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Lord of the Flies

1 rating: 1.0
A movie directed by Peter Brook

Director Peter Brook's faithful adaptation of William Golding's 1954 novel stars James Aubrey and Tom Chapin as antagonists Ralph and Jack, respectively. When a plane carrying 30-odd British schoolboys out of a war zone crashes on an island, … see full wiki

Director: Peter Brook
Release Date: 1963
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about Lord of the Flies

Sociologically interesting, very rough otherwise

  • Jun 30, 2006
Rating:
+1
Pros: Honesty with the uncomfortable topic, what appears to be an improvised format

Cons: Acting of some characters is VERY stiff

The Bottom Line: Not for the casual movie viewer or causal fan of the book.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot.

First, I hated the book when I was 14 and still don’t like it. Lord of the Flies the novel is simplistic. The symbolism belongs to what a professor of mine called the lead pipe school (as in it is as obvious as a strike in the head by a lead pipe). It is like reading a riddle you already know the answer to, but have to read or the short, blond, left-handed English teacher will give you a zero if you don’t (those others in 8th grade had a red headed, short, left-handed English teacher; all of us found it highly odd that most of the female English teachers in our school were left-handed).

However, something akin to the lady or the tiger survives the pure suckiosity of the book. If you stranded half a hundred boys on an island, what would happen? Would the old cave man nature take over and dominance by force of will or body win, or would the niceties and order of polite society rule the day. It is very clear where Mr. Golding stands since nearly everyone joins the ‘tribe’ controlled by Jack rather than the polite society of rules and etiquette offered by Ralph. The argument about just how this would play out has been jostled around in classroom and dorm room since the book was published. In this way the novel The Lord of the Flies is like Soilent Green total crap in itself, but leading to discussions that refuse to go away (mainly because their answers are supremely elusive if not entirely impossible to determine).

Before launching into the review as a whole, I have one observation that has been with me since I had to read the book, mainly because some nascent feminists griped to the woman teacher “there are no females in this book.” One or two boys noticed a sort of stirring among the females that only later could be interpreted as: silly, because girls would all get along. While that is certainly not true, the dynamic would be very different. If anyone knows of a feminine version of the book please let me know.

This, however, is a review of the 1963 version of the film.

During a war, a plane load of boy’s school boys are stranded on a tropical island. Once the various different groups all gather together, they do what any club would do. They elect a leader, Ralph. Ralph puts together some basic rules that he considers essential to helping them to survive and to be found. Tensions mount when the boy who barely loses the leadership vote shows his talent as a hunter. Here the social divisions occur and rapidly. The tribe of hunters, who devolve into barely contained barbarism, pluck off any of the few stragglers left with Ralph. Finally, in an attempt to get Ralph, the tribe sets fire to the island. As they scramble to get Ralph, they discover a British landing party drawn to their location by the smoke. The movie ends as the novel does, with Ralph crying.

The 1963 version of the film is in black and white and feels more like a Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom special than a movie. Marlon Perkins takes his camera to film the wild British boys of an unnamed island. The only things separating this film from actually being a nature film are the overloud soundtrack and the stiff dialog from the boys who are not as comfortable as actors as their fellows.

The worst one of these is Hugh Edwards who plays Piggy. His dialog is delivered in such a slow and dull fashion one would think him to be either medium functioning MR or someone teaching English as a second language. His delivery is literally painful to witness.

Tom Chapin was a strange pick for Jack. His diction is so feminine and BBC perfect that it is jarring to see him as the leader of the soon-to-be-barbarians. I’m not saying that it is a poor choice, just a strange one. It would be interesting to conjecture what would have happened to his diction if they weren’t rescued.

All of the other performances were adequate for the situation.

It really felt like the director, Peter Brook, gave them their lines and told them basically when to say them, but otherwise said ‘now just go crazy.’ Due to a family tragedy, I have been given access to a world I would otherwise not be able to see easily—boys of 6-9 at play. This is in an area where most children still play outside regardless of the heat or cold. The boys do glob in groups and they tend to favor the one who speaks most plainly of violence and adventure and to ignore the ones who want to go inside to play. Age isn’t usually an issue; a 6 year old tends to lead most because he speaks most clearly of killing imaginary foes or separating the group in two and killing the other team. Nearly everything is a competition and the rules change with the wind. It is very easy when witnessing this to see why Mr. Golding would emphasize the barbaric over the social.

I originally saw this film when I was 15 or so when PBS in Atlanta ran it. I didn’t like it because it is too rough and the characters were very stiff. More than 20 years later, I decided to see it again since I have been witness to a part of boyhood most of us forget or edit later as we age. What at 15 seemed stiff and amateurish had a ring of authenticity given my newer knowledge.

The film was remade in 1990 (I saw it then and didn’t like it either, but plan on trying it again for the same reason I watched the first one again), but a remake that took the same liberties as Mr. Brook’s would not be possible today and require mention. There is quite a bit of nudity in this version; only some of it is full-frontal, but lots of backsides are on display. This isn’t for prurient reasons, but for those who would be uncomfortable by this, it is best to avoid it.

Since so many reviewers pointed to the violence, I believe I need to comment on this. Any production of Lord of the Flies that didn’t have heaping doses of violence would miss the point entirely. The idea is that the boys devolve to our species’s preverbal days (very aptly handled in the film by the bonfire dance and scream-fest where no actual words are spoken, just primate noises). We believe this time to be marked by the kind of violence shown in the film. Yes it can be uncomfortable, especially given the context, but this movie without lots of violence would be like watching Star Wars minus the special effects.

I recommend the film only for people interested in the sociological nature of the issues brought out in the book. For fans of the book, this film is unlikely to be entertaining unless you are well versed in the less polished world of independent film.

Note added after posting the review
I since did a little research and found out that Mr. Brook essentially did away with the script and gave the actors vague instructions. From there he took 60 hours of footage that he then edited to 90 minutes. This gives the film an even deeper ring of authenticity.

Recommended:
Yes

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