Lord of the Flies is a stark reminder, especially pertinent right now, that mankind is a tribal species which is willing virtually overnight to drop its veneer of civilisation and revert to the barbarism which was for countless generations our natural state.
William Golding's novel was adapted superbly by the renowned stage director Peter Brook in this 1963 movie. The only updating was almost unnoticeable. The novel began with a plane-load of English schoolboys fleeing the air-raids of the Second World War. The film updates this to the early 1960s as the schoolboys seek to escape a threatened nuclear attack.
En-route to a Pacific haven, their plane is attacked and crashes on a deserted tropical island. From this point on, this could be 1943. Or 1983, or 2003. Or 2003 BC. As their clothes slowly shred away, so do their schoolboy personas, and the whole apparatus of behavioural modes and controls which society dictates we need.
How quickly and relentlessly this little parcel of English schoolboys descent into savagery. How cruel they quickly become. How intolerant of those who are different, whether it is in their despisal of Piggy because he is fat, wears glasses and complains about his asthma, or, even more poignantly, their alienation from Simon, the island's philosopher. Simon dares to seek the truth about the bogey which is on the one hand terrifying the tribe, and on the other, giving authority to the tribe's self-proclaimed leader. Simon would not fare well here, today, either.
This is a shocking movie. The film pursues an inexorable course which is just totally harrowing. The film is so naturalistic that the director's hand is totally invisible. Yet he managed a great feat to coax natural, unforced performances from his tribe of young players. The movie traces an ordeal which is as hard for the viewer as it is for its characters - but it is compulsive viewing, demanding repeated screenings.
The allying of sound and image is particularly fine, with Raymond Leppard contributing a haunting soundtrack which merges the English choral tradition with tribal rhythms and chant. The music is a particularly important stucture in the many layers which make up this assault on the thin line separating modern man from savage.
This black-and-white widescreen movie is given a 16.9 anamorphic transfer and the print quality in terms of shading and contrast is superb. Not so good though are evident signs of some physical damage to the print or negative, with some intermittent running scratch lines cropping up for minutes on end.
This is never a bad enough problem to impede full involvement in the movie, though; it's just a sign that this '40th Anniversary Special Edition' isn't really that special at all. It would be interesting to compare this edition with the American issue by the specialist company Criterion. Unfortunately, Criterion is barred from selling its fine DVDs directly in Australia, although they can be imported via the Internet.
The two-channel sound is adequate, serving Raymond Leppard's score very well, and giving good clarity to dialogue. There is no sign of peaking or damage to the audio track; it is fully serviceable although not outstanding.