It's fascinating to listen to the production woes Peter Brook's Lord of the Flies (1963) faced in the early stages as he teamed with Hollywood producer (and family friend) Sam Spiegel to create, what he wanted to be, a low budget adaptation of William Golding's novel. Instead, as time went on, Spiegel took it upon himself to change the story.
As a producer of films such as Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai, it was simply not in Spiegel's nature to make a cheap film. The budget began to balloon, art directors were flown around the world to look at islands and even girls were introduced into script rewrites done behind Brook's back as Columbia (whom were initially set to distribute the film) felt the budget had gotten too big for a film about kids. In essence, it was no longer "Lord of the Flies", it was what happens when studios get their hands on something and attempt to "improve" on it and make it more exciting. In fact, it started to sound to me a lot like television's "Lost", a title that now is more prophetic than it was telling of the narrative.
By comparison and on an initial, visceral level, "Lost" was "more exciting", but sooner or later the mysteries lost their mystique as the show reached a "get to the point" status. Excitement and mystery is one thing, but reason is another. Why are you telling this story? Where is it going? Is it merely the excitement in the middle or does this excitement and tension lead to something bigger and more profound? Something is only exciting as long as the audience is invested in the story and characters, but if the themes of the story are undercut by made-up tension for tension's sake your ship begins to run afoul.
To Brook's credit he refused to do the film unless it could be done as originally intended. He found another backer and the story goes on from there. Suffice to say, Brook eventually got the film made his way and Criterion presents his 1963 presentation of Lord of the Flies with a newly restored 4K digital presentation and a swath of features, some old (from the previous Criterion LaserDisc release) and some new.
My experience with Golding's "Lord of the Flies" includes having read the book in school and seeing Harry Hook's 1990 adaptation. I can't honestly say either moved me. I found the story to be too dark and depressing, and I could never find any measure of attachment. At this point, all I find myself doing is waiting for Piggy's demise and with this being my first viewing of Brook's original adaptation I can't say I approached it much differently, but the film itself has its merits.
For starters, I can hardly remember the 1990 adaptation. I remember it being dark and that's about it. So watching this disc was like seeing the story fresh, even though details of what was to come remained. With the black-and-white approach and the use of non-professional actors, the film reaches a level of reality that's often difficult to attain. That said, the acting is pretty bad in a lot of cases as the young performers often sound as if they're reading lines rather than "feeling" them.
There are moments, however, such as the savage eating of a pig, that really exhibit the primitive state the kids had reached not only in the story, but in the making. The film's final scene is also quite strong and brings the story's themes home.
Plenty of the features are ported over from previous releases such as an informative audio commentary featuring Brook, producer Lewis Allen, director of photography Tom Hollyman and cameraman Gerald Feil, recordings of Golding reading from his novel, accompanying the corresponding scenes from the film, a deleted scene, a collection of behind-the-scenes material and an excerpt from Feil's 1973 documentary The Empty Space, showcasing Brook's theater methods.
In terms of new material, an excellent 30-minute interview with Brook from 2008 is a great primer for virtually every other feature on the disc as he covers many of the filming and production details in broad strokes, a 25-minute excerpt from a 1980 episode of "The South Bank Show" featuring Golding and a "Living Lord of the Flies" visual essay narrated by Tom Gaman (who plays Simon in the film) which includes never-before-seen footage shot by the boy actors during production.
As always there is an impressive booklet included with an essay by film critic Geoffrey Macnab (read it here) and an excerpt from Brook's autobiography "The Shifting Point" (read it here). Artist Kent Williams provided the artwork for the cover and the included booklet and you can check out a lot of that art over at Criterion.com.
In all I can't say this is a movie that I necessarily loved, but Criterion's presentation is once again so impressive it makes it hard to say it's not, at the very least, a title worth considering for your collection.