Just as Orwell's 1984 has become synonymous with totalitarianism, William Golding's 1959 novel Lord Of The Flies stands as a powerful symbol of the potential savagery existing just beneath civilized propriety. In it, a group of English schoolboys evacuated due to the threat of nuclear war (a detail so subtly integrated into the novel that it's often forgotten) crash-land on a deserted island, where they establish a fragile society that prospers, unravels, and finally fractures irreparably. It is, to say the least, not a story that translates easily to film, a fact that makes this unusual, uneven, ultimately powerful 1963 adaptation—restored and repackaged on DVD with a generous selection of supplemental materials—all the more remarkable. Directed in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis by Peter Brook, a giant of English theater who would go on to direct Marat/Sade and a well-liked version of King Lear, Lord Of The Flies is in many ways the work of novices. Brook had made only one notable film prior to Flies, cinematographer Tom Hollyman had worked only in still photography, and virtually none of the large cast of children had acted before. The audio-commentary track, dominated by Brook and Hollyman, reveals just how risky a venture Flies was, but the edginess of the shoot is clear without it, contributing substantially to the film's success. Brook directs with an uneven hand and his cast's inexperience is immediately apparent, but both help establish the film's unsettling you-are-there feel; the verité approach and the actors' naturalistic performances only grow more effective as the movie progresses and the boys' society regresses toward a chilling climax. Like Golding's novel, Flies wears its allegorical impulses on its sleeve, but, also like Golding's novel, it rings uncomfortably true.
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