Posted September 1, 2017 by Chris Hick in Film Reviews

Lord of the Flies (1963) Blu-ray Review

Lord of the Flies (1963) is not a film often seen on TV or elsewhere for that matter. But it is a story most people know. It is in many ways indefinable. I first saw the film while at school many years ago, having read William Goldman’s book, a core text book for English Literature. It’s quite a shocking film, even on viewing today. The opening credits give the viewer a prologue to the story through a series of black and white stills. We hear church bells and a boys choir played on the soundtrack along with images of boys at a public school, playing cricket and general English scenes intercut with images of nuclear weapons and aircraft. This is followed by stills showing schoolboys evacuated from the UK. Lord of the Flies was made the same year as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and these opening credits give a similar sense of fear of the bomb, prevalent at the time (the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 brought the world the closest it has yet come to nuclear war, although current bellicose talk between the US and North Korea begins to make the film universally relevant again).

Once the opening credits are over we are introduced to two schoolboys in school uniform, cap, blazer and shorts who have survived a plane crash after they had been shot out of the air. Ralph and the over-sized bespectacled and clearly intelligent Piggy find themselves stranded on a deserted tropical island in the Pacific. Ralph finds a conch shell and Piggy shows him how to use it. After he blows it other boys come out of the jungle including some robed choir boys led by a boy called Jack Merridew. After all the boys introduce themselves Ralph assumes the role of leader and galvanises all the boys to fact find and search for food and water, much to the chagrin of Jack. Jack, not happy with this arrangement eventually moves against Ralph and Piggy and a couple of other boys who take a less tribalistic approach. In time this society soon collapses with Jack and his followers becoming more savage-like as the social groups break down between the hunters who are fed the good captured pig meat and those who did not join his ‘tribe’ and are not fed (even though it was the stolen lenses of Piggy’s glasses that were used to create fire. Like in ‘Heart of Darkness’/Apocalypse Now this society becomes more animalistic with a Darwinistic Survival of the Fittest taking sway that heads towards death and disaster.

The Guardian newspaper reported this last week that Warner Brothers have signed a new deal to make an all girl version. They rightly stated that with an all girl cast is missing the point of the book and original film which draws the comparison between the war taking place on a global stage with the inherent behaviour of boys playing men’s games. This is not about equality but about innate male behaviours. The same is stated on extras on the disc in interviews with Goldman (from a South Bank interview in 1980) and a very interesting interview with director Peter Brook, recorded in 2008. Brook was a director who’s film credits are sparse, while the few films he did make were very literary. He is best known as a classical theater director who has directed many celebrated Shakespeare productions. All the more surprising, therefore, that he should make an adaptation of a novel on location, so far removed from the artifice of a stage.

The film was shot on a small Puerto Rican island with a cast of non-actors that Brook had searched for; only James Aubrey, who played Ralph would go on to have any notable acting career. Brook’s film is quite remarkable, filmed entirely on location and was shot with a limited budget. Filmed in black and white, both for budgetary reasons as well as to create a greater sense of atmosphere and minimise the notion that the predicament they find themselves in is far removed from paradise. Of course comparisons can be made between the novel and ‘Robinson Crusoe’, highlighting the anthropological approach to human behaviour William Goldman took with his novel, which was clearly not lost on Brook.

Criterion Collection have once again gone above and beyond in their presentation of this film. The Blu-ray sleeve artwork is a little odd and does not feel representative of the film, but the disc’s homepage with only the sound of a fly buzzing is a nice touch. Extras on the disc are full and outstanding. As well as the aforementioned interviews with Goldman and Brooks, there are also plenty of on location home movie films, interviews such as one with cinematographer Tom Hollyman who gives a good insight into how he overcame budget limitations in order to get the best shots. There is also several mentions about what became of the boys in various interviews, including a featurette by Tom Gaman who played a boy sensitive to nature and how he went on to become a forester after his only film appearance.

Chris Hick

Chris Hick