The film differs in many ways from both its predecessor film and the novel. Lord of the Flies centers on Ralph mainly, as the children try to initiate a society after crash-landing on an uncharted island, but things go awry.
The film was released on March 16, 1990 by Columbia Pictures, with film rights now belonging to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Upon and since its release, the film has received mixed reviews, generally more negative than its 1963 counterpart. Most critics praise the film's scenery but center upon the film's deviations from the novel as a central flaw. However, the movie garnered $14 million from the box office, and has acquired a cult following.
An aircraft carrying 24 young military school cadets returning home crash lands into the sea near a remote, uninhabited, jungle island in the Pacific Ocean. The pilot of the plane Captain Benson (Michael Greene), the only adult survivor, is seriously injured and delirious. All of the survivors arrive on the island. During the night, Simon, the most independent cadet, finds a river and notifies the other boys, to which they all drink out of it and explore the island afterwards. Meanwhile, on the beach, an overweight cadet nicknamed "Píggy" (whose real name is never revealed during the story) finds a seashell and takes it to the grouped cadets, who adopt it to signal the right to speak and be heard by the group. The shell in the movie is not a classic conch (as stated by the characters) of the Strombidae family, but is instead a member of the Charonia genus. The senior cadet, and one of the elder boys, Cadet Colonel Ralph, organizes a meeting to discuss surviving their predicament. Ralph and another of the older boys, Jack, emerge dominant, and an impromptu election is held to determine an official leader for the group. Ralph is declared the winner. They start a fire using Piggy's glasses to try and alert any passing craft. Things go smoothly for a while, but tensions soon begin to grow between Ralph and Jack.
One night, as they sleep, the delusional Captain Benson escapes from them into the jungle, eventually making his way to a cave deep inland. Jack brings all of his hunters to hunt in the jungle, leaving no one watching the fire. The fire goes out, preventing a passing helicopter from noticing them. Ralph blames Jack for failing to keep it going. During the ensuing fight, Jack, tired of listening to Ralph and Piggy, leaves and forms his own camp, taking many of the boys with him. As more and more boys defect to Jack's side, one of the younger boys, Tony, finds Captain Benson in the cave, mistakes him for a monster and stabs him, and then tells the other boys. Jack and his second-in-command Roger (Gary Rule) then go to the cave's entrance and mistakes Captain Benson's dying groans for the sounds of a monster.
One night, Jack and his savages steal a knife from Ralph so they can make more spears, but accidentally trample on Piggy's glasses in the process, breaking one lens. Expecting to be rescued, Ralph's civilized leadership establishes a permanent signal-fire to alert passing ships of their presence on the island. Not expecting or wanting to be rescued, Jack's savage leadership adapts to circumstance; he establishes his camp as spear-bearing hunters who provide meat to both camps. They kill a Wild pig and leave its head as an offering to the "monster" that they believe is in the cave. Eventually, identical twins Sam and Eric (Andrew Taft and Edward Taft), two of Ralph's friends, leave him to join Jack's tribe, leaving Ralph with only Piggy and Simon left.
Meanwhile, Simon finds the pig's head on the stick. He then uses a glow stick and explores the cave and discovers the corpse of Capt. Benson. Simon realizes Capt. Benson was what the boys thought was the monster and runs to the beach in an attempt to alert the boys of his discovery, but his waving of the glow stick frightens the other boys, who mistake him for the monster and stab him to death with their spears. The following morning, Ralph blames himself and Piggy for not stopping the hunters from killing Simon. Meanwhile, Jack tells his gang that the "monster" can come in any different form.
After Piggy's glasses are stolen by Jack's savages that night so they could make fire, Piggy and Ralph travel to Jack's camp at Castle Rock, attempting to call a meeting using the conch. Piggy insists that everyone be sensible and work together, but Jack's savages refuse to listen. As Piggy speaks, Roger pushes a boulder off a cliff and kills Piggy. Ralph swears revenge at Jack, and Jack takes it as a threat. With his hunters, Jack drives Ralph away by throwing rocks at him. Later that night, Ralph secretly returns to Castle Rock to visit Sam and Eric, who warn him that the hunters will chase after him.
The following morning, Jack and his hunters begin setting the jungle on fire to force Ralph out of hiding and kill him. Just barely dodging the spreading fire and Jack's hunters, Ralph makes a desperate run to the sea. He falls onto the beach, where he encounters a U.S. Marine Corps officer pilot who has just landed on the island with other Marines to rescue the boys after having seen the fire that engulfed much of the island. All the hunters, especially Jack and Roger, get scared at what will happen to them for killing Simon and Piggy and their failed attempt to kill Ralph.Balthazar Getty as Ralph: leader of the boys whom work on getting rescued and trying to maintain order
Chris Furrh as Jack: the leader of the hunters
Danuel Pipoly as Piggy: an intelligent and overweight boy, the object of ridicule, and the most loyal boy to Ralph
James Badge Dale as Simon: a rather reclusive boy (credited as Badgett Dale)
Andrew Taft as Sam: identical twin
Edward Taft as Eric: identical twin
Gary Rule as Roger: the second-in-command to Jack
Michael Greene as Captain Benson
Bob Peck as U.S. Marine Corps Officer
Ethan Warwick as The Beastie
The filming was done on location at Portland Parish in Jamaica, particularly at Snow Hill and Frenchman's Cove, in the summer of 1988. Additional filming locations included Hamakua Coast; Kaua'i; Hana, Maui (in Hawaii) and the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.
The child members cast were relatively inexperienced. Balthazar Getty (Ralph) and James Badgett Dale (Simon) were the only child actors who continued with a moderately successful stage career, in parallel to James Aubrey (the original Ralph).
The screenplay is credited to Sara Schiff. Schiff is the pseudonym of author Jay Presson Allen. The screenplay was her last film work before her death in 2006. She was reportedly unsatisfied by the final product and had her name removed, hence the attribution to a pseudonym. Presson-Allen was also producer Lewis M. Allen's wife.
The trick in adapting, Allen said in a 1972 interview with The New York Times, "is not to throw out the baby with the bath water. You can change all kinds of things, but don't muck around with the essence".
The film was released theatrically on March 16, 1990 in the United States by Columbia Pictures. It debuted at No.3
Lord of the Flies received mixed reviews from critics, with most panning its liking towards the book itself, providing mixed assessments of the performances of the various actors, and praising its scenery. As of April 2016, the film has a rating of 63% "Fresh" on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes.
Most heavily criticized was the way in which the filmmakers departed from the novel. For example, Richard Alleva of Crisis Magazine criticized the portrayal of the first assembly on the island, a crucial moment in the book, as "anti-climactic" in the film. He lamented the fact that the conversation that Simon imagines taking place between himself and the pig, or the "Lord of the Flies", yet another of the book's most pivotal moments, was in the movie reduced to only a few moments of Simon staring at the pig. Alleva also criticized what he saw as misrepresentations of Ralph and Jack, believing that the movie downplayed Ralph's imperfections as presented in the book and amplified those of Jack. He said that "In this film, the good boys are too good; the bad boys too quickly bad, and bad in the wrong way."
Some have claimed 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."
PopMatters journalist J.C. Maçek III wrote "The lessons and allusions of the novel and first adaptation feel heavy-handed and far too obvious in this remake. In short, while the 1963 film, in its black and white darkness, brings the viewer into the film with depth and shock, the 1990 movie is the experience of watching actors reciting lines and making a movie.
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.
Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote the following in a 1990 review:
As directed by Harry Hook, the new "Lord of the Flies" offers much spectacle for the eye and almost nothing to keep the mind from wandering. Mr. Hook and the cinematographer Martin Fuhrer may be able to work orange flames, turquoise ocean and lush tropical foliage into a single pretty (if nonsensical) frame. But they can't get a toehold onto what Mr. Golding called his "attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature."