BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Jan 18th, 2000 •

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How secure is this thing we call civilization? Many survivalists believe that we are only one catastrophe away from complete collapse. Last year, I personally met several people who were convinced that Y2K was the final straw that would bring everything crashing down. For years, philosophers, psychologists, artists, and many others, have debated whether humans have truly evolved or are merely one short step away from reverting to the behavior of our primitive ancestors. Examples like the war in Bosnia, and Republican congressmen during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, suggest that the latter might sadly be closer to the truth.

One of the most powerful artistic evocations of that question can be found in Lord of the Flies; first in William Golding’s classic novel, and later in Peter Brook’s film adaptation (we’ll politely skip over Hollywood’s recent botch-up). The Criterion Collection recent release of Brook’s film on DVD offers a new and pleasurable opportunity to experience this unique and powerful work.

During a war crisis, a group of British schoolboys are evacuated by plane. A crash leaves them stranded on a lush but deserted tropical island. They form their own society but soon violence and superstition darken their peaceful idyll and they descend into barbarism and bloodshed.

Some may disagree with Golding’s grim lock-step vision of human nature, which is strongly influenced by Christian concepts of man’s inherent sinfulness, but few will question the raw power of Brook’s cinematic vision. Strongly influenced by the French New Wave and pioneering American independent filmmaker Morris Engel, Brook chose to make his film outside the system. He deliberately selected a cinematographer with a background in still photography who had never shot a film before. Producer Lewis Allen had only worked in live theater. Of course, all the kids were non-professionals. In a process that subtly mirrored the movie’s storyline, the youthful cast was flown to Vieques in Puerto Rico, far from their family and friends. The filmmakers created a workshop atmosphere in which the children created their roles in a process of experiential development. It is the intensity and realism of their performances that humanizes Golding’s somewhat didactic story and makes watching Lord of the Flies such a vivid experience.

One quibble aside, this DVD is yet another feather in The Criterion Collection’s crown of triumphs. While a beautiful new transfer in the film’s original 1:33 ratio is undoubtedly the main attraction, this disk overflows with extras that both entertain and deepen our understanding. Highlights include audio commentary by Brook, Allen, director of photography Tom Hollyman, and cameraman/editor Gerald Feil; excerpts from the novel, read by author William Golding; a deleted scene; the original theatrical trailer; production scrapbook, home movies, and outtakes; and a scene from Feil’s 1972 documentary The Empty Space about Brook’s directing techniques. The one glaring omission from the commentary tracks and other supporting materials is the now-grown children who starred in Lord of the Flies; especially since it is noted, both in the commentary and elsewhere, that this was a life-changing experience for many of the boys. Producer Allen comments that after the production many of the children went to the top of their class in school. In the BBC’s 1996 documentary Time Flies about the production (which would have made a nice addition to this disk), James Aubrey, who played Ralph in the film and was the only one who later became an actor, said “For me something happened, a religious, spiritual experience. Peter Brook was the octopus and we were the arms.” Still, this is a minor complaint about a splendid DVD that belongs in the collections of all serious filmlovers.

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