THE FLY (1986)
***½/**** Image A Sound B
starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz
screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg
directed by David Cronenberg
The Fly II (1989)
*/**** Image B- Sound B
starring Eric Stoltz, Daphne Zuniga, Lee Richardson, Harley Cross
screenplay by Mick Garris and Jim & Ken Wheat and Frank Darabont
directed by Chris Walas
by Vincent Suarez
"Long live the new flesh." -- Max Renn, David Cronenberg's Videodrome (1983)
"I must not know enough about the flesh. I've got to learn more." -- Seth Brundle, David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986)
"I want it out of my body ... now!" -- Veronica Quaife, David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986)
SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. David Cronenberg's most memorable and profound films are a unique blend of fascination, celebration, inquisitiveness, and horror with regard to the possibilities of the flesh. Hollywood's most memorable and profound monster movies (Bride of Frankenstein, King Kong (1933), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)) are a similarly mystical mingling of romance, repulsion, and overwhelming sympathy with regard to the creature. It's no wonder, then, that Cronenberg's The Fly is essentially the genetic splicing of his trademark obsessions with these hallowed genre conventions. In making the material his own, the pathos generated by Cronenberg's fusion of elements raises the film's status from mere remake of the campy 1958 original to masterpiece.
In true geek fashion, brilliant-but-lonely scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) initiates his downward spiral by trying to impress a girl, journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), with his invention. Inspired by his easily-induced motion sickness, Brundle has developed a way to instantly teleport objects through space with the use of two telepods, one for sending and the other for receiving. One problem: the device works with inanimate objects only.
As their romance develops, and in conjunction with what is presumably Brundle's sexual awakening, his discovery of the pleasures of the flesh are paralleled by his exploration of its mysteries; a casual post-sex comment by Veronica sparks Seth's realization that his computer must be taught to "be excited by the flesh" in order to properly disintegrate and then reintegrate it during teleportation. Brundle succeeds but, in a jealous rage over Veronica's apparent infidelity with editor Stathis Borans (John Getz), he hastily attempts to teleport himself without realizing that a fly has joined him for the ride.
With the pod's two occupants having been genetically fused, Cronenberg's particular brand of biological horror ensues. As Seth gradually deteriorates and metamorphoses into a fly, what follows is a series of moments that superficially classify as "gross-outs." However, Brundle's character is so richly drawn, so fiercely decent, contemplative, and introspective, and so marvelously performed by Goldblum (through increasingly thick layers of latex that he somehow manages to penetrate), "Brundlefly" becomes the most heartbreaking movie monster since the genre's Golden Age of the 1930s.
Contributing to this overwhelming sense of tragedy is the genuine love that blossoms between Seth and Veronica. Neither Davis nor Goldblum have ever been better (Cronenberg's success with actors is unfairly overlooked in favor of the more graphic qualities of his films, despite Jeremy Irons's acknowledgment of the director's influence while accepting his Oscar for Reversal of Fortune, an award more befitting his achievement in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers), and their relationship not only propels the narrative, it shapes the viewer's emotions as well. Just when the remarkable make-up and special effects threaten to dictate our response to the creature, Veronica steps in to reorient our perspective and help maintain our appreciation of, and feelings for, Seth's experience.
The events which set up the third act of The Fly have resonances that both enrich the film and extend beyond it. Upon learning that Veronica is pregnant with his baby, Seth aborts her abortion attempt and hatches a plan to fuse himself, Veronica, and their unborn child. Not only is this a painfully horrific yet endearing effort to maintain Seth's humanity, and his devotion to being "the ultimate family," it also hints at the quintessential Cronenbergian mutated lifeform, ripe with opportunities for philosophical and biological investigation and interpretation. Veronica's pregnancy allows, too, for an effective dream sequence in which Cronenberg plays the gynecologist who delivers her ghastly offspring--a witty foreshadowing of his next project, Dead Ringers, featuring Irons as co-dependent twin gynecologists. And, of course, this subplot provides the mechanism for the sequel.
In nearly every way, The Fly II is literally the bastard child of its predecessor: aimless, derivative, reliant upon the absent parent for its identity and structure, yet succeeding only at being a pale imitation. Chris Walas, who had so brilliantly created and designed "Brundlefly," demonstrates that he unfortunately learned little in the way of directing from his collaborations with Cronenberg (he also worked on Scanners). A virtual carbon-copy of the original, the only real divergences between The Fly and The Fly II are either mandated by its premise or serve to make literal the many subtleties of Cronenberg's film.
It seems that Bartok Industries, the faceless firm that bankrolled Seth's experiments, has taken Veronica's baby (she died in childbirth) in the hopes of having him resurrect his father's research. Martin Brundle (Eric Stoltz, delivering a noble performance in a thankless role), under the watchful eye of Bartok (Lee Richardson) and his medical associates, grows and learns at a laughably accelerated rate, to the point where he looks and acts like a brilliant young adult when he is really only five years old. His growth conveniently levels off when his looks are suitable for him to enter a relationship with Beth (Daphne Zuniga), a pretty young Bartok researcher with whom he engages in an affair similar to that of his parents, but with none of its charm or chemistry.
A major weakness is that Bartok's interest in Brundle's research is never clearly articulated. It seems that Bartok is more interested in the telepods' capabilities as a gene-splicer (vague and ridiculous notions like putting to an end the need for surgery with incisions are proclaimed loudly when, in fact, they seem to have no relation to the project at hand), yet Martin spends his time trying to once again perfect teleportation. Eventually, Martin's body begins to deteriorate as had his father's. This coincides with his learning that Bartok has been less than honest about both his health, and the nature of the experiments happening throughout the facility. Essentially invalidating the personal (and inherently more powerful) aspects of Seth's plight, Martin uses his physical condition to wreak havoc and vengeance upon Bartok. Trust me, it's not nearly as exciting as it sounds; I fell asleep during the film twice, on two separate viewings.
The decline in quality from one film to the next is oddly manifested also in the attributes of this "double feature" DVD from Fox. Each film is presented on alternate sides of the disc, and each sports a pleasing 16x9 widescreen transfer (approximately 1.85:1 in the case of both The Fly and The Fly II) and decently remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. But The Fly outdoes the sequel in both respects, unusually so since more recent films tend to look and sound better.
The Fly looks and sounds terrific. The image is sharp and detailed, with enough grain to remind one of its celluloid origins but not enough to be distracting. Only occasionally does the film show its age, with a slightly faded appearance here or there (mostly during the few brightly-lit outdoor scenes), but for the most part the colors are rich and saturated, and the disc really supports the image when its needed most. Thankfully, the soundtrack successfully avoids the potential pitfalls of 5.1 remixes for films not originally recorded in the 5.1 format, namely hollow-sounding dialogue and excessive (often inappropriate) use of the surround channel.
This is as good a 5.1 soundtrack as you're going to find for a mid-'80s film (this side of Lucas or Spielberg), with delicately balanced dialogue, exceptional directionality across all speakers, and sufficient bass, enhancing both Howard Shore's driving score and the film's exquisite sound design. The Fly II, however, does not fare so well. The image occasionally sparkles, but more frequently it is hazy and rather soft, exhibiting more than a pleasing trace of grain. The soundtrack also suffers, sounding tinny at times; it only really sounds good during the special effects sequences.
Each film is preceded by a knockout promotional "trailer" for Fox DVDs, which, although not anamorphic, has demo-quality audio-visuals. (Included are tantalizing glimpses of the DVD incarnations of the upcoming X-Men and Anna and the King , as well as the theatrically yet-to-be released remake of Bedazzled.) Each film is accompanied by attractively designed, static menus. The disc additionally includes links to the trailers for all six films within Fox's three recent "double feature" releases: The Fly & The Fly II, The Fly (1958) & Return of the Fly, and Fantastic Voyage & Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
The trailers are all flat and in their original sound format (2.0 stereo for the recent films, mono for the older ones), but they are a treat to behold. In particular, the trailers for the four "Fly" films are endlessly fascinating in how they echo one another (witness the similarities between the opening moments of the trailer for either sequel), and in the ways in which the trailers often reference the 1958 film (the trailer for the 1986 version, for example, concludes with the final words spoken in the original film). Plus, the glimpses of Vincent Price are alone worth the inclusion of the trailers for the earlier pair of films. Though sparse on extras, this disc is long on quality when it comes to the exemplary presentation of Cronenberg's The Fly. The presentation of The Fly II will not disappoint its fans, but it's best to pick this one up for the contents of side A, and use side B as a fly swatter. Originally published: September 12, 2000.