There can be little doubt that writer-director David Cronenberg marches to his own drummer. Just look at a few of the bizarre things he's made over the years: "Scanners" (1981), "Videodrome" (1983), "Dead Ringers" (1988), "Naked Lunch" (1991), "M. Butterfly" (1993), "Crash" (1996), "eXistenZ" (1999), "Spider" (2002), "A History of Violence" (2005).
Yet it's "The Fly" from 1986 that is probably his biggest commercial success as well as his biggest artistic accomplishment. "The Fly" is really quite a good film, which may be why Fox studios decided to reissue it on DVD in a special, two-disc Collector's Edition. Let's start with the film.
Cronenberg's "The Fly" is, of course, a remake of the old 1958 flick with David Hedison and Vincent Price so beloved of horror fans. Remaking a classic is always risky business, but Cronenberg's new version triumphs on almost every level, providing, of course, that you like horror movies and can accept their often far-fetched premises. But with Cronenberg you get more than a mere horror story, anyhow. His "Fly" is also an affecting love story as well as a psychological study in mental (and physical) decay.
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. Yet, can you think of another actor who has been in as many mega-hit supernatural movies as he has--"Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "The Fly," "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 anybody in Hollywood without attaining superstar status. Maybe it's because so many of the films he's in are so filled with special effects that 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 movingly convincing in his personality transformation from the mild-mannered Seth to 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 ghastly monster on the loose, which, thank heaven, he doesn't. Leave that to lesser directors. Instead, he opts for pretty much the same ending the 1958 film had, although more gross and horrifying as well as more touching.
Unfortunately, the ending, although poignant, 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, while clinging to old precepts. It may be modern, but it is still Cronenberg's retelling of "Frankenstein"; and like the old Mary Shelley classic, it raises the same question: If Man is going to go messing around with Nature, shouldn't Man be ready for the possibly dire consequences? Science beware.
The image is much as before but perhaps a touch sharper, clearer, and more natural. The colors are bright, strong, and deep, maybe a tad dark but that only reinforces the dark tone of the film. The anamorphic widescreen image ratio measures just slightly less than its 1.85:1 theatrical dimensions and nicely fills out a 16x9 television. There's little to complain about here.
Fox audio engineers have remixed the movie's stereo soundtrack in multichannel and made it available in Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 surround. In the DD 5.1, the sound can be harsh and forward at louder levels but otherwise conveys a good front-channel stereo spread, though providing minimal rear-channel information.
Disc one includes the feature presentation; thirty-six scene selections, but no chapter insert; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; and English and Spanish subtitles. The main bonus item on the disc is an audio commentary by David Cronenberg that is worth a listen. He's quite serious and very focused. His comments never stray from the film and are most informative and insightful, more so than many such directors' notes. His initial comments on Goldblum and Davis, for example, who were going to together at the time of the film's production, are more in depth than one would expect. Furthermore, he tells us throughout his commentary that he wanted to avoid the crude scientific errors of the original "Fly." He goes on later to say that he wanted to show in his new version of the story an upside to being an insect, because just having the head of a fly as in the old movie had no advantage except on Halloween. So he liked the idea of Brundle acquiring greater strength, greater mental and physical agility, and greater sexual potency. Then he ends by summarizing what he sees as the film's major themes and messages. Fair enough. I wish more directors were as perceptive and forthcoming in their commentaries as Cronenberg is in this one.
Incidentally, I liked the little fly buzzing around the opening warning screen as well as the discs' various menu screens. Clever gimmick.
Disc two includes all the expected extras we find in special editions, and more. Let's start with the "more." Namely, we get an all-new documentary, "Fear of the Flesh: The Making of The Fly," covering the three stages of "The Fly" production (labeled "Larva," "Pupa," and "Metamorphosis"). It's an amazing two hours and forty-two minutes long and divided into ten chapters, counting its branching clips (which can also be viewed separately). The documentary contains comments from everyone involved with the production with the odd exception of Cronenberg himself. In addition, there is "The Brundle Museum of Natural History," wherein creature-effects designer Chris Walas guides us on a tour of design concepts and special-effects materials housed in the Bob Burns collection.
Then, we get five fairly lengthy deleted and extended scenes, all of them with storyboard and script comparisons, one in script form only, which include a never-before-seen alternate ending. Next, are five segments of test footage (makeup and visual effects), followed by a mountain of text from written works, including George Langelaan's original short story, Charles Edward Pogue's original screenplay, David Cronenberg's screenplay rewrite, plus interactive articles (stills with video clips) from "Cinefex" and "American Cinematographer" magazines.
The final section of extras contains two promotional featurettes--an electronic press kit and a profile of David Cronenberg; a lobby-card gallery; still photo galleries for publicity, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and special effects; and original teasers, trailers, and TV spots for the new "Fly," the original "Fly," "Return of the Fly," and "The Fly II." It is an impressive assemblage of bonus materials.
There is still one thing I missed in Cronenberg's version of "The Fly," however, 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.