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As war in Europe is about to erupt, a group of well-heeled British schoolboys are flown from London to a safe haven in the South Pacific but are forced to fend for themselves after their plane crashes on a remote island and the pilot is killed. Two of the boys, Ralph and Tom, squabble over leadership and eventually their followers divide into feuding factions. Sensitive Ralph tries to keep things nice, but Jack, who sees himself as a great white hunter, turns feral and what begins as a game akin to “cowboys and indians” turns deadly serious.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
A slip of the tongue often confuses William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies with J. R. R. Tolkien’s very different Lord Of The Rings which were both written, coincidentally, in 1954, but only one is “meaningless.” Golding’s allegorical novel, which he imagined as “a journey to the darkness of the human heart,” stressed the delicate balance between good and evil; humanity and savagery, which unbalances a group of milquetoast British schoolboys (most were, in fact, American) who turn feral after they are marooned on a deserted island. Tolkien’s tale of the Middle Earth had no such lofty intentions. “I cordially dislike allegory,” Tolkien wrote and insisted that his vast trilogy contained no “inner meaning or message.” 

Only one of these classics, of course, became a blockbuster movie with a stellar cast. The other was shot in black and white in 1961 on a shoestring budget at Vieques, an island not far from Puerto Rico, with a ragtag bunch of volunteer schoolboys aged seven to 15 who were housed for three months in an abandoned pineapple cannery. 

Told by the older boys that some sort of order must prevail if they are to survive their ordeal, they select the sensible Ralph (James Aubrey) as their chief, but Jack (Tom Chapin) has his own ideas on leadership and takes charge on a hunt for wild boar. A successful kill brings a change in the pecking order. Ralph’s power and authority is eroded and his very existence is in peril as allegiances switch to Jack. Despite an enforced economy, British stage director Peter Brook, who took on the task of adapting Golding in his feature debut, shot over 60 hours of footage for the 90 minutes that remain. 

The inexperience of both cast and crew softens the impact of what is a haunting and compelling novel and waste is evident in the jerky editing and lapses in continuity. The most startling is when the boy Simon is topless as he begins a mountain hike, but somehow acquires a clean white shirt mid-trek and is naked again at the end. Such flaws are usually unforgivable, but there’s a raw quality in the performances and a strength in the storytelling that makes the film a more than satisfying experience. 

Various images and incidents - the tribal dancing by night fire; the frenzied feast on the roasted pig; the severed sow’s head and its symbolic significance - still have the power to disturb. And could it be that, during the making, life imitated art? After three months in isolation on Vieques, in which the boys were deprived of their usual comforts and normal control, one of their minders found a fair-haired youth with a lap full of lizards flinging them one by one into the blades of an electric fan to see “how many pieces” they could be cut into! Sadly, the local DVD release contains none of the goodies contained in the overseas version, which includes a deleted scene, trailer and a fascinating commentary by both Brook and Golding. But the film includes the same blooper that Golding innocently wrote into the original novel. The myopic Piggy starts a fire using his glasses, but this type of lens would not converge the sun’s rays and sparks would be impossible. 

Published February 20, 2003

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(UK - 1963)

CAST: James Aubrey, Hugh Edwards, Tom Chapin

DIRECTOR: Peter Brook

RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.66 widescreen; mono audio



DVD RELEASE: February 19, 2003

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