FLY, THE - Blu-ray review

There's a lot to be said for this version and its conflation of romantic comedy and horror conventions.

James Plath's picture

As John J. Puccio pointed out in his review of "The Fly" DVD, remaking a classic is a risky business. But I have to say that when you remake a classic that was as campy as the original 1958 Vincent Price and David Hedison film, the risk is diminished enough to where you might even get Lloyds of London to insure the project.

People are expecting slightly goofy, slightly kitschy, and director David Cronenberg seemed to sense that. It gave him the freedom to explore a bit more. Rather than having the human fly kept under wraps until the shocker-ending as in the original, he and co-writer Charles Edward Pogue decided to revel in the transformative process. Like Spider-Man, once scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) has his DNA mixed with a tiny creature's, the developing fly-man becomes gradually aware of changes that go beyond a head that looks like a Halloween mask. And I'm talking about that 1958 film, not this one--which offers a pus-and-blood head and body parts that could match any of the CGI and prosthetic aliens of its time, and still looks pretty darned convincing.

Cronenberg's version also does more than explore the cautionary world of a scientist who goes a little too far, and whose judgment lapses when he decides to become a human guinea pig. "The Fly" remake is humanized more, with Goldblum leaving the lab more than Hedison ever could. And the relationship between Seth and a journalist (Geena Davis) offers some genuinely sexy moments, with more development than we got from the first version. All of that, plus the fact that fly DNA also makes Seth do things that supercede his humanity and conscious actions, makes the transformative process and the high-stakes game that the scientist plays much more emotionally resonant.

Davis and Goldblum were an item at the time, and it shows. They've got great chemistry, so much so that you don't even mind the non-insectival first half of the film, you're so focused on this relationship story.

But, of course, the real reason people see movies like this is to revel in those first hairs that appear on the scientist's back, or the telltale behavioral traits that start to emerge—like a metabolism suddenly revved up beyond anything "speed" could do, or super strength, or super sexual staying power. Because Cronenberg explores both the positive and negative aspects of being a fly, it's all the more complex and enjoyable to watch.

It reportedly took five hours to apply Goldblum's make-up, but it looks so good that when Brundlefly barfs on his ex-girlfriend's new beau, it's as gross as can be. And it was good enough to earn Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis an Oscar for their work. It was also good enough to with the Saturn Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for Best Make-Up, Best Actor (Goldblum), and Best Horror Film for 1987.

And yet, the plot is so simple you can say everything in a few sentences: a scientist working on teleportation takes a curious journalist to his warehouse district lab, which he uses as a bit of a come-on. She's impressed by the demonstration, they see more and more of each other, and then when their relationship gets rocky and he does what most guys do under those circumstances--he gets tanked--Brundle climbs inside one of his telepods and decides, what the heck. But a fly gets into the telepod, and after their DNA becomes mixed, we watch this cautionary fable play itself out--with Brundle first developing positive characteristics, then more disturbing ones.

Simple? Yes. But convincing special effects, make-up, and performances by Goldblum and Davis make it work.

"The Fly" was transferred to Blu-ray using the AVD CODEC at 24mbps, so it looks as good as this film ever has. VERY good, in fact. The colors are natural-looking, and all the gross-and-gory detail comes to vivid life with strong black levels. "The Fly" is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen. Fox used a 50-gig dual-layered disc for this title, and we heard, recently, that most titles in the future will be 50gb, regardless of the amount of bonus features, because of the studio's desire to "max out" the bit-rate on both the video and audio to get the best possible picture and sound.

For this one, Fox again went with an English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio, with additional options in Spanish and French Mono and subtitles in English (CC), Spanish, Cantonese, and Korean. Like the video, the sound is superb, with booming bass and penetrating treble that commingle in the space of your home theater room and just hover there. Rear speakers are used frequently for ambient noise and also in tandem with other speakers to give the illusion of sounds moving across the room. Nice, all-around audio.

As John noted in his review, Cronenberg delivers a perceptive and honest commentary that covers all aspects of the film and filming--anecdotes, technical aspects, cinematography decisions, casting, locations, and speculation on the film's themes. It's a worthwhile listen—especially if you pair it with a trivia track that gives pop-up information, some of it redundant, but most of it complementary.

But I have to say that the fly from the menu on the DVD feels NUKED on the Blu-ray version, it's such a loud presence. Every time you highlight a different feature, the fly ZZZZZZZZZZZs in such hyperclarity that you expect a gigantic insect to be hovering overhead. Some may enjoy it, but it was a bit much for me.

The most extensive extra is a feature-length making-of documentary, "Fear of the Flesh," which is broken up into three parts: larva, pupa, and metamorphosis. The editing is curiously tight in some places (as when two talking heads are spliced together to tell one story in alternating sentences), but slack in others, where the heads seem to go on a little long. It's a leisurely feature that's enlivened with long clips from both the original movie and this remake, as well as deleted shots, deleted dialogue, deleted sequences, raw dailies, and split screens that show comparisons of the film in various stages. Fans of the film will appreciate the bonus footage and the fact that the three main stars join the crew to talk about the film . . . Goldblum and Davis with considerably "smaller" hair than they sported back when the film was made. The raw dailies were the most interesting to me. Overall, it's a solid feature.

If you can survive the menufly, you can access a handful of fairly substantial deleted and extended scenes, written works (the original short story, screenplay, and Cronenberg's revised script), promotional featurettes, original teasers, trailers, and TV spots, film test footage, and "The Fly" BD-J Flyswatter Game. Now, the simple whack-a-mole concept might be fun, and you might actually WANT to swat a fly after hearing it buzz so unnervingly on the menu screen. But the game may not perform satisfactorily on all players. My Samsung (which seems to have more problems than most) read and loaded the game just fine, but failed in the crucial function of being able to allow me to move the swatter quickly enough to actually smash one of the annoying things. The control was so sluggish as to be almost unresponsive. What struck me, though, is that this is the kind of game that young boys would like--yet the film itself is rated "R" for moments of nudity, violence, and language. But hey, here's a game for the kiddies who can't watch it.

It's probably worth mentioning that this disc has "smart menu technology," a pop-up menu that floats on-screen during playback, and that there is also a "personal scene selections" function that allows you to select scenes to access for later choreographed playback.

Bottom Line:
While the trajectory of "The Fly" may be shortcut straight, there's enough nuance, character development, and interesting moments when we witness grotesque images and behavior to make the film work. Purists may still prefer the original for the sheer strength of its monumental build-up, but I think there's a lot to be said for this version and its conflation of romantic comedy and horror conventions.


Film Value