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DVD Review: The Fly (1986) 2-Disc Collectors’ Edition

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The start of October brought that which my fellow Fly fans and I have yearned for over many long restless nights, a special edition DVD of David Cronenberg’s classic, The Fly. Fox Studios finally bayed to the howls and cries of fans, disgruntled over the DVD treatment so far of the film, a paltry double pack of it and its inferior sequel, and so they brought out a mammoth 2-disc extravaganza, “packed with chilling new extras” according to the sticker on the box, the sort of disc-set to make those cats over at Criterion shiver with jealousy.

This film’s been a favourite of mine since I first saw it as a youthful ten-year-old a decade ago, although I was hardly fit to understand the depth and intricacies then. The film, for those who don’t know, and I doubt many of you are unfamiliar with the plot, concerns scientist Seth Brundle (played by Jeff Goldblum) who invents a device capable of transporting matter through space from one fixed spatial position to another. He eventually goes through the machine himself, and the process works perfectly as it should, except that, unbeknownst to him, a fly was in the machine with him during the teleportation. Unlike the 1958 original, Brundle comes out normal, but soon begins to experience mental and physical changes.

The film is genius for many reasons, most originating from David Cronenberg’s majestic writing and direction. He produces an interesting and compelling film that doesn’t skimp on minor details. Where the original (a 50s B-movie with Vincent Price) has the awry transportation resulting in a swapping of heads between the scientist and the fly, blatantly absurd and nonsensical illogicality, Cronenberg injects his film with a credible scientific reasoning. I still see questions about this on message boards, so I might as well clarify things here: in the transportation, Brundle fuses with the fly at a molecular genetic level; this means that Brundle’s genes are now the new ‘Brundlefly’ mix. He doesn’t emerge as a hideous creature because it’s the genetic formula that has been altered not the actual cells, and thus the process is a prolonged change over time as old cells die and are replaced with the new ‘Brundlefly’ combination (just like the natural processes in all of us of skin cells dying and being replaced). The fly doesn’t emerge and begin to slowly turn into a small Brundle-esque creature because, to the computer, Brundle was the main object of the teleportation. Sure it’s still science fiction, and probably wouldn’t happen in real life, but nevertheless the science is of a high, and believable, level.

The Fly is generally categorized as a horror film, and I guess it’s understandable for some of those visceral moments later on, but at its heart it’s a love story. Despite labels of metaphoric allusions to AIDS and cancer, Cronenberg wanted to show the effects of old age (which is more jolting because it’s inevitable for everyone) and it’s ramifications in the microcosm of the couple. Here we see Veronica helpless to assist, and left to view the disintegration of her lover Brundle. Then of course, with the inclusion of Stathis Borans it’s a verifiable love triangle.

The acting in the film is nothing short of brilliant. Geena Davis puts on a wonderful sceptic-turned-enthusiast early on, and then executes the slide to lamentable individual cursed to sublime ineffectuality. But obviously the real star here is Jeff Goldblum, who conjures a realistic and sympathetic figure. Certainly at the centre of this film’s appeal is the main character, relatable by many. At the beginning, he is shy and geeky, in many ways playing a teenager as he tries to woo his female conquest. He then goes through different changes in personality, through obnoxiousness and ostentation, to sickly and morose, then to psychopathic bloodthirstiness. As a character piece it’s fantastic to view the different psychological changes, such as a newly founded sexual prowess, and the animal viciousness. The most amazing thing is that Goldblum is able to continue that identifiable persona, even through the numerous layers of rubber makeup that were to come later on. There is a lot to be said about acting through the eyes.

There are elements of comedy in there, too. Cronenberg’s typically dark humour comes through a number of times, such as: “Is this real, or is it Memorex?” Or Brundle’s gawky attempts to pursue Veronica; although Videodrome is probably better overall if it’s dark humour you’re looking for.

And what of the horror then? Well there’s the visual gratuity feasts towards the end, but their effectiveness lies solely within the story and characters, it’s made all the more disturbing because of the concern we now have for the protagonists. But the horror isn’t just derived from the visuals, the dialogue contributes plenty to this, just witness the ‘insect politics’ speech.

The film is topped off with a magnificently tragic score by Howard Shore, he who would later go on to score Lord of the Rings, although it’s nowhere near as good as this (film or score). The score reeks of the epic tragedy and melancholy that perfectly mirrors the story, the tragic tale of a man’s sorrowful downfall.

So the DVD then. Undoubtedly one of the main areas of interest is the infamous deleted scenes, specifically the six minute long monkey-cat scene. To those unaware, this scene occurs late on in the film and features Brundle testing his bio-matter fusion theories, similar to what he attempts in the last scene. Using the telepods, he proceeds to fuse a monkey and a cat together, which, subsequent to amalgamation, attack him, and he has to beat this new monstrosity of nature to death with a pipe. Following this he goes to the rooftop for some frolics. A pain in his side causes him to fall down the side of the building, and, on landing at the bottom, a fly leg bursts its way out of the side of his abdomen. He uses his corrosive enzyme on it and then rips the rest off with his mouth. I was one of those eager fans impatient to see this, and it didn’t let me down. Understandably it’s dark as hell (the main reason for cutting it – animal fusion may have led to a dissipation in sympathy for Brundle, sympathy which is paramount), and, moreover, it’s bizarre and surreal to watch. It’s also very sad; prior to the fall, Brundle sits perched on the rooftop and begins to shout “No!” repeatedly, presumably at the recognition of his continuing loss of humanity. Of course, this exclusion does result in a couple of minor plot discrepancies, for example Brundle’s earlier mystification at what the lump in his side was is not resolved without this scene, not that it’s a major thing. Deleted scenes from films you’ve seen many times always seem strange upon first viewing, and this is no different. It’s brilliant, but I understand why it was excluded; I’ve seen it now and can die happy.

The DVD’s main special feature is the “Fear of the Flesh” documentary, a beast of a retrospective that lasts for over two and a half hours. It features everyone who was involved in the film’s production (except for Cronenberg himself – he has a commentary track anyway) and is laid out in chronological order through the varying stages of production. I doubt there could have been a more comprehensive documentary because no detail is spared here.

David Cronenberg’s commentary is exemplary as always, the man is a hive of knowledge. And surprisingly there is little overlap between it and the documentary. Cronenberg is able to elucidate plot points and production technicalities both intelligently and succinctly, and is simply a joy to listen to.

Other special features include textual versions of the original short story, original screenplay and Cronenberg’s rewritten opus. Also photo galleries, trailers, and the other usual bits and pieces.

It makes me full of divine bliss every time I see my copy sitting there on the DVD shelf, imported straight from the heaving streets of American land as soon as it was released. The film is a sublime dip into the cinema of David Cronenberg (or the cinematic arts period), who continues his ever-present themes of the human interaction with technology; this is surely the pinnacle of his awesome career, and one that (deservedly) was his most successful box office outing (so far at least).

For more meanderings visit me here: Generic Mugwump
ed: JH

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About Aaron Fleming

  • http://spatulaforum.blogspot.com Nik

    Yeah, this is an amazing set. Cronenberg’s commentary was just fascinating, and the documentary great. I already loved the heck out of this movie, but this package made me appreciate it even more as the (gruesome) work of art it really is.

  • http://www.midnitcafe.blogspot.com Mat Brewster

    If I say I’ve never seen any version of the Fly will you still love me in the morning?

  • http://www.genericmugwump.blogspot.com/ Aaron Fleming

    Mat – I’d be shocked and disgruntled, and I’d proceed to kick you straight outta that bed. Perhaps those other Fly films could be overlooked, but this is too much of a mastery of cinema to be missed by anyone…rectify this immediately!

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    hell’s fire, a marvellous review, sir Fleming. i never thought of the whole “teenage” thing Golblum has goin on. This is one of my favourite flicks, i think it’s fair to say, it’s in the top five. if only woody allen had been Goldblum an Kirsten had been the science, with Fahey as the fiction, if only, then it would be number one. but still. and hells bells, i MUST see that deleted scene. i need to import this, i think, when the lovely credit card company decide to let me off wi all that excess spendin and cut a fella some slack. slack me up, for gods holy sakes!!

  • http://www.genericmugwump.blogspot.com/ Aaron Fleming

    Duke – I’ll hear none of the money woes, the priceless artefact will accompany me to the next sit!

  • http://www.midnitcafe.blogspot.com Mat Brewster

    I know, I know. I’m not a movie lover, I can no longer be your lover. I’m not fit for spittin. Why oh why have I not seen this flick. It’s nor for lack of love for Golblum, or Cronenburg, or even flicks about flies. I don’t know why I haven’t managed to view it. It shall be upcoming on the netflix list, I solemnly swear.

    Great review, by the way.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Sir Fleming, a well-done review.

    I know how much you must love this film as you found very little time in the review to engage in comic hijinx and random bouts of profanity.

    I haven’t seen the movie, either. I guess this should have gone on our Hot Topic list of pop culture shames.

  • http://www.insidefly.com Natalie

    I remember watching this when I was a kid and I was just freaked out by the dog that went into the machine and got warped into some melting mess…or was that Fly 2? Anyway since we’re talking about cult classics and the Fly, there’s another dvd of the same title which I’m sure is gonna be a classic in couple of years time:

  • http://www.genericmugwump.blogspot.com/ Aaron Fleming

    Mat & DJR – Thanks guys. It’s highly recommended (as if you couldn’t decipher that from my review!)

    Natalie – Oh that was indeed The Fly 2. And art fashion DVD…hahaha.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    It was very much deciphered. If I am off work this weekend, I will troll to a video store and rent it.

  • http://www.filmdailies.com Krasimir [FilmDailies.com]

    Thanks for the review. I’ll certainly try to get that DVD. It’s a bit difficult getting these in some of the remote parts of Europe!