Lord of the Flies (1990 film)

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Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies (1990 film).jpg
Theatrical Release Poster
Directed by Harry Hook
Produced by Lewis M. Allen
Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen credited as Sara Schiff
Based on Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
Starring Balthazar Getty
Chris Furrh
Danuel Pipoly
James Badge Dale
Bob Peck
Music by Philippe Sarde
Cinematography Martin Fuhrer
Edited by Harry Hook
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates March 16, 1990 (1990-03-16)
Running time 90 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9 million
Box office $13,985,225

Lord of the Flies is a 1990 American survival drama film adapted from the classic novel Lord of the Flies, written by William Golding. It was written by Jay Presson Allen, and directed by Harry Hook. It is the second film adaptation of the book, the first being the 1963 film. This adaptation takes more liberties with some aspects of the plot, while the 1963 edition was more faithful to the novel.

The film was a moderate box office success, and received mixed reviews from critics.


The film follows the same basic premise as the original: a group of young boys become stranded on an island along with an injured captain, and form a tribal society. This time, the children are from an American military school. The boys eventually turn wild and two of them and the captain are killed.



Filming locations included Port Antonio, island of Jamaica.

Differences between the 1990 film and the book[edit]

The plot is somewhat different from that of the book, modernized and simplified for contemporary film audiences. It still is meant to illustrate some of the same themes and contains some of the same motifs and symbols, but much of the substance of Golding's allegory of human nature is diluted or lost in the adaptation due to changes in setting, plot, and character.

  • In the film, the boys are American military school cadets, as opposed to British schoolboys in the novel.
  • The novel is set at an indeterminate time resembling the mid-20th century; the exact year or decade is never revealed. The narrative suggests that a world war, possibly an atomic war, has broken out and children are being evacuated from Britain by air. The film is set in the late 1980s (based on dialogue about the TV program "ALF" being aired on Mondays at 8 p.m.); it contains no hint of any war going on in the outside world, nor of why the boys were traveling.
  • Given the differences in time and nationality, both the dialogue and cultural attitudes of the characters in the film are very different from those in the novel. The modern American boys in the film are much more coarse and vulgar than Golding's mid-century British lads. The film also contains contemporary pop-culture references such as "ALF," "Miss Piggy" and "Rambo" which obviously didn't exist when the novel was published; however, the novel does not contain any cultural references of this kind, as Golding did not intend it to take place in any particular year or decade.
  • In the film, the American children are of differing ethnicities and creeds; e.g., one boy wears a cross (indicating that he is a Christian), another wears the Star of David (indicating that he is Jewish), and one boy is African-American while another is Hispanic. In the book, they are all white British, and their backgrounds, including religious affiliations, are not stated. This is an important allegorical element in the novel, as Golding intended to create a generic and homogeneous population with no obvious or conventional sources of conflict (such as race, nationality, religion and economic status) at the outset of the story.
  • Golding also gave his characters no shared history; when they arrive on the island, they don't seem to know each other even though they presumably come from the same school and were on the same transport plane. In the film, the characters are already familiar to each other, know each other's names and, being military cadets, have an established system of authority among them. Again, Golding's intention was that the boys bring no conflicts or hierarchies with them onto the island.
  • In the novel, there were no adults present on the island at any time, which is highly important to establishing the novel's themes about human nature in the absence of authority and other social constructs. In the film the airplane pilot survives the crash and is present on the island, albeit in a near-catatonic state, for a time before wandering off and disappearing. (This sets him up to essentially play the role of the dead parachutist from the novel and thus provide an avatar for the "monster," which in the novel is called a "beast" or "beastie.") The film directly and explicitly contradicts the novel, which places great emphasis on Ralph's realization that the boys are alone and on their own with no grown-ups at all, by having Ralph say to the others at the first assembly that "the important thing is, we're not by ourselves."
  • The "beastie" element itself, which is the novel's central symbol and critical to its allegorical function, is handled very differently here, and in a way that severely diminishes its thematic and symbolic value. In the novel, the idea is introduced almost immediately, when the boy with the mulberry-colored birthmark whispers something about it to Piggy at the boys' first assembly. The nascent and ever-growing fear of this unknown, unseen, undefined threat becomes the catalyst for the division of factions and the breakdown of order on the island. In the film, the element is completely absent until after the boy encounters the deranged pilot in the cave, roughly halfway through the film's running time, by which point the factions had already split and order had already started to break down.
  • The deranged pilot/dead parachutist also function differently due to these plot disparities. In the novel, the parachutist literally falls out of the sky, unseen, so there is no reason for the boys to have known what it was or expected to find it. The boys in the film, in an obvious plot hole, simply fail to connect the encounter in the cave with the missing pilot. Also, since the pilot was alive and appeared to lunge at the boy who wandered into the cave, it was at least plausible for the boys in the film to believe there was a dangerous creature among them, whereas the boys in the novel feared something no one had seen, later manifested as an inert corpse. In the novel the encounter merely reinforces and validates their belief in, and fear of, the "beast;" in the film it is the cause. Golding's point was that the "beast" and the fear thereof came from within, not from without; the film appears to make the opposite point.
  • The character of Piggy is very different in the film than in the novel, in which he is cerebral, courageous, practical, wise beyond his years, and very strong mentally and emotionally, despite his physical limitations and the abuse he takes as a result thereof. Here, he could best be described as a sanctimonious crybaby. Piggy never cries in the novel; in this film, he weeps often. As an example, although they occur at different points in the story, when his glasses are broken in the novel he reacts with fist-shaking defiance; in the film he's reduced to a blubbering mess, sobbing and whimpering uncontrollably.
  • The character of Jack is also somewhat different in the film, in which he is given a backstory of juvenile delinquency and thus is already apparently predisposed to antisocial behavior at the outset. In the novel, he begins as (quite literally) a choirboy, a leader, top of his class, which lends great irony and poignancy to his later descent into bloodlust and demagoguery.
  • In the book, Simon is shown to be much more mystical and clairvoyant, as well as in touch with nature; there are a number of images in the novel that suggest he is meant to be a Christ-like figure. He also has fainting spells and is regarded by some of the other boys as odd or weird. The film implies some of this. In addition, the Lord of the Flies never talks to Simon in the film, whereas the novel has Simon experiencing a hallucination in which it speaks to him (this was left out of the 1963 version as well).
  • In the book the election of the leader is very important, while in the film it is not. This is in part because the boys in the film are military cadets and therefore already have an established chain of command, in which Ralph is already the ranking cadet, so his "election" is essentially a formality. In the novel it is much more significant, because Ralph did not have that sort of established authority and prestige, and Jack -- as head of the choir -- did. The novel's Jack expected to be the leader, and when the boys chose Ralph instead he was upset and wounded by it. By contrast, the film's Jack is not the head of anything when they first arrive (there is no "choir" or counterpart thereto), and his cadet rank and position are never mentioned; indeed, his only qualification for leadership expressed on-screen is that he is "the oldest," although he is not noticeably older or more mature than the other boys. (Chris Furrh is, in fact, the oldest among the principal actors, about a month older than co-star Balthazar Getty.)[1] [2]
  • At the end of the film, a critical moment from the novel is left out (and was also left out of the 1963 film version). The naval officer who arrives to rescue the boys asks who is in charge. Ralph holds up his hand and says "I am," while Jack, standing nearby with Piggy's broken glasses hanging from his loincloth, lowers his head and says nothing. This is the only glimmer of hope for humanity that Golding gives the reader at the conclusion of the book, and it is conspicuously absent from both film versions, in which there is practically no interaction at all between Ralph and the naval officer.

There are a number of minor differences as well, including:

  • The only characters from the book that are in the film are the major characters from the novel: Ralph, Jack, Piggy, Simon, the twins (Sam and Eric), and Roger. Certain minor characters, including the boy with the mulberry-colored birthmark and Percival Wemys Madison, are not present and have no direct counterparts in this film version. Likewise, of the few minor characters whose given names are spoken on-screen, the names (including "Mikey," "Larry," "Tony" and "Billy") do not occur in the novel. Most of the characters in both versions are nameless; although the cast list for the film indicates a name for each character, most are never spoken on-screen.
  • The boys don't use the terms "biguns" and "littluns" for each other in this movie version, as they all appear to be around the same age and are therefore not grouped accordingly. (There also appear to be far fewer of them, as the novel implies that there are dozens of "littluns" but the film has only 24 boys, including the main characters, in the cast.) There is one passing reference to this in the film, when Jack admonishes Ralph to "tell the little ones that I made you a promise and I kept it," but it's not clear what "little ones" he is referring to.
  • In the book, Sam and Eric are forced against their will to join Jack's tribe; they are captured and, presumably, tortured just after Piggy is killed. In the film, they join earlier (before Simon's death) and of their own volition. However the twins in the film do help Ralph attempt to avoid Jack's hunters during the final confrontation, as they do in the novel.
  • In the novel, the boys saw a ship in the distance at the time the signal fire went out, costing them an opportunity at rescue; in the film, the missed rescue vessel was a helicopter. This change creates another unnecessary and avoidable plot hole. A ship can ordinarily be seen from a great distance, due to its size and smoke emissions, and could be far enough away from the island that even a momentary loss of the signal fire could make a difference. Helicopters, on the other hand, are small, short-range aircraft not capable of independent trans-oceanic flight. The helicopter seen in the film flies so close to the island that its mothership must be nearby, close enough to have seen the fire or smoke before it went out. The helicopter is also flying so low that its crew could probably see the boys on the beach, signal fire or no signal fire.
  • Jack's last name in the novel, "Merridew," is never mentioned in the film. Although military-school cadets generally address and refer to each other by surnames rather than given names, the film hews to the novel's convention of using first names. Military cadets also typically wear name tags on their uniforms indicating their surnames; the uniforms worn in the film have no name tags.
  • In the book, Jack broke Piggy's glasses by punching him after Piggy criticized him for letting the signal fire go out. In the movie, the breaking of the glasses occurs much later, after the factions split, when Jack's tribe raids the camp to retrieve the survival knife. No such raid occurs in the novel, in which Jack has his own knife, although his tribe later raids the camp for the glasses in both the novel and the film.
  • In the book, Jack leaves Ralph's group by himself and the boys then furtively join him, one by one, beginning with his choir; in the film Jack already has 6 other boys with him when he leaves Ralph's group, but nothing ties them together as there is no "choir" or other subgroup mentioned in the film. Jack's defection in the novel is precipitated by the boys declining to replace Ralph with him as leader, after he tries to make a case for himself and fails. No such event occurs in the film, in which Jack's motivation is rather more vague and superficial; he merely becomes annoyed with Ralph and with the "rules," and decides to form his own group for "guys who want to have a little fun."
  • In the book, Ralph encounters the pig's head on a stick on the way to returning to Castle Rock, thus when Samneric tell him that "Roger sharpened a stick at both ends" he realizes that the hunters intend to do the same to him. In the movie, he is told this before he encounters the pig's head; at most, he understands that the hunters intend to kill him, but nothing more. The audience, however, has seen the pig's head and saw Jack mount it on the double-ended spear, so the audience understands its full significance even if Ralph does not.
  • The twins are never called "Samneric" in the film. Their names, Sam and Eric, are uttered once toward the end of the film, when Ralph addresses them both. The film never identifies either of them as Sam or Eric, and does show them constantly together, referring to themselves and each other only in the plural and never the singular, and occasionally even speaking in unison, which accomplishes the same narrative function as the "Samneric" name.
  • In the movie Ralph had an injured left arm, whereas in the novel none of the boys were injured when they arrived on the island. This could not be avoided, however, as Balthazar Getty broke his arm a few weeks before filming began. Similarly, the island in the novel was never hit by a tropical storm, but because Hurricane Gilbert struck Jamaica during filming, a storm was made part of the story to explain the resulting damage to the filming locations.
  • In the book, Ralph is described as having blond hair, Simon black hair, and Jack red hair. The hair colors in the novel—like everything else—are symbolic. All three characters have different hair colors in this adaptation: Ralph, dark brown; Jack, blond; Simon, light brown. This is merely attributable to casting; it is unknown whether the film's producers took hair color into consideration when casting Getty, Chris Furrh and Badge Dale, or whether they ever considered dying the actors' hair or using hairpieces to match the novel's descriptions of their respective characters.


Box office[edit]

The movie made $13,985,225 domestically in 919 theaters from its $9,000,000 budget.[citation needed]


Critics' reviews were generally mixed to positive; the film has a rating of 61% "Fresh" on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes.[3] Some cited that the novel in general is somewhat dated and unsuitable for a remake. Roger Ebert remarked in his review that "events take place every day on our mean streets that are more horrifying than anything the little monsters do to one another on Golding's island."[4]

Barrie Maxwell of DVD Verdict commented that the color of the island creates a more superficial atmosphere than the stark black and white of the previous version.[5]

Despite the reviews, the acting of the boys was generally praised.

William Golding's daughter, herself a writer, much preferred the earlier film.[6]


The melodies used in the soundtrack were not composed by Philippe Sarde, but were taken from the mediaeval hymnbook Llibre Vermell, specifically "Stella Splendens in Monte," "Los Set Gotxs," and "Mariam Matrem." No credit was given for their use, though the orchestrations were original. Other melodies in the soundtrack are arranged excerpts from Stravinksy's Rite of Spring, primarily during high-tension or chase scenes.


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