Lord of the Flies (1963)
Editor’s Notes: The following review marks the start of Jaime’s bi-weekly Criterion review series where he will explore the depths of the Criterion Collection.
After being thrown around in the sea, I finally lay my hand on an island, seemingly deserted. My journey through Criterion’s treasures has now taken me to familiar territory. In a sense.
I’m in the land of the Lord of the Flies. Peter Brook wrote and directed this first cinematic adaptation of William Golding’s popular novel, which has always been described as sort of an ultimate version of “the loss of innocence.” The story takes place in during wartime (possibly in the 1950’s) and explores a plane crash carrying a class of British schoolboys. Specially, the focus starts on Ralph and a chubby boy who carries the nickname of Piggy with him. Though they appear to be the only two survivors, they soon find more kids, and finally meet up with a group of choir boys-turned sudden tough guns, including their leader named Jack. Ralph is initially named chief of them all, but through a series of mishaps, Jack decides to fight for supremacy, and that leads the group splitting into two. Survivalism forms its head, and human nature becomes a grey line. The boys start to become out of control with their new lives, and Ralph isn’t going to stand for it. Or is he?
Watching Brook’s version slowly started the realization process that maybe my grudge towards Golding and his piece isn’t because it isn’t good. It’s because he had potential greatness, and wasted it.
Admittately, I wanted to wander across this journey to try to prove myself wrong. I first became familiar with Golding’s book in high school; senior year I believe. It was pretty much assigned reading, but that never stopped me from liking a book before or even loving one. Alas, that was not the case with Lord of the Flies. I became agitated with it. I remember there were pages that seemed to go on for dozens at a time just simply describing the trees on the island. The style just urked me. And please let’s not use the ‘I was too young to fully appreciate it’ angle, because ultimately it’s weak. Through the trials and tribulations, I finished the damn book. And was not pleased.
I read about two film versions and to be quite honest, I don’t know why I chose the 1990 version first. With the exception of the film’s very last shot, the film was an utter bore. In short, I was 0 for 2 in my attempts to jump on the bandwagon of love for Lord of the Flies. So now I surround in Brook’s version, his jungle. Maybe his attack to the subject matter, that flashes the Criterion brand, can shed some light for me. This is a beloved book, and the 1963 cantation has it’s fair share of praise as well. I admit there are things I miss here and there, so I’m sure Brook can help me out there.
Within the first few minutes, I felt the same feeling before. The feeling of trouble.
Although it finally gains traction towards the last few minutes, 1963’s take on Lord of the Flies takes me through the same frustration and bored feelings that I’ve always had with this property, and maybe this one hurt me the most out of all of them. The photo collage/montage explaining the events was a nice start, but overwhelming sense of boarding took over. Sadly, it stayed that way. Usually, tiny details that could also resemble flaws don’t deter me from the overall enjoyment. However, one aspect that I cannot mention for spoiler purposes just grabbed me and never quite let me go. I’ll just say this: if a group of people survive a plane crash…something’s gotta give. That something is one aspect the 1990 version has this one beat on, hands down.
It was right there! The chance to achieve greatness with a premise that could wrench your soul however it wanted. But…the chance is missed.
It didn’t pick up well from that glaring annoyance. Having read the book first, I could probably say that Brook simply didn’t understand the source material. But hell, I might not even understand it. Or at least the appeal. I’m not sure if Lord of the Flies is the first story out of the gate to have children turn on each other in a survival situation-perhaps it is-but being hailed as one of the creators doesn’t mean it deserves its headlines. Watching Brook’s version slowly started the realization process that maybe my grudge towards Golding and his piece isn’t because it isn’t good. It’s because he had potential greatness, and wasted it.
In the short time that’s spent with these children, the time that’s taken to show their decline in sanity, there’s the sense that finally came out after this decade-long beef: the possibilities to truly capture the loss of innocence was just half baked. Golding, and even Brook, had the chance to create a world truly devoid of hope; a world where chaos truly took the form of the beast, and all is truly lost. Yes I used that word a lot just now, because I can’t help it. It was right there! The chance to achieve greatness with a premise that could wrench your soul however it wanted. But…the chance is missed. What Golding, Brook and even Harry Hook (the director of the 1990 version) gave us in all was nothing more than a glimpse of what could have been. Nothing else is worth noting on this journey, especially after the feeling of realization turns into one of defeat, and then finally sadness.
I leave the island, never to look back. My journey through the Criterion catalog has hit a snag. But I look up into the night sky, seeing if there’s a potential spot for my next journey. I suddenly hear blades, and then see a light…
Lord of the Flies may have been the first of its kind, but it doesn’t mean it should be automatically praises. There’s a lot that was missed with this and its past versions, and my official first snag in my Criterion journey.