(The Four-Disc Collector's Set includes:
GREAT EXPECTATIONS, LORD OF THE FLIES, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, and OLIVER TWIST)
Criterion has re-released four of their exemplary original versions of literary classics successfully adapted for the cinema in one single set most appropriately called GREAT ADAPTATIONS at a special price, which is a golden opportunity for those, like myself, who failed to purchase the originals.
David Lean's GREAT EXPECTATIONS remains, in my humble opinion, the finest example of a Charles Dickens literary masterwork ever converted to film and the possibility exists, based on my latest viewing, that it just might be the most perfect novel-to-screen transference of ANY source ever, so skillfully does the film bring Dicken's masterpiece to robust yet delicate life. The brilliantly ominous atmospheric opening of the film has been studied for years for its startling synthesis of location shooting with a studio set and back projection, and was in fact copied, virtually shot for shot, in the opening of Fritz Lang's vastly inferior MOONFLEET.
With the glaring exception of a far too optimistic and abrupt ending, every artistic aspect of this GREAT EXPECTATIONS shines to a timelessly shimmering perfection.
The sinister spirit that was so pervasive in William Golding's frightening fable LORD OF THE FLIES is translated to the screen with jagged and relentless energy by famed theatre director Peter Brook, whose daring translation of the source material about 30 English boys stranded on an uncharted island at the start of the "next war" actually benefits from the fact that it was largely shot "on the fly" with a cast of unknowns and virtually no budget. Though artistically and stylistically the polar opposite of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, this rendition of LORD OF THE FLIES continues to retain the crude, harsh power that so transfixed audiences initially.
THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, on the other hand, is pure thirties Hollywood kitsch, but moves with a frantic incident-packed 63 minute pace that compensates for the hammy, overheated performances and half-baked screenplay that accentuate the inescapable fact that author Richard Connell's original and much-remade tale about a hunter who learns, courtesy of a madman, what it's like to be the hunted, is little more than pulp fiction at its pulpiest. The pleasures to be derived from this lurid piffle are, however, plentiful, as it is clearly a creatureless dry run for KING KONG which is stunningly photographed on KONG's jungle sets and benefits hugely from a poundingly effective Max Steiner score that is every bit the equal of his subsequent score for KONG.
Little can be added to the myriad of kudoes that David Lean's legendary cinematic rendition of Dickens' OLIVER TWIST have so appropriately gathered through the decades, except to say that it strikes me as nothing less than remarkable that as powerfully distinct a novel as this can be adapted to an entirely different medium and, while faithfully conveying every conceivable nuance inherent in the original, at the same time introducing new and enhanced insights that make it appear that the entire familiar tale was actually conceived by Dickens for the silver screen --- that's how stunningly immediate and vital this cinematic TWIST is!
It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the continuously top quality of virtually all Criterion transfers that, while GREAT EXPECTATIONS exhibits minor speckling during its credit sequence as well as a 5 second vertical line in one sequence that's scarcely worth reporting, all the full screen black and white transfers are as fine as the most demanding connosseur could wish, and the monaural sound is crisp and distortion-free. For purposes of this review I compared the original Roan laserdisc release, which was ostensibly transferred from a print mastered from the negative, and which I had converted to dvd, with the Criterion version and ---- surprise! ---- the Criterion rendition's beautiful black levels and gray scale outshone the comparatively soft and milky Roan image by a country mile.