Directed by Peter Brook
Starring James Aubrey, Tom Chapin, Hugh Edwards, and Roger Elwin
Lord of the Flies, a classic novel showcasing innocence lost and what can happen when we allow savagery to take over in our society. It’s a must read for every young adult, and this film should be a must see for every adult. The film is everything you would want and more. Director Peter Brook brilliantly took the novel and literally turned it into a piece of true art that stands the test of time in it’s brilliance, beauty, and raw intensity. And Criterion re-releasing the film only magnifies its true essence.
For those who were lucky (or I guess for those who despise reading, unlucky) enough to have read the novel in high school, know that the film pretty closely follows the novel. In fact, it was said that Brook did not even write a screenplay but rather took dialogue directly from the book, and gave that to the boys. In a stroke of brilliance, he decided that he wanted to make the movie almost like one would make a documentary. He cast all non-actor boys who fit the description of their character. The boys were then flown to Puerto Rico to live in an abandoned pineapple factory for a summer and play like the boys of Lord of the Flies.
The story starts with two boys whose plane has crashed on a deserted island. These two turn out to be the charismatic Ralph and the lovably dorky Piggy. They are then joined by a barrage of other English boys, who have also crashed on this island. We then meet the antagonistic, barbaric Jack and the good, sweet Simon. Each of these boys represents a different side of human nature that we have in all of us. Brook does a remarkable job of representing each of these characteristics not only through dialogue but through powerful visuals. Ralph represents the civilized world and good leadership, which we see when he is shot like a child-like version of Harrison Ford, hair blowing in the breeze and everything. Piggy represents order and maturity amid the chaos brewing in this new world. Jack represents savagery and everything evil that can happen in the world, which you can totally see from the beginning as Brook shoots most of his close ups from underneath like he’s about to “Sieg Heil.” And Simon represents the goodness and morality inside all of us. Simon’s telling visual is my favorite by far. He stands in the jungle with little lizards climbing and jumping all over him, and instead of brushing them off or flipping out, he merely smiles and each one and pets them as if they were fluffy kittens purring on his shoulder.
The casting for this picture blows my mind. Brook sent out his people to every pub in England and in the states to find boys who looked, sounded, and acted the part. My favorite casting has to be Piggy, who was cast very last minute. Brook said that they put an ad out in the paper, and one day a little boy sent the film company a very “sticky” letter ripped out of his notebook simply saying, “Dear Sir, I am fat and wear spectacles.” I was rolling on the floor when I heard this.
The boys then decide three things. One, the conch shell that they found on the beach will be their sign of democracy and whoever has the shell may speak and may not be interrupted. Two, they must make a fire, which they make from sticks and sparks from Piggy’s glasses. And three, that Ralph will be the leader, which royally ticks off Jack. The story then progresses to some real conflict. First it is simply a power struggle between Ralph and Jack that all of the boys can sense, but as time marches on, Jack starts manipulating the boys into thinking that he is the better leader. He takes them on bloody hunts, feeds into a young child’s nonsense about an imaginary beast, and finally builds an army of child soldiers against Ralph. The plot of this movie is legit and not for the faint of heart. Even if you’ve read the novel, the film will still be a shock, as you can never take yourself out of the reality that children are becoming savages and killing each other.
The cinematography is beyond breathtaking. At first I was a little miffed that there was this beautiful lush landscape, but no color. But just as there was a reason for Hitchcock shooting Psycho in black and white, so there is a reason for Lord of the Flies in black and white. One, it speaks to the mind of a child. Children figuratively see in black and white (that’s mine, you’re bad, etc). Two, I think the viewers senses would be overwhelmed with a color film, which brings me to the sound. Even though this film has a monoaural soundtrack, I feel as if the sound was three dimensional. I could feel everything happening around me, just from audio clues, such as soothing ocean crashes or the sickening sounds of flies buzzing.
There are several scenes that are beyond stunning. Without giving anything away, let me describe the one that almost made me loose my lunch… and dinner. After the second hunt, Jack decides that they must appease the imaginary beast, and so, after killing a pig they cut off it’s head and place it on a stake for the beast as a sort of sacrifice, which came to be known as the “Lord of the Flies.” Sweet Simon then sits in front of the severed head, as if he is trying to peer into the soul of what was the pig. You then get a point of view shot from Simon looking at the pig. The result is flies buzzing in and out of the pig’s mouth with an intensely disgusting and magnified buzzing sound. I’m literally gagging now just thinking of it.
This is one of the only films that I have EVER seen get a 100% rating on RottenTomatoes.com. It really is a damn near perfect film and in my humble opinion is a must watch for all.
Spectacular. Honestly this film could not have looked any better had they filmed it in present day… and thank goodness they didn’t because then it might have not preserved the artistic integrity that most art house films of the 1960’s/1970’s retain. The video is crisp and clear and restored in 4K digital film transfer to look better than it ever could have. Presented in it’s original aspect ratio, you don’t have to worry about missing a thing.
Even though I can’t give perfect a better score than perfect, I will on this one… the audio on this is TRULY stunning. I have never experienced a movie so incredibly saturated with such rich sounds. And original camera man Gerald Feil, supervised the entire restoration. With an uncompressed monoaural soundtrack, the film is innovative and magical for it’s time. I truly cannot imagine all of the trouble that the sound crew went through to recapture every scene audibly, and sit for hours on end recording the ocean or drums or buzzing flies. I know that most amps go up to a 10, but this one goes up to an 11.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The packaging is quite nice. One disc inside of a typical DVD case… even though you do indeed get a Blu Ray disc. The artwork on the outside is stunning. You have what appears to be charcoal drawings of the boys in war make up. Their expressions range from savage to scared, and are, honestly, visually haunting. Inside, is an entire booklet full of more haunting artwork and an essay by film critic Geoffry Macnab and an excerpt from Brook’s autobiography on his time spent creating Lord of the Flies. Both of these texts are a literary geek’s fantasy. Macnab’s essay breaks down the film beautifully and not only gives us insight into author William Golding’s “beautiful fable,” but also delves into how the film is an incredibly important piece of cinematic history. Brook’s excerpt is gripping because he gives insight into why he made the film in the fashion he did and the effect it had on the boys filming.
The bonus features on the actual Blu Ray are the best I have ever seen on any disc. Not only do you get “Making of” features, made from the perspectives of the boys in the film, cameraman Gerald Feil, and Brook himself, but you also get the “Timeline” feature. The “Timeline” feature (which I myself have never seen on a disc), is much like a chapter feature on a normal DVD, but that is just where the fun begins. Depending where on the “Timeline” you would like to go, you can choose to hear just the audio in the film, audio commentary from Brook, Feil, producer Lewis Allen, and Director of Photography Tom Hollyman, or (and this is the coolest one) audio recordings of Golding reading from Lord of the Flies with the corresponding scene. Again… a literary nerd’s paradise.
Overall (Not an Average)
I know that this sounds really mean, but I hate giving a perfect score… heck, I hate giving a NEAR perfect score. It’s not just that there’s nothing wrong with this film. It’s the fact that everything is so incredibly right on the nose. A perfect film restored to perfection… what more could you ask for? Oh, creepy boys in choir robes acting like Death Eaters- you got that here too.