MGM // 1990 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Barrie Maxwell (Retired) // November 20th, 2001
"Whoever holds the conch gets to speak. That's the rule."
It is perhaps surprising that the 1954 William Golding novel "Lord of the Flies" has only been filmed twice. Long a staple of high school English courses, the story was first adapted for the screen in a 1963 British production (with Puerto Rico providing the island locations) and then remade 27 years later in the United States (with Jamaica used for the location work). MGM has now released the 1990 remake on DVD.
A group of young American schoolboys from a military academy are stranded on a tropical island after a plane the boys were traveling in crashed into the sea. At first, the boys work together as a single group, but jealousy soon finds the group split into two. Ralph leads one faction, emphasizing togetherness and democracy. Jack leads the other faction whose members start off as hunters for meat, but soon degenerate into barbarism. Members of Ralph's faction are initially attracted to the glamour of Jack's faction, but some become disenchanted as they see the direction that group is headed. Nevertheless, they seem to be too caught up in the group's fervour to do otherwise than go along with it. Eventually Ralph finds himself alone and on the run across the island -- the ultimate prey for Jack and his group.
In these days of terrorism and man's general inhumanity towards man, William Golding's classic tale of the degeneration of human values among a group of English schoolboys marooned on a remote island seems rather dated. Nowadays, random knifings and shootings in our schools, often over trivial differences among students, make the concept that schoolboys left to their own devices under survival-of-the-fittest conditions might resort to attacking and killing each other rather easy to accept. We might like to think we're more civilized than that, but sadly, everyday events suggest that's not the case.
As a result, any contemporary film version has the reality of modern society working against it. It also has the memory of Peter Brooks's 1963 original film to contend with. Filmed in black and white with a cast of children who had never acted before, Brooks's film had an edginess to it and a feel of reality that made the progression of events it depicted come alive despite our unease over what was occurring.
The lush, colourful surroundings depicted in director Harry Hooks's Lord of the Flies is one of the first indications that this 1990 film is going to be a rather superficial version of William Golding's classic tale. The script is quite faithful to the spirit of the original story, but there's no passion evident. All the actors portraying the schoolboys are rather bland. Even the boar's head on the stake -- the "lord of the flies" -- lacks any real impact. Some tension is developed towards the film's end as Ralph is chased through the burning forest, but it's too late, and the film ends abruptly soon after. Philip Sarde's music is suitably majestic, but it seems almost too lush for the film.
Here's one of those instances where the DVD transfer is better than the film merits. MGM gives us the film in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced and utilizing 16 scene selections. The transfer is bright and clear with only the odd minor speckle. Colours are accurately rendered and shadow detail is quite good. Edge enhancement is non-existent.
A nice stereo surround audio mix is offered. Most of the sound is confined to the front channels, but there are occasional ambient effects that utilize the surrounds. There's nothing startling here, but what's provided more than does justice to the film's dialogue and music. French and Spanish, but no English, subtitles are included.
Perhaps realizing that no amount of supplements could raise this film beyond mediocrity, MGM offers exactly nothing -- not even a trailer, the normal offering that usually graces the company's bare-bones DVD releases.
This is a disappointing filmization of the William Golding novel from many standpoints -- bland acting, inappropriate use of colour, general lack of dramatic tension. Two positives: the music is quite nice but a little grand for the film and the film runs only 90 minutes. MGM does an above-average job on the film's DVD image and sound transfers, but below average on supplementary content.
The court finds the defendant guilty as charged. Those interested in a film version of "Lord of the Flies" are urged to seek out Criterion's release of the 1963 British original instead. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R