There are many instances of a short story or a novel adapted to film, be it the small screen or the silver screen. More often than not the visual presentation falls short when trying to capture and convey the story and spirit of the original written work. Sometimes the film version is close to the original, yet is still not a replica. One can present things in words that aren’t easy or next to impossible in film. The time of the film has more of an impact on this factor. At times it should be easy for a movie to follow the story, regardless of year made and technology at hand. This isn’t a study or critique in film making or film technology. The focus is on how close does the film come to matching the original written work. I recently read Lord of the Flies, and within days of finishing the final page I decided to watch the two film versions and compare and contrast each to William Golding’s novel and to each other. It struck me as a fun project, and a good source of writing material. Regardless of the year, Lord of the Flies should serve as a perfect guideline for a film to follow.
There are two film versions, one released in 1963 and the other released in 1990. I watched them back to back, in order of release year. I’m giving my initial impressions and observations within minutes of the end credits rolling.
The 1963 Peter Brook film isn’t far off the original novel. The stage is set with drawings as the opening credits play. This is a sparse, minimalist, black and white production. While it is close to the novel, it had a few flaws in the storytelling. I still don’t understand why it couldn’t follow the novel word for word. The film loses much of the tension between Jack and Ralph. Certain scenes seemed out of place due to their introduction. Had they not skipped the set up, this film would have a better flow and made more sense. If you’ve read the novel, you can fill in the small gaps and this is a good companion. If you haven’t read the novel, you might enjoy the film without having done so. That said, the conflict between characters and the reasoning behind certain actions might not come across as strong. Given the choice between the novel or this film, I’ll take the novel. This is an average film at best and dragged in spots.
As for the 1990 Henry Hook version, if I were watching this film without a reason, I’d have cut it off within 20 minutes. This is a loose adaptation, and by loose I mean like a kitten trying to wear Andre the Giant’s pants. I don’t even know where to begin in trying to compare and contrast this film with the 1963 version or the novel. To be honest, there isn’t much comparing to do. This film makes the 1963 version look like an exact mirror image to the novel, word for word, scene for scene, and a five star film. In this version the kids aren’t British, but American, and there is an adult with them. The 1963 film is timeless, not a timeless classic, but it doesn’t date itself. This film has an A.L.F. reference, and references to the Russians and the Cold War. Also, it’s a bunch of kids running around in dirty underwear. Take a pass on this one.
In closing, if you want a film companion to the novel after reading it, stick with the 1963 film. Unless you feel you have to, stay away from the 1990 version. It’s as far away from the novel as you can get and still consider it the same. This isn’t saying one era of films is better than another era. I like classic films, and I like films made now. This has nothing to do with when, and everything to do with how close they come to the original novel. The 1963 film wins. No need to go to the judges table, it isn’t even close.
Copyright © Drew Martin 2016