LORD OF THE FLIES R, 1990, 90 minutes, closed-captioned, Nelson Entertainment, $89.98.
"Lord of the Flies," the second time around, is a lyrically primordial retelling of William Golding's classic novel, a prosaic parable on the struggle between savagery and order. Languidly paced and prettily crafted, it is if nothing else a scenic update. Directed by Harry Hook, this '90s version finds not postwar British schoolboys but American military cadets marooned on an uncharted island, its beach strewed with coconut husks like wooden skulls. Left without adult supervision, the boys, ranging in age from 8 to 13, gradually form rival groups -- the feral hunters, led by Jack (Chris Furrh), and the hopeful fire tenders, led by Ralph (Balthazar Getty). Gradually worn down by hunger, intimidation and fear, Ralph's troops desert for the meat and reassurance that Jack, with his spears and totems, provides. Only Ralph's stalwart lieutenant, Piggy (Danuel Pipoly), the quintessential dweeb, stands with Ralph as the drama screams to its gruesome climax. Sara Schiff scripted this cautionary adventure for adolescents easily wowed by tidy profundities. Like the 1963 film, it has its roots in Golding's experiences during World War II. Certainly the human race remains as unstable as ever, as vicious and selfish and frightened of the dark. But it would have been all the more effective if this "Lord of the Flies" were set on those urban islands where children even now are killing other children. Beelzebub is alive and well and civilization is crumbling, but it isn't a pretty tropical poem. It is sorrow on the doorstep. -- Rita Kempley
OTELLO Unrated, 1986, in Italian with subtitles, 123 minutes, Kultur, $39.95.
When he turned Giuseppe Verdi's opera into a movie, director Franco Zeffirelli shortened it considerably, sacrificing some complexity and some moments of lyric beauty for maximum dramatic focus and impact. That's why this videotape announces right at the beginning: "The complete recording of the Original Opera 'Otello' is available on EMI compact discs, records and cassettes"; it certainly isn't available in the final cut of Zeffirelli's movie. A lot of critics waxed indignant about his excision of the wistful "Willow Song" and the exultant chorus "Fuoco di gioia," not to mention a lot of recitatives. But Zeffirelli was only taking the same kind of liberties Verdi took when he turned Shakespeare's tragedy into an opera. None of the excised music is bad, and some of it is extraordinarily good. But Zeffirelli believes (and the impact of this production confirms) that movies tend to move at a faster pace than operas, and something must be sacrificed -- specifically, material that slows the pace and adds nothing essential to the dramatic structure. His decision to make this "Otello" more cinematic than operatic is certainly not the only possible treatment, but it has its own validity -- greatly aided by three outstanding performances: Placido Domingo as Otello, Katia Ricciarelli as Desdemona and Justino Diaz, who nearly steals the show as Iago. -- Joseph McLellan
MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON R, 1990, 140 minutes, closed-captioned, IVE, $89.95.
An epic worth discovering, "Mountains of the Moon" offers an intriguing look at the troubled friendship of explorers Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke. Set largely in East Africa in the 1850s, it is an intimate safari into the souls of these heroic Victorians, who sought and inevitably fought over the exact source of the Nile. Directed by Bob Rafelson, this saga has the feel of a traveler's dusty journal, full of hope and terror, exhilaration and despair. A cousin to "Lawrence of Arabia," the movie ponders the pros and cons of the British national character, pitting the whims of the priggish Brit, Speke, against the wiles of his enigmatic Irish mentor, Burton. The friendship of the repressed empire-builder and the rugged poet-scholar kindles and thrives on the dangerous, dry savannas but wilts in the lush treachery of the British Isles. Victorians were mesmerized by this quest and, chauvinists that they were, preferred to credit an aristocratic Englishman with the discovery rather than a rumpled Irishman. Returning home before Burton, Speke is easily tricked into stealing the credit for their mutual efforts. Burton disputes Speke's claim but never turns against him as the controversy rages. Patrick Bergin, a tall, dark and tortured type, plays the swashbuckling Burton to Iain Glen's less appealing role of the shallow, goal-oriented betrayer. Written by Rafelson and William Harrison, "Mountains of the Moon" brings history to life in a fashion worthy of both Rudyard Kipling and Monty Python. -- Rita Kempley WHERE THE HEART IS R, 1990, 86 minutes, closed-captioned, Touchstone Home Video, $89.95.
John Boorman's "Where the Heart Is" is an exercise in willful poetic silliness. It's a kind of spoof that chooses Wall Street and all those who value money over art -- including the people who make movies -- as the targets for its pies in the face. But here, Boorman launches pies that never come close to hitting their marks. In fact, they're so outrageously off that they fly back in the director's own face. The film's story is elaborately convoluted. Its principal character is Stewart McBain (Dabney Coleman), a demolition contractor whose latest project is brought to a halt when do-gooder preservationists have the building that sits smack in the middle of his Bronx construction site designated a historical landmark. For reasons that are never quite made clear, McBain takes out his irritation on his three pampered teenage children, all of whom have artistic ambitions and a snobbish aversion to money. What they need, he thinks, is a lesson in reality, and so he kicks them out of the house, drives them to the Bronx, gives them each $750 and offers them the abandoned landmark as their new home. In the Boorman filmography, "Where the Heart Is" comes immediately after "Hope and Glory," but the place it deserves is somewhere alongside "Zardoz." What's hard to grasp is that "Hope" and "Heart" came out of the same artist. "Where the Heart Is" has to be one of the most earthbound satires ever mounted, but what it proves is that Boorman is a visionary in all things, even in the manner in which he chooses to flop. -- Hal Hinson