Criterion // 1963 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // August 5th, 2013
Sucks to your assmar!
Like many, I read William Golding's 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies early in high school, and loved it. Unlike some, however, my teacher showed our class Peter Brook's 1963 screen adaptation of the story, and I thought it was the novel come to life. It's long been a favorite of mine and I was amazed at the job Criterion did on their DVD release of it back in the early days of the format (and one of my very first DVD purchases). Now, though, in their Blu-ray update, I'm amazed anew. This is a fantastic upgrade and the picture of why the Criterion Collection is so revered.
A plane crash leaves a group of British boarding school boys alone on a tropical island. They try to keep their chins up and act like adults so they can govern themselves, so they try their hand at democracy. That doesn't work for long, though, and soon they split off into two factions. Ralph (James Aubrey), the elected leader, wants order so they can get things done. Jack (Tom Chapin), the charismatic insurgent, leads the hunt and has become power hungry. Almost immediately, these choirboys have devolved into savages, painting their bodies, chanting around the fire, and declaring total war on Ralph's modest group.
Given that the jungle setting of Lord of the Flies is about as far removed from the stage as you can get, the experimental theater background of Peter Brook (Swann in Love) makes him an likely choice to direct Golding's novel, but his adaptation is one of the best page-to-screen transitions I've ever seen. The idea of throwing a bunch of amateur child actors onto an island to make a movie seems to have fit the bill for him, because the results is the seminal film about man's quick descent into barbarity.
Brook doesn't get into the philosophy of the Golding novel so much, but he gets the mood and darkness of the story just right. He stays very close to the novel, often pulling the dialog straight off the page, but even more than that, the movie works because of how it was made. By using a cast and crew almost entirely new to filmmaking and taking them to a real desolate island, he's able to simulate the scenario in real life, making the boys react naturally to their surroundings and getting a real journalistic feel from the filmmaking.
That immediacy hasn't changed in the fifty years since its release. The kids, most of whom never had an acting experience before or after this, seem completely natural in the film and, as Americans, their accents aren't even unbelievable. They faction off as kids do on the playground, but without supervision, it stops being a game almost immediately. They fall into the story perfectly with this, making it all seem real in a way that professionals never could. Although a little talky, Lord of the Flies is never dry and completely fun, one of the best adaptations out there, and something that resonates well with people of multiple age groups. It's a brilliant film that has finally received a high definition upgrade.
Criterion's Blu-ray update to Lord of the Flies is plainly superb, technically superior in every way and a slate of extras to match. The film has received a brand new high-def restoration and the improvement over their 2000 DVD release. While that looked good for the time, this new transfer is a major upgrade. The picture is immaculate, with incredible detail and clarity and a hugely improved black and white contrast that shows off a much broader range of greys. It's amazing to me that technology has improved so much that the original state of the art transfer can be surpassed so thoroughly. The sound, though, isn't all that different from the original track. The PCM single channel mix is lossless, which gives it more power and sharpness; it sounds good, but the dynamic range is limited by the source material.
For supplements, Criterion has taken everything they included on their original DVD and slapped on a few new extras for good measure. First the old:
* An Audio commentary featuring Peter Brook, producer Lewis Allen, and photographer/editor Gerald Feil, who also supervised the new transfer, isn't a conversation at all, but a series of unconnected anecdotes from the trio. Fantastic information for fans, but not the most exciting listen.
* Audio recording of William Golding reading the relevant scenes from his novel as it plays over the film. This is a fascinating listen, not only because the prose is so solid, but for the ability to see how well Brook captured the tone of the novel.
* One deleted scene, featuring a telling conversation between Ralph and Jack as the story moves toward its second act. It's an interesting scene that could have been included, but was maybe a little too on the nose. It also features audio commentary and Golding reading.
* A 17 minute excerpt from Gerald Feil's 1975 documentary, The Empty Space, which details Peter Brook's theater methods and features a young Helen Mirren.
* A collection of behind-the-scenes material, with screen tests, home movies, stills, and the like, separated into three parts with narration.
* Booklet with an essay by film critic Geoffrey Macnab and an excerpt from Brook's autobiography, The Shifting Point.
* Trailer, with optional commentary.
And the new:
* Excerpt from a 1980 episode of The South Bank Show featuring a 25 minute interview with William Golding describing his life and career.
* New interview with Gerald Feil about his experiences working on Lord of the Flies.
* Interview with Peter Brook in which he talks about theater, film, and the adaptation of Lord of the Flies from page to screen.
* Living "Lord of the Flies": During filming, Brook gave 8mm cameras to some of the kids, having them film their interactions during the production. This is a 7 minute edit of that footage, featuring Tom Gaman (who played Simon) reading from his 1998 essay on his experiences.
Between the superior technical qualities and the newly stocked supplements, Criterion's Lord of the Flies (Blu-ray) represents the definitive version of the film. Get ready to trade in those old DVDs, because this upgrade is worth every penny. And if you've never seen the film, this is absolutely the best way to experience this great piece of cinema.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame (1080p)
* PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scene
* Bonus Audio