The Fly should be taught in film schools. It is one of the best examples of a remake that manages to surpass the original in almost every way. David Cronenberg took the Vincent Price campfest and turned it into part science fiction shocker, part monster movie, and part human drama. The film pushed Cronenberg into the mainstream and turned Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis into Hollywood's biggest power couple of the day. Even today, its impressive and Oscar winning makeup effects still have the power to shock and scare.
Jeff Goldblum stars as Seth Brundle, a rogue scientist sitting on the discovery of the century. At an event, Seth, perhaps a little drunk, blabs about it to Veronica (Geena Davis), an attractive reporter, and convinces her to come back to his lab to see it. Coincidentally, his lab is located in his expansive loft, located in the warehouse district. When Veronica sees the condition of the place, she makes a move to leave. Seth convinces her to stay, and shows her two bizarre looking pods that she jokingly refers to as phone booths. But her sarcastic veneer falls away when Seth places one of her stockings into the first pod, makes some calculations on a computer, and teleports it to the second. Yes, Seth has discovered the secret of matter teleportation.
Veronica, understandably intrigued, spends more time with Seth, and the two begin to fall in love. Seth, meanwhile, is vexed by a particular problem. While he can transfer inanimate objects without problem, anytime he tries to teleport something organic, the results are disastrous. But a breakthrough excites Seth so much that, throwing caution to the wind, he teleports himself. At first, he feels free, as if the process has cleared his mind and his body. But Veronica starts noticing disturbing trends. Seth becomes agitated, eating way too much sugar, and growing coarse, unnatural hairs. Finally even Seth cannot ignore the changes, and makes a startling discovery: When he teleported, a fly got into the chamber. The computer, unable to discern two separate biological entities, merged the two. And now the fly is growing, putting Seth through a metamorphosis he never thought possible.
The Fly is the perfect material for David Cronenberg. His career up to that point revolved around bizarre transformations that forever changed the lives of his characters. The film prior to this, Videodrome, was a phantasmagoria of mutation as induced by electronic signal. The Fly ups the ante with the makeup effects, while toning down the surreal overtones. This, along with the familiarity of the story, helped commercialize the piece and make it acceptable for mainstream audiences.
Jeff Goldblum's performance is surprisingly nuanced as he turns from Seth into what he dubs "Brundlefly." It's almost like the makeup emancipates him from his normal mannerisms (which are on full display early on in the film), letting him run free as Brundlefly, free to terrorize Veronica. Geena Davis is at her best when she's trying to sympathize with Brundlefly, no matter how grotesque or inhuman he might become. Her compassion is born out of concern, which forces her to overcome her disgust. But eventually he becomes so alien that even she can't bear to be near him anymore.
The heart of The Fly is in its drama. It's a tragedy, not of science, but of love. Veronica does earnestly fall for Brundle, but Brundle never loves her as much as he loves his work. It's an old story, but one with a decided twist. Brundle's metamorphosis becomes a metaphor for AIDS (an especially topical subject, given the time periods). But even more than that, it's a symbol for a relationship gone sour. There's a scene where Brundle, feeling slighted by Veronica, picks up a girl at a bar. Not even caring who she is, he takes her to his place. They're interrupted by Veronica, who warns the girl, "Be afraid, be very afraid." In the context of the movie, she's referring to his change. In the greater scheme of things, she's issuing a warning that this is a man who has become spoiled, a man who is violent and moody. The fact that he's part fly doesn't even need to enter into it.
Of course, once he does, the effect is remarkable. The makeup won an Oscar, and deservedly so. Brundlefly, especially in the later stages, is chilling. Cronenberg exploded the idea behind the original concept, turning the cheesy costume of the the Vincent Price flick into a truly disturbing movie monster. The effects, all practical, still hold up today, looking as convincing now as they did then. Much like the film itself, they still have the power to shock and amaze.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Fox presents The Fly in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in an AVC-encoded 1080p transfer. The benefits of this HD transfer are subtle, but as you become accustomed to them, more noticeable. The detail and black levels aren't stellar, but they're not awful. The real benefits come in the lack of artifacts and better sense of depth. The transfer does feel more like film, with a thin layer of grain permeating the image. The color balance and saturation are also very nice, with an image that exhibits no color bleeding. Some shots look better than others, but this is the best The Fly has looked on home video to date.
Fox offers a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track for The Fly. While I'm not able to hear the full lossless track (supposedly the Playstation 3 is getting a firmware update in January to allow full decoding of DTS-HD MA), I don't think that The Fly is going to get much benefit from the upgrade. Aside from the outstanding score, which gets some nice coverage from all of the speakers, the mix is not very active. Moreover, the age of the recordings is showing, with noticeable hiss during some of the dialogue. While not exactly subpar, the audio track is less than impressive.
Not only has Fox ported over all of the special features from the 2-disc collector's edition DVD set, but they've added a few extra ones on top. None of the special features are in high definition, but the quantity and quality of what we do get more than makes up for it.
- Commentary by Writer/Director David Cronenberg: David Cronenberg is one of my favorite filmmakers, and his commentaries are always some of the most interesting and insightful that you will ever find. His comments on The Fly are as good as you can find. Sure, he has the standard production stories, but he's at his best when he's talking about the concepts that inform the piece. Always thoughtful, Cronenberg's commentary will keep you thinking even after it's over.
- Trivia Track: A Blu-ray exclusive, this BD-J enhancement flashes interesting factoids on the screen as the film runs.
- Flyswatter Game: For some reason, Fox insists on putting some silly BD-J game on most of their Blu-rays. This one has you swatting or zapping a fly that buzzes around on the screen as the film plays. Not fun and actually annoying.
- Fear of the Flesh: A thoroughly in-depth documentary, this feature runs over two hours and covers everything you could ever want to know about The Fly. Split into three sections ("Larva" for pre-production, "Pupa" for the shoot, and "Metamorphosis" for post), the doc combines new interviews, vintage interviews, on set footage, test footage, and clips from the film to create a completely engrossing retrospective. Between this and the Cronenberg commentary, this disc already has a better feature set than most.
- The Brundle Museum of Natural History: Make-up and Creature Designer Chris Walas takes a visit to historian and collector Rob Burns' house, which is chock full of models and props from The Fly. Walas and Burns, who are friends, look at the items and discuss a lot of the history behind them. A lot of fun.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes: A collection of deleted and extended scenes, some more interesting than others. In particular, the "Cat/Monkey" scene has become somewhat infamous since the film's release and it's nice to finally see it here. These are taken from low quality sources, so they look even worse than most of the footage.
- Test Footage: Some early footage used to test out ideas that would be used in the final film. The best of these is called "Cronenfly," which has Cronenberg himself hopping around the set that would become Brundle's apartment.
- Written Works: A ton of stuff here. George Langelaan's short story (originally published in Playboy),Charles Edward Pogue's original script, and David Cronenberg's pass at the screenplay. In addition, we get three articles. The first is an '86 write up from Cinefex, and two more from American Cinematographer. Everything here is worth reading, and the graphical representation on screen is easy on the eyes.
- Promotional Materials: There's even more here, with a vintage featurette, a one sheet and lobby card gallery, and TV spots and trailers for not just The Fly, but also its sequels and the original films.
- Search Index: Another Blu-ray exclusive, this features a collection of words that you can search alphabetically, and when you click on one, it will give you a list of every scene where it occurs. To explain, if you search for "Brundlefly," it will list every scene with Brundlefly, and you can watch selected scenes or all of them.
The Fly is not just a stellar remake, but an excellent film in its own right. It was one of David Cronenberg's biggest hits, and helped put him on the map with mainstream audiences. The Blu-ray has picture and sound that offer improvements over the DVD, but the real draw is the stellar collection of top-notch bonus materials. This disc has everything the DVD has plus new content on top, which makes The Fly an attractive disc. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.