FLY - DVD review

Cronenberg's The Fly makes for a good change of pace in the world of horror flicks.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

A number of smaller video companies like Trimark and VCI have been offering DVD double features for some time, and more recently the Fox people stepped into the ring with duos like "Fantastic Voyage" and "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea"; the original 1958 "The Fly" and the 1959 sequel, "The Return of the Fly"; and this pair, "The Fly," 1986, and "The Fly II," 1989. Although the two "Fly" sequels ('59 and '89) were much inferior to their predecessors, it's still good to see at least one big studio offering as much value as the DVD format has to offer. So what if the second films are dogs. In effect, we're getting them for free.

The Fly:
Director David Cronenberg's remake of "The Fly" is a success on almost every level, providing, of course, that you like horror movies and accept their often far-fetched premises. The idea here follows the one developed in the old film, that teleportation of matter can be accomplished but not without unexpected results. Jeff Goldblum stars as Seth Brundle, a naive whiz who builds a couple of pods that can send matter back and forth between them by separating the atoms and zapping them through space.

Goldblum, as always, is in excellent form. But can you think of another actor who has been in as many mega-hit supernatural movies as he has--"Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Jurassic Park," "Independence Day," "The Lost World"--and remained a second-tier star? He's in a rare category; he has probably made more money than anyone in Hollywood without attaining superstar status. Maybe it's because so many of the films he's in are filled with special effects and they overshadow the performer.

Anyway, on with "The Fly." At a party Seth meets a magazine science reporter, Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), and invites her up to his warehouse loft apartment to show her his latest experiment. He tells her it's something that "will change the world as we know it." Well, how can a girl turn down an offer like that? Naturally, they fall in love, and before long Davis and Goldblum lock overbites. This is in spite of her calling his teleportation pods "designer phone booths."

Later, the obvious happens. In a jealous, drunken snit over what he thinks is Veronica's love for a former boyfriend (John Getz), Brundle decides to try out the experiment on himself, unknowingly letting a housefly into the pod when he teleports. Their genes combine, but he doesn't come out looking like a fly as in the old film. Instead, he gradually turns into a fly, which is the best part of the movie. In fact, it's the primary reason for watching the movie. Goldblum is quite convincing in his personality transformation from the mild-mannered Seth into the repulsive Brundlefly.

At first we see no change in Seth. Then we notice his heightened reflexes and added strength. He is also more hyper than usual, craves sugar, and finds his sexual stamina improved. Finally, we see him beginning to lose his mind to the insect within him. The only serious problem the movie has is where to go once Seth has turned into a human fly. It's a dead end, unless Cronenberg is going to make the film into a story about a deadly monster on the loose, which, thank heaven, he doesn't. Leave that to "The Hulk." Instead, he opts for pretty much the same ending the 1958 film had, although more gross and horrifying.

Unfortunately, the ending doesn't have the same impact as the old film. Oh, well. Still and all, with its mature character development and sweet romance, Cronenberg's "The Fly" makes for a good change of pace in the world of horror flicks; and it is this film, not the sequel, that I have rated below.

The Fly II:
The less said about "The Fly II," or "Son of Brundlefly," the better. Let's just compare it to the worst monster movies of the fifties and let it be done with that. Veronica bears Brundle's son, played by Eric Stolz, who is born a mutant and ages about four times faster than a normal person. At five, but looking twenty, he starts transforming into a fly. He's kept in ignorance and seclusion by a group of evil scientists out to exploit him, until he inevitably turns the tables on them. Unlike Cronenberg's "The Fly," there is no character development whatsoever, no mood, no atmosphere, no suspense, and no thrills. Its stars--Chris Walas, Eric Stoltz, Daphne Zuniga, Lee Richardson, John Getz--go almost unnoticed. But it's a freebie, so what the heck.

For reasons unknown, I found the picture quality better in the 1986 "Fly" than in the 1989 sequel, so it's also the older movie I've rated below. The image is very bright and colorful, maybe too bright to be entirely natural, and very crisp and sharp. Like most Fox transfers, this one displays good clarity and definition. Both films come in at about a 1.74:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio.

The sound varies. In the '86 film the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack can be harsh and forward at louder levels; otherwise it conveys a good front-channel stereo spread but minimal rear-channel information. The '89 film has slightly smoother sonics, with better dynamics and more work for the back speakers to do.

The main bonus item on the disc is, of course, the second feature. There's not much beyond that, however: twenty-four chapter stops for each film and theatrical trailers for the films. Dolby Surround is offered as an alternative to DD 5.1; English and French are the spoken language options; and English and Spanish are the subtitles.

Parting Thoughts:
There is one thing I missed in Cronenberg's version of "The Fly" that was a hallmark of the 1958 production. Namely, I missed that little fly caught in the cobweb at the end of the earlier film. You remember, the one with the human head that's crying out, "Help me, help me." Alas, some things will just never be the same.


Film Value