There have been two film versions of the novel ‘Lord of the Flies’
In the last forty years there have been two film releases of Sir William Golding’s best selling novel, ‘Lord of the Flies. ‘ To help me answer the question I closely watched the first five minutes of both of these films and made notes of what I could see and hear. I also observed the lighting effects, camera shots and editing of both productions. The first film was made in 1963 and was directed by Peter Brook. The opening five minutes of this black and white version starts with a montage of images of a public school to try and show the background of the children.
It includes pictures of school photos, of children working in classrooms, choir boys singing and children playing cricket. It highlights the fact that they are simply children, which later in the film seems often hard to believe. The pictures are meant to emphasise the civilised life that the boys once had in a society of sophistication. However, suddenly this cultured and civilised society is under threat. The photo of the boys playing cricket dramatically cuts back and forth with pictures of nuclear weapons. This represents the war that had started and the fear of an atomic war that faced many.
The mood of the collage changes and the photos change from happy pictures of children playing and working at school, to photos of London being bombed and children being evacuated. Then the title sequence starts with the titles in white writing with a black background upon pictures of planes flying in the sky. It then shows pictures of plane wings, cutting between them faster and faster and then a picture of a lightning bolt striking one wing. There is then a picture of a plane, the photo spins to give the effect of the plane spinning, and then there is a picture of a plane crashed on a beach.
The photo montage then ends and the real part of the film starts with Piggy and Ralph moving through the creepers. From the instant you see Piggy you can tell he is very different from Ralph. He wears a hat unlike Ralph; he wears a jacket unlike Ralph’s blazer; he wears glasses; he looks a lot bigger and less fit; and as soon as Piggy speaks you not only see the difference in the way they speak, but he tells us about his asthma. In 1990 a second, colour film of this famous novel was made. It was directed by Harry Hook and is an American film.
The opening of this film is very different to the 1963 version. The film starts with an under water scene of a pilot’s body sinking and a boy struggling to pull him back up to the surface. Then, above the waters surface, you can see many other boys struggling to keep their heads above the water and then a life boat is inflated. The title sequence then begins with an impressive opening of bold, metal-like, silver writing saying ‘Lord of the Flies,’ upon a black background. Dramatic music plays whilst the titles, white writing on a black background, fade on and off.
Immediately after the titles we get an image of isolation, which is the little raised outline of the island in the distance surrounded by darkness. It is dusk approaching night and moving towards the island is the dark shape of the life boat crowded with the boys. Slowly the boat drifts closer and closer to the island where they climb out and splash towards the sandy beach. There is a close up of Ralph, then a close up of the dark trees from which birds fly out from, followed by a close up of Piggy. The boys glance around the island and then you see some of the boys dragging the choking, pilot’s body up the shore towards the trees.
There is gathering darkness around the mountains. After that the boys are in a clearing with trees behind them. They have a green glow-stick which shines upon their faces giving an eerie and evil effect. There is then a short bit of dialogue between the boys. One of the boys says, ‘Do you think there is anyone else on this island. ‘ Jack immediately writes this off straight away like he does about the beast, ‘It’s just an island, there is nothing here. ‘ The first five minutes end with a close up of the full-moon.
The moon looks like one from a horror story because it has clouds moving across. Sound plays an important role in both versions of the film ‘Lord of the Flies’. It helps create the atmosphere and establishes the mood and tone of the film. In the black and white version, music is composed by Raymond Leppard, whilst in the colour version the music is by Philippe Sarde. There are three aspects of sound which we can analyse for both videos: dialogue, and diagetic and non-diagetic sound. In the black and white version sound is used throughout the first five minutes.
During the montage of images of the public school and children, sound and camera motion is used to create movement and feeling in the pictures. For each different photo non-diagetic sound is used to create the feeling that you are actually there within the photo. For example, when the school photo of a class and teacher appears there is the sound of a school bell ringing; when the picture of children working in a Science and then a Latin class comes into view, you can hear a teacher in the background talking; when the photo of the choir singing materializes, you hear choir boys singing.
Then the non-diagetic sound changes to non-diagetic music. The music changes to an ethnic and primitive tune when the photo of the boys playing cricket cuts back and forth with pictures of nuclear weapons. It sounds like bongos being beaten faster and faster whilst the two pictures flick back and forth. The mood of the sound changes to suit the change in collage images. The photos change from happy pictures of children playing and working at school, to photos of London being bombed and children being evacuated. When this happens the music becomes much like a death-drum march.
The title sequence then starts and pictures of planes swap between themselves and the titles. Although you are only looking at stationary pictures of planes, you can hear them sawing through the sky. This gives a very realistic feel of them actually moving in front of your eyes even though they are motionless. Next you are shown pictures of plane wings, cutting between them faster and faster and then a picture of a lightning bolt striking one wing. The music speeds up to a crescendo as this occurs and ends with a crack when the plane is stuck by a lightning bolt.
The music speeds up to create an atmosphere of panic and as it does so your heart beat speeds up with it. Even though the film is made very cheaply with a low budget, the use of motionless pictures and non-diagetic sound, at the start, is much more effective than you would expect. It really creates a convincing feeling that the objects within the photos are actually moving. The picture of the plane spinning is accompanied with the sound of something large falling through the sky with the sound of the whistling wind behind it. The photo montage then ends and the moving part of the film then starts.
Ralph and Piggy are seen making their way through the creepers. Diagetic sound is used for the first time with the sound of birds, insects and movement of the boys through the jungle. Just before the end of the first five minutes, some dialogue between Piggy and Ralph is used when Piggy talks about his asthma. You can immediately tell from their voices that Piggy is very different from Ralph. Ralph sounds very upper-class whilst Piggy sounds very common. This is just one of the factors which the other boys despise about Piggy.
In comparison, the 1990 version makes similar use in the nature sounds however the different aspects in the film means that different noises are used. The film starts with an under water scene of a pilot’s body sinking and a boy struggling to pull him back up to the surface. The sound of this is muffled to create the underwater feel. There is also a very eerie use of non-diagetic music to enhance this underwater and struggling environment. Above the water’s surface the diagetic sound, of the boys frantically trying to keep their heads above the water is suddenly much louder.
Other uses of diagetic sound are the sound of the water, the boys choking and shouting and the loss of pressure of a life boat being inflated. The title sequence then begins. Dramatic music plays whilst the titles fade on and off. The music sounds almost military like because a snare drum is used, yet there is also another instrument, possibly a piccolo, which makes this military music sound rather childish. If you think about the music and block out the noise of the snare drum, the music sounds very traditional and orchestral.
Nearer the end of the title sequence the music gets more up key and sounds a little more primitive, like the 1963 version. It almost seems as though the music is telling a story in miniature, the military music represents the respectful military boys which they were before they crashed on the island, and when the music turns more primitive it is like when the boys turned into savages. The music also sounds rather adventurous like the boys are at the start of the story. After the titles you see the dark shape of the life boat moving towards the island. The music changes to a slow, sad tune from a violin.
It sounds almost like the music played when troops come home from a war, it is very emotional and melancholic. Diagetic sound can also be heard of the water, animals, birds and trees rustling. A small amount of dialogue is used and you can hear the pilot choking. After that the boys are in a clearing with trees behind them. The five minutes then end with some dialogue between the boys with nature sounds in the background. In both films, music helps create the atmosphere, mood and tone of the film. If the films were played without the sound they would not only be dreary but very ineffective.
The sound is what really makes these films watchable. Other factors, such as camera shots, are also needed to create a good film. Both films use a variety of different camera shots which put together construct a decent scene. The start of the black and white film is mostly taken up by the zooming and panning of still life photos. At the point when the picture of the plane is meant to spin, the handheld camera would have been spun to create this feeling of movement. When the motion film actually starts many different types of camera shots are used.
The camera pans to follow Piggy and Ralph. It mainly stays a medium distance away from the characters, however, when Piggy talks about his asthma, it does a close-up on his face. Also, when the two boys walk together through the creepers, at the point where they both fall over, the camera is still and looks up at the two characters from below as they walk towards it. This variety of camera shots creates an effective scene. The director stated that the reason for using black and white film, and handheld cameras was to make the film more like a documentary.
I disagree with this method because the film is obviously not a documentary. Unless cost was a factor, then there is no reason not to shoot the film in colour considering the colourful location. I also feel that much of the time the image has way too much empty space on the top and bottom. It therefore comes as no surprise that this was the first film for director of photography Tom Hollyman. The 1990 version also uses a variety of different camera shots. It begins with the pilot’s body sinking in the water.
It is a medium close-up of the pilot’s body, and the camera is beneath him making the pilot feel bigger than he actually is. The upward view also means that you can see the children’s legs frantically moving. The camera also rotates in a circle, this again helps the watcher to see their panic from below and the huge number of those above. If you started watching the film at this point you would think that this was not ‘Lord of the Flies’ but ‘Titanic,’ because the scene of many legs frantically waving in the water is very similar to a scene in that film.
The camera then rises upwards until it is above the water. It is again a medium close-up, you can see quite a few of the children and in the background the life-boat can be seen inflating. The camera as at the same height as the boy’ heads so it almost feels as though you are one of the boys. After the title sequence there is a very long shot of the life boat. The camera pans around the shoreline and slowly brings them into focus. When they have clambered off the life boat there is a close-up of Ralph, then a medium close-up of the trees and then a close-up of Piggy.
The camera looks around the island as though through the eyes of one of the boys. After that there is a close-up of the pilot being dragged up the beach. Once the boys are in the clearing with trees behind them, there is a medium close-up of around ten boys whilst the talk about the island. To finish with there is a close-up of the moon. This colour version probably has more use of different camera shot techniques, however, this is merely because the 1963 version has photos for the main part of the first five minutes and also, there is only the use of a single, hand-held, camera, therefore very few techniques can be used.
Lighting is another factor which helps create a good film. It creates the atmosphere, mood and tone by using a mixture of artificial light and natural light. Different shades and shadows are also used for a good effect. You can see that the 1963 version is similar to the novel in that they both begin during the day, whereas the 1990 version starts at dusk. I do not really feel one is more effective than the other but I think that following the novel like the 1963 version has, has slight advantages.
There is not much noticeable use of light in the 1963 version, because it is a black and white film. However the different shades of grey highlight where there is light and where there is none. The colour film however has much more noticeable use of lighting. Shadows are used to create eeriness and gloom and there is one very visible light source that creates a very strong sense of evil. The way the green glow-stick falls upon the faces of the boys, creating dark shadows and green highlights, gives an unnatural feel, it almost makes the boys look like a sort of beast themselves.
Although the novel itself does not use this modern piece of technology, I think it is very effective because it creates a creepy atmosphere. The 1990 version of the film is not only different from the 1963 version, but the novel in itself which was published in 1954. The black and white film was made a short ten years after the book was written so it is not surprising that it is close to the novel. On the back of the video cover it describes the film as being ‘based on the novel,’ whereas on the back of Harry Hook’s video cover the film is described as being ‘from the novel’.
In other words the colour version started with the storyline of the novel but went away from it. Although some viewers prefer this version to the original black and white one from 1963, finding it far more realistic and exciting, others are more satisfied with the lesser commercial or speculative realities that clearly dominate the 60’s version. The story is just as compelling in either version. Harry Hook’s adaptation is not as faithful to the William Golding novel as you would wish (they excised the Lord of the Flies dialogue with Simon) and because of it, the movie is less allegorical and less resonant.
Also, Peter Brook’s 1963 filming seemed to get closer to the Darwinist sense of this cultural disintegration. Here, the hunter faction seems more like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys than the bloodthirsty murderers they are. However, the staging of this story is fairly straightforward. The kids crawl up on the sand, their clothes gradually grow more tattered, they light a signal fire and then fight over who will tend it, they fight for possession of the knife and a pair of glasses that can be used to start fires, and they draw the battle lines between their two camps.
Although the second film is more modern and has certain advantages because it is in colour, I find the 1963 production much more effective. This is mostly because it is closest to the novel whereas the second film seems very different. I think the colour version has travelled to far away from the storyline it is showing and therefore I much prefer the 1963 version which is much more faithful to Golding’s book.
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