Saturday, February 19, 2005


"Lord of the Flies." I've never read the book, and hadn't seen either of the film versions until I watched the 1963 original last night. I don't know whether it was better or worse than the book or the 1990 remake, or whether it's a faithful adaptation of the book, but I liked it. I liked what it didn't do as much as what it did. It didn't have any framing (e.g. showing the kids before they arrived on the island) or voice-over narration, and it didn't mess around with explaining what the kids were doing traveling in the middle of the Pacific.

The story and theme are obviously about universal truths, but I'm glad it didn't overdo the easy and obvious one-to-one comparisons (with the Cold War, the British class system, colonialism, civilization itself, you name it) and focused these kids on this island in this situation. Ultimately, that allows the message to be applied more universally than if it had played up a more direct parallel (which I thought it might after the montage under the opening credits and again when the identity of the "beastie" became apparent). By avoiding any specific references, the film opens itself up to a wider range of possible comparisons, even decades after it was made.

The style of the film suited this approach. Most of the shots were medium and close up. There were a few long shots early to establish the geographical isolation of the kids, but then the focus came to rest on the kids and their response to their situation. The story is pretty artificial and requires a good deal of suspension of disbelief. Pushing it too far into realism would have been a mistake. It's more of a psychological and behavioral study than a true life adventure. A study of human nature rather than a tale of man (boy) vs. nature.

Great, deceptively simple, camerawork. I don't know whether the decision to shoot in black and white was an artistic choice or a practical/economical one, but it worked. It foreclosed any tendency to view the island as a lush tropical paradise, and it gave the film a timelessness that color wouldn't have. The sequence near the end with Ralph stumbling around in the jungle was fantastic. It must have been done at least partly with a handheld camera, but, as with the rest of the film, it didn't call attention to itself or do anything flashy. The emphasis was always on the story and theme, not on the style, but that doesn't mean there was no style. Form follows function. There were several seemingly gratuitous shots, including a great one of a kid (it might have been Jack) hurling a flaming torch or spear into the waves just after sunset. There were a lot of takes that stayed on the kids after they were done speaking. Piggy had a weird monologue about his hometown near the end, while Jack was on the other end of the island doing his Colonel Kurtz thing. Almost all of this worked because it de-emphasized the action/adventure element of the plot and focused instead on the psychological and behavioral issues that the story was designed to address.

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