|Fly, The (1986)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Friday, 01 February 2008|
Charles Edward Pogue wrote a new script, altering the story considerably. After some starts and stops, described in detail in the lengthy featurette on this DVD, Canada’s David Cronenberg agreed to take on the film, and rewrote the script before beginning production. Again, the film was a major hit, and again generated an inferior sequel. Forget about “The Fly II;” this one, “The Fly,” is the real deal—a sophisticated, intelligent, witty and utterly mesmerizing horror thriller. It’s extremely gruesome, often violent, but is still always also a love story—a love triangle, in fact.
The movie has been given superb treatment here: the print is flawless, as near to the theatrical experience as videos get. The movie was brilliantly photographed by Mark Irwin, well-designed by Carol Spier, and has ghastly but awesome special effects under the direction of Chris Walas (who, to his regret, directed “The Fly II”). And under the helm of David Cronenberg, an often excellent director, the movie became a classic in its own right—it’s better than the original, pretty rare for remakes.
One of the smartest things Cronenberg did was to choose the cast he did. Jeff Goldblum plays Seth Brundle, a reclusive researcher who’s been working on a project he claims, to journalist Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (Geena Davis), will do nothing less than change the world. After they meet at a publicity function, he takes her to his lab, housed in an old, otherwise disused warehouse, and shows off his creation. Brundle admits that he’s farmed out a lot of the more arcane components, so much so he’s not sure how all of it operates, but he knows what he’s doing. He’s made a teleporter—a device that can transmit matter from one spot to another, like TV cameras transmit pictures. He sends one of Ronnie’s stockings from one “telepod” to the other. And she is impressed. The big drawback: he can’t transmit flesh; he tries it on a baboon, and gruesomely turns it inside out.
She works on Particle, a Newsweek-like magazine for physicists, but can’t convince her editor and former lover Stathis Borans (John Getz) that Brundle’s device does what he claims. So she decides to start a video documentary on the quirky scientist. Even though he’s somewhat nerdish, he’s also brilliant, funny and attractive; he and Ronnie soon end up in bed. He’s inspired by one remark she makes about a teleported steak (it tastes artificial), and is convinced he’s found the answer to the riddle of the flesh.
But after she’s left one evening, following a successful transmission of another baboon, Brundle becomes convinced she’s going back to Borans. Drunk, lonely, insecure, Brundle tries teleporting himself.
In the story and the original film, the scientist didn’t notice that a housefly was in the transmitter with him; the computer, doing only what it’s told, gives the man the head and arm of a fly (man-sized, of course) and the fly the tiny head and arm of the scientist. People, including Pogue, were irked that the sizes remained consistent with the bodies; I assumed the device was misapplying >patterns< rather than matter. In any event, that’s not what happens in this “The Fly.”
After he teleports himself, Brundle becomes drenched in energy; now he can do acrobatic stunts like a life-long gymnast; he’s much stronger—in an arm-wrestling contest, he breaks his opponents arm. He’s begun scooping a lot of sugar into his coffee, and eats crates of candy bars. His face looks different, too, a shocked Ronnie notices. But Brundle is still convinced he’s somehow been edited by the teleportation rig, improved by being disintegrated and reintegrated.
But when his fingers begin oozing some kind of sticky goo and his teeth become loose, a terrified Brundle realizes something else must have happened. A fly was in the booth when he was transmitted; the computer blended Brundle and fly. He continues to change; his body takes on new contours, his skin becomes flaccid and discolored. After their last unpleasant encounter, he and Ronnie are apart for a month. When she returns, finding him barely human, he tells her “my teleporter turned into a gene splicer, and a very good one.” He’s becoming, he ways, a “185 pound fly.” Brundle still has wit, he’s still philosophical—as the changes become more pronounced, he sadly says, “I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man, and loved it—but now the dream is over and the insect is awake.”
As he’s more and more something other than human, Brundle’s mind changes—already paranoid, he becomes charged with anger, even more convinced that he’s better because of the disaster, not worse. But he’s still the creative scientist, and begins working on a horrible solution to his problems….
What a blessing it was that this project fell into the hands of Cronenberg. He’s one of the few directors of science fiction/horror who’s witty and imaginative; one of his main themes has always been the troublesome riddle of flesh—why are human beings so controlled by the demands of their animal bodies? There are few SF stories out there that address this problem more directly, more creatively, than “The Fly,” and Cronenberg runs with the material. Very few other directors would have the courage to make their central character witty, charming and rather goofy—especially after he turns into a monster.
Cronenberg strongly emphasizes the characters—and there are only three of them (unless you count Typhoon the Baboon). The extensive additional material reveal his great satisfaction in landing Jeff Goldblum as a star---there were few other actors around who could be sexy, smart, nerdy and witty. His hesitant, choppy delivery, laced with back-and-fill tics, is perfect for a loner scientist. Goldblum says he strongly embraced the role; ever since, he’s often cited “The Fly” as one of his best films. He’s right.
He and Geena Davis were an item at the time, and delighted to be cast in the same film. Cronenberg was pleased to get an actress who matched Goldblum—he’s 6’5” and Davis is six feet tall herself. She’s also angular like Goldblum, also has eccentric good looks. Cronenberg says the only problem she presented was that she had a tendency to imitate Goldblum. When the director pointed this out, she’d mutter “right right, less like Jeff, more like Geena.”
Video high definition is an excellent venue for “The Fly.” It realizes all the extravagant, imaginative and beautifully engineered hideousness with extreme fidelity. The atmosphere is occasionally a little hazy, but that’s deliberate, not a flaw of the print. Most of the movie takes place in Brundle’s loft lab, which grows increasingly cluttered as he becomes more and more an insect. There are only a couple of other sets—Borans’ office, Veronica’s apartment (which Cronenberg says is typical of Toronto, where the story is set and the movie was shot) and a bar, where Brundle spectacularly wins that arm-wrestling bout and leaves with—it’s hard to avoid the term—a bar fly.
The disc is laden with extras. The most important is “Fear of the Flesh—The Making of ‘The Fly’,” a lengthy series of interview clips and location shots. This is one of the best making-ofs so far; it traces the development of the script, beginning the Pogue and Cornfeld; it even includes words from Robert Bierman, the originally-signed director (he left because of a family tragedy). Editor Ron Sanders, cinematographer Mark Irwin and production designer Carol Spier explain how they originally became involved in Cronenberg’s productions before “The Fly.” There are segments with Goldblum, Davis, John Getz, special effects designer Chris Walas and effects expert Hoyt Yeatman. When the rotating room used for scenes in which Brundlefly (as he’s called after a certain point) is demonstrated, the soundtrack features “The Blue Danube Waltz,” a nod to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which featured more than one revolving set. This lengthy featurette is laced with outtakes, unused takes and other visual addenda. But there isn’t an interview with David Cronenberg.
There’s also a sequence of deleted scenes; unusually, these are completed scenes—scored, timed, edited—rather than the raw footage usually seen. Oddly, it does not feature one of the most unusual (and best known) outtakes, the “butterfly baby,” also Chris Walas shows us the prop in another featurette. That one was filmed at the home of Bob Burns, who has an extensive collection of special effect and other movie props.
There are also film tests, showing Goldblum trying out the various Fly full-body suits; most of these have music added. There’s also a collection of promotional materials—posters, ad art, trailers. “Written Works” features Langelaan’s original story, the Pogue script and Cronenberg’s rewrite; unfortunately, this have been reproduced so small they’re difficult to read even on my 50” screen. There are also several articles, from CineFex and American Cinematographer on the making of the movie.
And there’s a trivia track; engaged, when the movie plays flies appear at the corner—supposedly you can thereby access behind the scenes material. But this function didn’t work on my machine, nor did the “Flyswatter” game.
Fortunately, the commentary track by Cronenberg does play. He may not appear in the “making of” featurette, but he has his say here. It’s not surprising that his commentary track is intelligent if a little skimpy, but it IS surprising when he reveals that he and composer Howard Shore have been working on a opera based on “The Fly.” Fortunately, unlike far too many people who record commentary tracks, Cronenberg rewatched the movie before sitting down to record his comments. He admits, somewhat surprised, that he found the movie to be very disturbing and emotional—he’d forgotten that it had achieved those goals.
But “The Fly” does. The story is fascinating, the dialogue is excellent, the characters engaging and likeable, even Borans, whose jealousy leads him to mistreat Ronnie, but whose love for her results in his standing up like a hero when he needs to. “The Fly” is one of the best science-fiction horror movies of the last 30 years; we’re fortunate it’s been given such A-list treatment in this outstanding Blu-Ray package.