Comparing and contrasting the two film versions of ‘Lord of the Flies’

William Goldings chilling 1954 novel ‘Lord of the Flies’ has become a literary classic, exploring the human condition. It deals with complex and abstract ideas examining the balance of good and evil in mankind, the power of instinct and social conditioning and the nature of leadership. Translating these concerns into a visual medium is an extremely difficult task, and it is this challenge that two different film directors Peter Brook in 1961, and Harry Hook in 1981 took on board.

In addition to the challenge of conveying these abstractions, the filmmakers who adapt the novels have other potential obstacles to overcome. A novel almost becomes the readers own creation as they can let their imagine run free, creating vivid mental images and choosing the appearance of the cast, helping them to relate to, and understand the character. The film medium however overrides this, and the viewer is subjected to the director’s opinion of how things should be and how things should look, which often conflicts with both the viewer’s ideals and the original texts.

Novels also allow the readers to dictate the pace, so that they can experience, understand and appreciate the messages and events involved, in their own time. A film on the other hand is of fixed length, which the viewer cannot control, meaning that interesting or complicated parts cannot be reviewed unless using video or DVD form. Also as the film is of a set length it is at the hands of the directors as to which incidents from the novel are selected to be used.

This often causes slight, but important details, to be overlooked, and even if they are not, it is difficult to express incidents involving emotions and the thought processes of characters, visually. Therefore a film uses actions and reactions to display these instead, which if done well can have a huge impact on the viewer, however if not, the point or issue intended to be raised may be lost, it being the role of the director to make sure this does not happen.

Both of the filmed versions of ‘Lord of the Flies’ reveal the strengths of the directors concerned Peter Brook’s black and white version was filmed on an island near Puerto Rico using two hand-held cameras. Although it may sound like he was at a severe disadvantage technologically, it was in fact his own decision to use black and white rather than colour, so as to mute the tropical appeal of the island. This is an interesting decision as colour film was available at the time.

However I feel that by ‘muting the tropical appeal’ he increases the attention paid to the quality of filming and acting involved, and cleverly, just as the novel is printed in black and white presents the complex ideas and concepts of the novel clearly to us in shades of ‘black and white’ . Another characteristic of Brook’s film is the fidelity to the novel in almost every detail, even showing how Ralph pulls up his socks ‘The fair boy stopped and jerked his stockings with an automatic gesture that made the jungle foe a moment appear like the Home Counties’

Brook continued this verisimilitude in his casting of the boys, who were all young English schoolboys, untrained in acting. This was effective as many of the boys chosen not only fitted the physical description provided by Golding, but also naturally possessed the desired characteristics, so that on screen although how they were doing things may have seemed clumsy and unnatural, what they were doing was very convincing as it matched the boys own nature.

Harry Hook’s film on the other hand, although adapted from the same novel takes a completely different angle. Produced twenty years later than Brook’s in 1981, it makes use of the colour available, as well as the many technological advances that had occurred, since the first film was produced, such as slow motion filming and under water cameras. Hook is an American director and he chose an American cast for the film.

This however ruined the novel’s theme of British jingoism, and makes lines such as ‘We’re English, and the English are the best at everything’ inappropriate. He also used trained child actors as opposed to Brook’s schoolboys, which almost creates an element of relief within the viewers, as they can comfort themselves with the reminder that the children are only acting. However in Brook’s film as the boys are untrained, the horror of the actions they perform is all the more worrying as the boys were encouraged to improvise more.

As well as altering the nationality of the boys Hook also incorporates extra symbols, symbolism being important in the novel. He brings an adult on to the island ‘Captain Benson’ but although he survives the plane crash, which causes the boys to arrive on the island, he suffers terrible head injuries and is left mentally unstable. Despite this he is meant to symbolise the ‘evil of the adult world’ as well as creating a physical embodiment for ‘the beast’.

However as he is delirious, mentally disturbed and unpredictable, he does not illustrate ‘ mankind’s potential illness’ as he is unaware of his own actions, and so is not purposely behaving as he does, the fact that he was the head of the army cadet academy, where all the boys in Hook’s film came from, suggesting that he was once a man of high moral values. This leaves the viewer unsure as to what the boys are actually fearful of if not the captain, his presence ruining the idea of the boys being removed from the adult world and being left to fend for themselves.

Hook also introduces a glow stick, which reminds us the film is set in the modern world, as well as signifying the inner glow or warmth of people, and protection form the beast. A memorable scene incorporating this idea is when Jack and Simon are drawn to explore a cave by intriguing sounds they here from within it. Jack goes as he hopes to find the beast and to hunt it, but Simon goes to further his knowledge of it. With him he takes the glowstick as a source of security against the potential beast, which later in the film, again with the security of the glow stick, he finds to be the insane captain Benson.

These new symbols may work in the context of the film itself, but in relation to the novel, divert completely. So that in incorporating the new ones, the original symbols are downplayed and the significance of them within the film undermined. This clearly shows that Hook’s version strays from the original novel quite significantly, in contrast to that of Brook. As he Brook attains the perfect balance of innocence and hedonism needed to bring the adventure/morality tale to life, the differences between the two films being particularly apparent from their opening sequences.

The earlier film begins with various motionless images and pictures, establishing the boy’s background and the reasons as to why they came to be stranded on the island. The first image is that of a grand old school with a bell ringing in the background. The bell gives a sense of the recognition of time, and conforming to a schedule. The next image is that of boys working in a classroom with a teacher reciting Latin phrases. This sets the atmosphere of the traditional English teachings and serves to let the viewer feel present in the classroom.

All the images shown are accompanied by some form of background sound, not necessarily music, which reinforces the purpose of the images, the next image of angelic choirboys being no exception, as along with the image there is a serene sound of the choir singing ‘Kyrie Eleison’, which means ‘Lord have Mercy’. However shortly after the calm, content images of the Home Counties have been set, strongly contrasting images of fighter planes and evacuation plans appear, informing the viewer of the war occurring.

The viewer no longer hears the dulcet tones of ‘Kyrie Eleison’, but instead loud, harsh military anthems rapidly becoming faster and more chaotic, finally cutting out to show the distressing, yet thought provoking, image of a plane crashed in the middle of the sea. Whereas Brook’s opening scene concentrates on establishing the events going on in life, Hooks opening scene initially insinuates death. Eerie music is heard as, underwater, the body of a drowning man floats into view, then disappearing from sight as it sinks further down.

A young boy, who later we learn to be Ralph, then dives down to rescue the unconscious man, and followed by the cameras they rise above the water line where suddenly the silence is replaced with the chaotic clammer and struggle of young boys fighting to stay afloat. The camera then dips below the waves again to show the frantic beating of legs, so that even in the under water scenes ,minus sound, the viewer can sense the terror of the boys. Suddenly the focus diverts to a large black rubber dinghy, which inflates above the surface.

This is so unexpected that the audience are left slightly unnerved. This however was the desired reaction, as there is no mistake that the use of the dinghy is meant to resemble the ‘ dark… creature’, which Golding uses to describe Jack and his boys trampling along the beach of the island. The use of the camera both above and below the water in this opening scene, shows the advancement in the technology involved in Hook’s film, as well as creating a tense and exciting atmosphere when combined with the wide variation of music, ranging from quiet and chilling to loud and dramatic.

The uses of music and sound not only work effectively in this instance, but throughout the whole of both films, amplifying tension, happiness, fear or sorrow. One instance in which the strength of the music within the film was particularly apparent was in Hook’s adaptation of the mock pig hunt, before Simon is killed. On first watching this I was terrified as to what might happen as the boys became ever more tyrannical and frenzied. At first I thought this was due to the crashing of the thunder and lightening, the blazing of the fire and the use of slow motion to accentuate the boys savage like actions.

However I soon realised these were only contributory factors, as it was in fact the growing intensity and ferocity of the roaring drum beat, and trembling violin notes, that were causing me to be so scared. As when I replayed the scene again in silence, the absence of the violent music, made my viewing of the scene less distressing. Both directors also used sound effects extremely well, whether it is the loud murmur of a plane, or helicopter, flying over the island, or the humming of the insects in the trees.

Brook particularly manipulates the use of these in his final scene where Ralph is being smoked out by Jack and his hunters. The banshee like cries of jungle animals, and the ever-increasing din of buzzing bees, helping the audience to understand Ralph’s fear, as not only is he being chased by a pack of blood thirsty savages, he is also trapped on a desert island with what he envisages to be unfamiliar and blood thirsty animals. Brook also skilfully develops the use of music with ‘Kyrie Eleison’, which is heard sung by the beatific choirboys at the beginning of the film.

He then adapts this and uses it at many other points, depending on which scene it is used for. The first time it is used after the beginning scene, is when Jack and his choir approach Ralph along the beach for the first time. They are all dressed in long black cloaks, and are filed into two regimental lines, singing ‘Kyrie Eleison’ as they walk. However it is more like chanting than singing, and it is more like marching than walking. This image fits in with when Golding describes them as ‘the creature’ in the novel and hints at their being something sinister about them.

The use of ‘ Kyrie Eleison’ here could therefore be seen to be contradictory as it is a religious song. However the ‘chanting’ of it by the ‘sinister’ choir only prepares the viewer for its more dramatic and violent uses in later scenes. Another more reflective time when it is used is at Simon’s death, and although Simons murder is an horrific one, after his death his limp body is made to appear beautiful as it floats out to sea on the sparkling waters and under the twinkling stars. Kyrie Eleison’ is very appropriately used here, for as well as creating a peaceful and tranquil atmosphere it’s very meaning ‘Lord have Mercy’ seems to bestow a final blessing upon Simon, as well as having religious connotations hinting at Simons prophetic nature and profound sense of morality, which are described in the novel. This showing Brooks ability to capture every nuance of Simon’s death , with what is not being said in words, being displayed in actions.

The last time ‘Kyrie Eleison’ is heard is at the very end of the film, the military like sound being more brisk and lively, yet not implying conflict. This is appropriately used as it reminds the audience that although the boys own juvenile war on the island has finished, they are still returning to the ‘adult war’ at home. From this it could be seen that Brook’s use and interpretation of music and sound in the novel has much more of an impact. However alternatively, Hook juggles with the audience’s emotions, as opposed to implying ideas.

This however is where I feel that Hook’s film lacks a more complex interpretation of the original novel. As whereas Brook uses music to link more advanced ideas together, Hook uses it to merely create a reaction for the scene for which it is used, rather than to provoke thought. This may be because Hook wanted to loose the more philosophical side and concentrate on creating an adventure film, which whether consciously or subconsciously done, he did, or because he simply interpreted the novel at face value rather than at depth.

Either way despite this, Hook’s is admittedly the more visually exciting of the two, his cinematographic techniques adding great variety, which prevents the film becoming static, even though the same setting is used throughout. Camera angles are used very effectively in both films, although in some instances I feel Brook’s works better. For example in the scene showing the slaughtering of the pig, Brook cleverly uses different camera angles to capture the event on film.

The first is what the pig sees, a merciless cluster of boys intending to slaughter it. This gives a sense of the pig’s helplessness and fear, as well as the thoughtless brutality of the boys. The camera then moves to look at the situation from one of the boys point of view, looking down at the powerless pig, showing that individually the boys may actually feel a tinge of remorse, however together they encourage and influence each other so that they deteriorate to a pack of savages.

Finally the camera focuses and zooms in upon Simon’s face, his facial expression clearly displaying his thoughts and feelings towards the incident, so that when combined together all three different shots provide different perspectives of the same incident. Capturing various emotions by simply altering the camera angle. The two directors also use various special effects, Hook being particularly favourable of the use of dreams, predominantly where Simon is concerned, using them to show his reflective, thoughtful and prophetic nature.

One instance where this is particularly apparent is when he dreams of the chance of being rescued. A helicopter swoops in over the island, which looks hopeful, but it then carries on only to drop a bomb a few metres away in the sea. This dream shows Simon’s desire to be rescued, but also his understanding that this is more easily said than done, as the plane dropping the bomb reminds us of the war going on in the ‘adult world’ and the ‘darkness of mans heart’, as there was no real need to drop it.

Hook ingeniously ends the film on an image very similar to this, except this time, the helicopter swooping in actually has come to rescue them. Simon’s prophetic abilities are most profoundly realised here, and even though Hook may not have accentuated this idea in other areas where he could have, this one incident is enough, with the fact that it comes at the end, providing a lingering thought for the viewer about Simon, that they may previously have overlooked. Brook does not use dreams or flashbacks.

However as he has followed the original text more closely, he has not had to find alternative ways of raising important issues, as Hook has in his unorthodox American version. An element that Hook’s possesses which Brook’s does not, which may have brought extra visual interest, is the use of slow motion. Hook uses this to bring extra attention to the actions being performed as well as using it to create suspense amongst the audience, as the actions take longer, so the outcome is less readily apparent.

An example of this is at the very end when Ralph is trying to flee the barbarity of Jack and his hunters. His desperate running and frequent stumbling are all in slow motion, so that the nail-biting event is all the more drawn out, every slow motion stumble tainting the audiences hope of his survival, and every slow motion foot fall making his escape seem further and further away. However although very different in the sophistication of the technology involved, the two films are very similar in terms of what they omit.

Both exclude the large fire on the island, presumably done because neither director had the means to do this safely and successfully without actually setting fire to it. Both films also omit, the presence and death of the anonymous boy with the mulberry-coloured birthmark. This is particularly surprising for Brook, as he has on the whole remained faithful to even the smallest detail of the original novel.

In the novel the death of the boy with the mulberry-coloured birthmark plays a significant roll, as the novelist uses his, an accidental death, Simon’s, a death by manslaughter, and Piggy’s death, by sheer cold-blooded murder, to demonstrate the boys descent into savagery. In the directors defence however, they have used other methods to show this, such as the use of war paint, the deterioration of clothing and the increasing severity of the mock pig hunts. An omission I feel most disappointingly discarded is that of Simon’s confrontation with ‘The Lord of The Flies’, the decomposing pigs head.

This is at the core of the novel and helps bring out essential themes, as it is through this scene that Golding develops both Simon’s and the readers understanding of ‘mankind’s essential illness’ as well as the cynism of adults and the hollowness and superficiality of their world. However this is understandable, as the conversation between Simon and ‘ The Lord of The Flies’, is all within Simon’s mind, and so would have been difficult to portray convincingly in the film medium. An option to overcome this could be to use a life-like puppet pig, who’s mouth could move, to voice the conversation.

Unfortunately though, the film adapted version of ‘Animal Farm’, tells me that this would be an unrealistic way of portraying the idea, as well as undermining, if not mocking, the significance of ‘The Lord of The Flies’. Also although Golding clearly suggests to the reader that Simon is an epileptic, ‘One of his times was coming on,’ neither of the films depicts this. On Brook’s behalf this is rather absent minded as close to the beginning of the film he did include Simon’s faint, establishing him as being different.

This condition is not however, maintained in the rest of the film, and so does not provide reasons as to why he did this. Hook on the other hand simply relies on Simon’s solitary acting sequences and timorous looking nature, to set him aside from the others. Therefore in failing to do this both films omit many of the abstract ideas, within the novel ‘I’m the beast…. I’m part of you’ Which although they would be difficult to portray, do capture the essence of the story, the inability to create them being a major limitation of the film medium.

Both directors have therefore attempted using other methods to convey the idea of ‘mankind’s essential illness’, doing so primarily through symbolism. For example in Brook’s film the conch is more than just a shell, useful for attracting attention, and summoning the boys to meetings. I t is like a church bell calling the faithful and it embodies some of the religious ceremonies. For the boys on the island it also imposes a sense of law and order, as only one person can hold the conch, so only one person can speak at a time, and unlike Jacks assemblies everyone is given the right.

Therefore as the conch was used to represent order on the island, it is no mistake in the film that Piggy is holding the conch when he is killed, and that the camera focuses distinctly on it shattering, as with it the sense of order amongst the boys is shattered too, signifying the boys final plunge into barbarity. Hook on the other hand creates a new symbol, the glow stick, as already mentioned, and as it is Simon who is most frequently seen with it, it is thought to represent the warmth of people, such as Simon, who are wise enough to overcome the temptations of evil in the world.

The roll of Simon in both films is an extremely important one and fortunately, although they both cut out the true meaning of his confrontation with ‘The Lord of The Flies, they do preserve his sensitive, kind and thoughtful characteristics, In the earlier film, Simon is distinctly different from the others, very quiet, timid and frequently alone. However although characteristically he ideally fit Golding’s description, he visually does not match, as Golding’s description describes him to be dark, where as in Brook’s film he is flaxen blonde. However despite this he still fulfils the role excellently.

Hook’s representation of Simon is visually very different to that of Brook, and although, he possesses the same shy, diminutive qualities, he technically fits Golding’s description more accurately having dark brown hair and large, blue wistful eyes. Still for me it was not instantly obvious as to whom he was, as even though he does spend a lot of time alone, initially he is quite involved with the rest of the boys, helping to build shelters and eating dinner with them. Brook intentionally casts Simon as an American, making him stand out against the rest of the all-English cast.

However in Hook’s version as the whole cast is American, and so there is no obvious cultural difference separating Simon from the other boys, or providing reasons as to why he is how he is, it being worthy of note that Brook’s Simon is a ‘quiet American’, as opposed to the stereotypical ‘loud American’, showing that he is different even to people from his own country, not just English boys. Piggy however is cast very convincingly in both films, both fitting Golding’s following description. ‘He was shorter than the fair boy, and very fat’

And obviously wearing the trademark ‘specs’. Both fit the characteristics described in the novel and for this reason I have warmed to them both. Hook’s Piggy displays his sensitivity much more obviously then Brook’s does, and in scenes such as when Jack’s gang steal his glasses, his heart wrenching performance of helplessly being unable to see, actually brought a tear to my eye. The scene which made me particularly fond of Brook’s Piggy, is the one in which he is looking after the ‘littleuns’ and is telling them the story of his hometown Camberley.

This event is not written within the novel, yet I am sure it is a scene Golding would himself, admire, as it fits in completely with the nature of Piggy’s character. However no matter how visually and characteristically successful Hook’s film is in portraying Piggy, the fact that he chose to use an all American cast, does create a problem. This is because in the novel Piggy’s more common use of speech and grammar verbally divides him from the rest of the boys, making him stand out as being of a lower class.

Hook’s use of American actors however allows no differentiation in accent to be deciphered, so that Piggy is not seen as being any less refined than the rest of the boys, the fact that they all wear the same army uniform, making them loose their own personal identities all the more. Ralph is another key character who is ideally cast in both films, but who does not visually remain faithful to Golding’s description, as the novel describes him as ‘the boy with fair hair’, whilst the films portrays him to have brown.

This does not have a negative impact on either of the two films, but, in describing his characters physical features so accurately, defining the boys from one another, Golding allows the richness of their individual personalities to shine through. This is lost in the films as many of the boys have brown hair and so there is nothing distinctive about them. This being particularly true in Brook’s film where the black and white images seem to drain away the boys’ personalities, just as the vividness and vibrancy is drained away by the lack of colour.

However this said, in terms of Jack’s character I feel the black and white film works better, as because you cannot tell accurately what colour his skin, hair and eyes are etc, the viewer concentrates more on his features such as his ‘ frustrated and angry eyes,’ which all depict him to be violent and aggressive. Also in Hook’s colour film, it is clear that Jack is blonde and far better looking than described in the novel ‘His face was crumpled and freckled, and ugly without stillness’

His character is also initially a lot more pleasant, congratulating Ralph when he is elected chief, over him, and generally being friendlier. This makes his sudden snap into dictatorial and cruel leadership much more shocking for the viewer, and although unexpected, does demonstrate the effect of a lack of mutual respect and conditioning, clearly. This sense of the boys no longer conforming to conditioning is depicted through their ever declining moral values. However it can also be seen through the way they dress.

In Hook’s film the boys all arrive in pristine army uniforms, all being very proud and careful to keep them immaculate. However by the end of the film many of the boys clothing is reduced to a mere loin cloth, showing that they no longer care, as they have no social restraints to abide by, as well as them, in their most primitive form. Brook similarly uses this technique, the choirboys elaborate robes vanishing as the film progresses, and at one stage the twins ‘Sam n Eric’ being completely naked.

In using this however both directors have also captured a sense of the passing of time, as the boys amount and standard of clothing gradually declines. The passage of time is easier to portray in a novel than in a film, and this is because in ‘Lord of The Flies’ Golding avoids specifying times. Therefore as the film directors had a limited period to get the story across both films reflect truncated versions of the novel, with Hook showing physical changes such as the growth of hair and Brook frequently cutting to images of the sea with its ever changing tides flowing in and out, to indicate the changing of time.

The era in which each of the films is set is equally well demonstrated by the directors, as both had to make a conscious decision as to when it would be, as Golding avoided assigning the novel to a certain period. The use of different language styles most clearly depicts this, with outdated ‘old English schoolboy’ terms such as ‘Wacko’ and ‘Wizard’ being used in Brook’s, allocating it to the early twentieth century, and words such as ‘dork’ and ‘gang’ being used in Hook’s, it therefore being associated with any time from the 1980’s onwards.

The use of black and white and colour film however also allow the reader to make a rough estimate, even though this is deceptive as Brook could have actually used colour. In conclusion to this, my favourite of the two ‘Lord of the Flies’ films is Brook’s. This is because I feel he achieved a great deal with minimal equipment. The use of untrained school boys also appealed to me, as they were naturally reacting to their new surroundings, where as Hook’s were ‘acting’ towards there surroundings, as this is what they were trained to do. Also some people chide Brook for creating a film so true to the book’s narrative.

However this is what I like about it as in remaining so true to the novel it is as if everything I have already read, is coming to life before my eyes, as for me Hook’s film strips away the darkness of the novel and makes the characters rather one dimensional. My feelings being that, if we are to unravel some of the stories deeper meanings, we must stick to the version where they are articulated most clearly. The great irony of Brook’s being that the film choreographs how a seemingly idyllic natural setting can, in fact, corrupt an uninitiated group of boys.