By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Kids turn into savages.
Based on the William Golding novel that has been required reading for most high school students. The story centers on a group of British schoolboys who survive a plane crash on an uninhabited tropical island. The boys are of varying ages, but none older than 14. Ralph (James Aubrey) is chosen as their leader, but finds almost immediate friction from Jack (Tom Chapin) who is an aggressive type that likes to hunt and doesn’t tolerate being told what to do. As things progress Jack breaks off from the main group and eventually starts his own following that comes to odds with Ralph’s. More and more of the boys join Jack and start to display savage behavior that leads to two deaths and puts the frightened Ralph on the run and into hiding.
It has been three decades since I’ve read the book, so I can’t really compare it with the film. The criticisms that I have are aimed solely at the film although as I remember the book had some of the same issues. One of the biggest ones is just the fact that there are so many survivors from a plane crash and all of them are conveniently the kids while all the adults perishing, which seems to play too much against the odds. There are also no scratches, bruises or injuries, which you usually come about with a crash even amongst those that survive it. Director Peter Brook does a clever job of intimating a plane disaster at the beginning over the opening credits through use of photographs, which I found to be creative, but showing an actual destroyed plane with kids getting out of it would have given it a little better foundation.
There is also another segment where the kids are convinced some sort of strange beast is on the island and as they go searching for it, it is found to a pilot in a helmet who was killed while trying to parachute to safety. Yet the kids don’t seem to realize this and remain frightened of it. I realize the setting is the 1940’s around the time of the war, but I would still think the kids of that time would have been sophisticated enough to recognize a dead man in a fighter helmet and the fact that they don’t seems pretty odd and even farfetched.
Overall though I really enjoyed the film and feel reluctant to watch the 1990 remake as I am afraid it would ruin the experience of this one. It was filmed on-location off the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico during late August of 1961. The entire cast was made up of amateur actors who had not read the book. There was no actual script and the boys were allowed to ad-lib their lines, which helps give it an extra air of realism.
I will admit there are shots where some of the boys look bored and detached from things, but then again I suppose boys that age can be that way anyways no matter what situation they are, so in some ways it doesn’t really hurt things. Hugh Edwards who plays Piggy is a real standout and apparently got the role simply by writing a letter to director Brook and informing him that he was fat and wore spectacles.
The black and white photography helps heighten the dark undertones. The shot showing a close-up of the pig’s head on top of a stake with flies’ going in and out of its mouth and nostrils is quite impressive and a brilliant realized moment from the book. The climatic sequence where Ralph must run through the burning foliage to escape the other boys is quite intense. The shot showing a dead boy’s body floating in the water under the moonlight has an evocative flair, but fake looking to the extent that the child was stabbed to death and yet has no visible wounds or blood coming out.
On the DVD commentary Brook states that he likes to believe something like this couldn’t happen. That we have somehow evolved enough as a human race where this savagery would be impossible, but I respectively this disagree. I think this could very well happen in this day and age which is what makes this an infinitely fascinating look at human nature and ultimately a great movie.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: August 13, 1963
Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes
Director: Peter Brook
Studio: Continental Distributing
Available: VHS, DVD (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video
Effective film version of Golding’s novel despite problems with sound recording and continuity
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