing a group of stage actors. The print quality isn't up to much, but it is very interesting to see the master at work.

Novel Excerpts By William Golding: This commentary is actually a short introduction by Golding on why he wrote the novel, and is followed by excerpts from the novel read by the author himself. It is separated into chapters (with the same names as those featured in the novel) and accessible via a good index.

Theatrical Trailer: The original theatrical trailer for the film presented with an optional commentary featuring a funny story about how the premiere print contained a backwards soundtrack for the final reel. It needed to be remade and was finished literally minutes before the final reel was due to be shown at the premiere screening.




Conclusion
A classic adaptation of a classic novel, given a stunning transfer and very good restored sound. The extras are also excellent, and have not just been haphazardly assembled. A proper 'making of' documentary is still lacking, and there is apparently a BBC2 documentary floating around which returns the original cast to the island. Even so, Criterion have turned in another stunning DVD package, and it should be the cornerstone of every collection.

Film
9 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
9 out of 10
Overall

9

out of 10

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