Lord of the Flies: Criterion Collection
Criterion // Unrated // $39.95 // July 16, 2013
Review by Randy Miller III | posted July 22, 2013
Highly Recommended
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Based on William Golding's bestselling novel, Peter Brook's Lord of the Flies (1963) is a tense, raw adaptation of difficult source material. Our story follows a handful of British schoolboys who have been evacuated from their home country in the midst of an unnamed war. Their plane has crash landed near an idyllic island and no adults are among the survivors. With no word of rescue and scarcely anyone over the age of 13, these boys attempts to establish order out of chaos. They've got plenty of fruit and wild pigs ready for consumption, no threatening predators and relatively calm weather, so their only immediate danger appears to be themselves. Unfortunately, everything unravels quickly.

Of course, these young British boys didn't have to be young, British, or even boys to drive the source novel's point home. Lord of the Flies reminds us that evil is a natural extension of the human soul and, if left unchecked, will tear apart the order that modern civilization clings to on a daily basis. When a leader is elected democratically, those in a lesser position don't all follow blindly. The more physically aggressive ones (here portrayed by choirboys, who do most of the hunting) eventually threaten to form a group away from the less masculine. And, of course, the fat kid is picked on. Responsibilities are given, rules are followed, and punishment is even attempted to reform those who ignore both. It's a perfect microcosm of the human condition: even with the best intentions, we can't all just get along.

Though substantially less layered than Golding's source novel, the author famously supported Brook's adaptation before, during and after its 1961 production. Still, this isn't a flawless stand-in for the original: the relationships between the boys are substantially less refined, the ending is rushed and even the eponymous pig idol is largely glossed over. Yet the film's visceral strengths, interesting visual touches (especially the efficient prologue, delivered via a collection of still photos) and the performances by first-time child actors makes it the most striking adaptation currently available.

This low budget documentary-style thriller was shot on the scenic island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, largely occupied by a U.S. Navy base at the time. This not only made dialogue and location sound recording difficult (if not impossible), but fly-overs and military exercises would often interfere with the on-site communications equipment. British conductor Raymond Leppard's score was recorded in just under four hours at London's Aldwych Theatre, completed before an evening performance with minutes to spare. Adding fuel to the fire, much of the dialogue had to be dubbed in post-production...and though some of these lines are glaringly obvious, it rarely interferes with the film's brisk, organic flow. This condensed adaptation took no shortage of gambles, and nearly all of them paid off.

Criterion's new Blu-ray arrives 13 years after their original DVD; going back further, the studio's laserdisc even dates back to 1993. Each and every notable supplement from those releases has either been ported over or updated, with a few new extras thrown in for good measure. But the major selling point here is a new 4K restoration that beautifully highlights the film's gritty, raw atmosphere more than you'd think, heightening the visual intensity even further. It's basically a definitive Lord of the Flies release on the Blu-ray format, and one that new and established fans will undoubtedly appreciate.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Not surprisingly, Lord of the Flies' raw and ragged appearance is rendered well on this 1.37:1 transfer. The detail of outdoor sequences is phenomenal, especially during close-ups and panoramic views of the island. A handful of scenes, including those set at night and during heavy fog, don't fare quite as well but any problems are likely source material issues. The only exception is one of the final shots during the boys' "rescue", when a large portion of the background fades into light blue for a few brief moments; I don't recall seeing this color in earlier editions, though I could be wrong. Digital issues, such as edge enhancement and excessive noise reduction, aren't visible at all. Overall, Lord of the Flies still looks quite striking, and the strengths of this 4K restoration heavily outweigh everything else.

DISCLAIMER: These promotional images are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.

The English LPCM 1.0 mono track is perfectly acceptable, especially given the on-set recording problems that plagued the film's production. Some flaws, like the sound of outdoor dialogue obviously re-dubbed in a small room, will never be "corrected". Hiss, pops and crackles are all kept to a minimum, and several moments even contain a modest amount of depth. More often than not, though, what we get is a clean presentation of a documentary style film that's over 50 years old now; it's easy to follow and understand, though optional English subtitles are also included if you need a little help.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

Seen below, Criterion's interface is smooth and easy to navigate. This 90-minute film is divided into 14 chapters (including color bars) and the disc is locked for Region "A" playback only. It's housed in the studio's usual "stocky" Blu-Ray keepcase, adorned with beautiful two-sided artwork. The booklet features an essay by critic Geoffrey Macnab and a brief excerpt from Peter Brook's 1987 autobiography.

Bonus Features

There's plenty of stuff to dig through here, with all of the attention to detail you'd expect from a top-tier Criterion package. It's also worth noting that much of this material has been recycled from past editions, including the studio's own 1993 laserdisc and 2000 DVD release. These supplements include a feature-length Audio Commentary with director Peter Brook, producer Lewis Allen, cinematographer Tom Hollyman and cameraman/editor Gerald Feil; a short Deleted Scene featuring an argument between Ralph and Jack, with optional commentary (2:08); a three-part Behind-the-Scenes section including silent set footage, brief outtakes and a nice production scrapbook, all with narration or optional commentary by selected members of the crew (16:12 total); a selection of Excerpts from the Novel read by author William Golding (17:15); and the film's Theatrical Trailer, which includes an optional director commentary.

New or updated extras are also included, such as an expanded excerpt from Gerald Feil's 1972 documentary The Empty Space (17 minutes - earlier editions only included a 2 minute clip). More recent Interviews with Peter Brook and Gerald Feil detail the roadblocks encountered during the film's production (53 minutes). A 1980 episode of British TV series "The South Bank Show" features William Golding and how his life influenced the book and the legacy it created (25 minutes), while the short "Living Lord of the Flies" features 8mm footage captured by the young actors on set with words by Tom Gaman, who played Simon (7 minutes). Overall: a thoughtful selection of extras that fans will enjoy.

Final Thoughts

It goes without saying that the purest version of Lord of the Flies is William Golding's original novel, but his participation in Peter Brook's rugged 1963 adaptation is evident in just about every frame. From the artful compositions and interesting visual flourishes to the decision to use inexperienced child actors, its shoestring budget and the documentary approach, this unlikely gamble paid off handsomely. Criterion's new Blu-ray package easily trumps their own 2000 DVD release, adding a few updated supplements to the remarkable new 4K transfer. Established fans should enjoy every aspect of this release, though anymore less familiar with it should probably read Golding's book first. Highly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.

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