“…the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies, despite butchering the source material, was a fantastic movie.”
Last night I continued my quest to watch both adaptations of my favourite book, Lord of the Flies. Considering the first attempt didn’t go well at all, and this version had even lower critic scores, I was not looking forward to watching it. The 1990 version of Lord of the Flies, despite having to fight a very steep uphill battle to win my affection, came out on top and pleased me thoroughly. Now I’m not going to do a plot rundown of the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies because for the most part it is the same as the book. Well it’s actually not really the same at all, but per my template that I created with my last review I’m going to be doing a comparison between the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies and the original novel, so telling you the plot would take the wind out the sails of that portion of this review.
Once again this review will be spoiling everything Lord of the Flies (both versions of the movie and the book). If you haven’t yet read the book, what are you doing? I mean it’s not even that long. You owe it to yourself to check it out.
Right off the bat let’s talk about the parallels, or lack thereof, to the original Lord of the Flies story. Instantly the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies starts differently. A bunch of kids are in the ocean, dragging the unconscious badly of their airplane pilot. Once the group makes it to the beach, we get into where the movie ought to have started if they were following the book’s formula; and yet thinks are still different. The boys reveal that they were all part of a military school, which changes things significantly. First of all, this means that all of the boys knew each other before being thrust into this predicament together which I think adds a level of confusion to the story. If I was trapped on an island with a bunch of little boys, I would have no qualms with killing them if they came at me. That being said, if I was trapped on an island with my sixth grade class, I would have more reserves about killing them, and instead would try to reach an amicable resolve to any issues that would arise. Despite that little issue, the other part of the story is what really bothered me about the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies; due to the boys being in military school, a lot of the issues (specifically at the beginning of the film) felt rather contrived. I’ve never been to military school, but I would assume that at least some of their training would cover what to do if you are stranded. If not, at the very least being in military school would allow them to think in a soldier’s mindset which should help them get rescued. In what ways does a soldier think? Well I would assume that soldiers care for their brothers in arms, considering they are the only thing keeping them alive. I would also assume that a soldier, when placed in a situation like the one that these boys find themselves in, would understand the importance of keeping a signal fire up and running, and therefore they would never let it out. Do you see the issues starting to arise? The basis of Lord of the Flies is that these boys are out of their element. One of these boys (Ralph) has a more civilized mindset, trying to be saved, while the other (Jack) has a more savage mindset, focusing on surviving forever on this island. Neither of these two outlooks are wrong, but the problem is that they are two wildly different goals that conflict with one another, which then leads to the entire story. In the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies it felt like these boys should have had the same outlook. Hell, the boys were even all friends when they first landed on the island. They knew each other and were making jokes and playing around, and that made a lot of the early problems feel contrived for the sake of mimicking the original story. These problems all but disappear when shit starts to go down on the island, but even then I have trouble grasping why some decisions were made. One thing that sticks out to me was the inclusion of the airplane pilot. Why was the airplane pilot there? To eventually run off and become the “beast”. Why was the beast included in this version of the story? Fuck if I know. The best in the original story is something that plagues the boys from the moment they land. They are constantly afraid of this beast, and that is what eventually drives the group apart. In the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies, the beast isn’t even mentioned until one of the boys finds the airplane pilot in a cave, at which point shouldn’t he just assume that it was a pig? There was nothing to back up his claim, yet he immediately sates that there is a beast and the others believe him. I understand that the beast is a set-up for the death of Simon, but that could have been changed as well. As it stands it feels like the addition of the beast was something to just appease fans of the original story, because if I’m being honest it didn’t really add anything.
Now that I have that off my chest, I want to explain what I loved about the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies. First of all, compared to the 1963 adaptation this one was actually a movie. I understand that both of them are technically movies, but just watch the original 1963 adaptation, and then this one, and tell me that this one isn’t more cinematic. Really it just feels like this version of Lord of the Flies was directed by someone competent. It was polished, it was gritty, it was really fun to watch; and that’s what a movie should be. I understand that it is nothing like the book, and on that front it fails this arbitrary test, but everything else about it is amazing. As a matter of fact, I applaud it for doing something different with the story of Lord of the Flies because I already explained why the book can’t really be transitioned into a movie. The 1990 version of Lord of the Flies changed so much about the original story, but those changes were for the better (from a movie standpoint). I can’t deny that the story flowed effortlessly through the ninety minute runtime, and left me feeling ultimately satisfied. And not only was the movie shot and written well, but the score was amazing as well. The tribal-influenced vocals mixed with the military marching drums were a match made in heaven, and they fit the tone of the film perfectly. On a technical level, the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies was phenomenally done. Moving on to another point that helped the movie hold it’s own: the acting. I went on a little bit of rant in my last review about how Lord of the Flies would be such a difficult story to turn into a movie because of the need for so many competent child actors, but this iteration made me eat my words. Every single child in this movie does an amazing job, and that is something that can’t go without saying. Even during the portions of the story that focused on tears, these boys managed to captivate and move me, transporting me into this world. The writing lent a bit of a helping hand in this regard as well because it allowed these boys to act like boys. Everybody knows that swearing on the playground is all the rage. The forbidden fruit tastes so sweet when you can drop f-bombs around your friends while playing tag, and because of that children will take every opportunity they can to swear. That is why I applaud Lord of the Flies for indulging that fact, and giving these boys some of the filthiest mouths I have seen outside of a Quentin Tarantino movie. And it wasn’t just the swearing, but also the attitude. Let me tell you, these boys were savage in every single sense of the word. Some of the insults thrown around in this movie were enough to make me pause it just to compose myself; and it worked wonderfully. Kids are fucked up, and some of the shit they say to one another is the absolutely terrible. Luckily, once again, Lord of the Flies managed to take that and harness it, making these boys seem real. And don’t even get me started on the gore. Lord of the Flies (the book) is absolutely disgusting, because it shows what the fall of civilization would be like. Motherfuckers get killed left and right in that story, and I’m so so so glad that the 1990 version of the movie decided not to shy away from that. We get to see the horrors that these kids had to live through with the intensely graphic violence that is showcased in the movie. And not only that, but all of the effects are very well done. I admit that Lord of the Flies isn’t an effects-heavy movie, but that didn’t stop the wonderful effects team from making these deaths as graphic and realistic as they possibly could.
Overall the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies went above and beyond all of my expectations. As a Lord of the Flies adaptation it failed miserably, but as a movie it succeeded more than I ever could have imagined. The 1990 version of Lord of the Flies wasn’t afraid to take William Golding’s magnificent story and change it to not only update it to make it more relatable to audiences at the time, but also make it more suited for a movie format. I honestly do think that the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies, despite butchering the source material, was a fantastic movie.
I give Lord of the Flies (1990) a B