I kicked off my transformation month with the remake of the classic Universal Monsters film, The Wolfman. This week I revisit another sci-fi classic take on the subject of transformation. This is my Sunday with… The Fly.
Release Date: August 15, 1986
Run Time: 96 Minutes
Starring: Jeff Goldblum
Director: David Cronenberg
Rob’s Score: 8/10
“There was an old lady who swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die.” – Seth
The Fly opens up mid conversation between scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) and reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) at a meet and greet. The two are discussing Brundle’s current project and he is hesitant to go into detail about it with the prying ears of the scientific community around him. This leads Brundle to brining Quaife to a warehouse that he uses as both a home and a lab. Once there Brundle uncovers three pod shaped devices and a large command computer in the center of the room. Brundle explains that he can use these devices to transport inanimate objects from one to the other. He uses one of Veronica’s stockings as an example. After Seth pleads with Veronica to not release the information he has shared with her, Veronica goes to her editor and ex-lover Stathis Borans (John Getz). Borans however treats the revelation as a prank and doesn’t take it seriously, much to Seth’s piece of mind. Seth and Veronica meet up again, and Seth promises to allow Victoria to record his progress and eventually release a book that ends with his real final goal transporting humans with the pods. When they return to the lab they attempt to transport a baboon, however the process turns the baboon inside out. The process does not take into account living flesh. Shortly after Seth and Veronica enter into a relationship, and after their first sexual encounter, Seth is inspired to fix the program that makes it capable of handling living skin. After the alterations are made they successfully transport the baboon from one pod to the next seemingly unharmed. Mid celebration over his success Veronica leaves to confront her editor Borans. Drunk and jealous Seth decides not to wait and puts himself into the pod; however a fly enters the pod with him. He exits the pod feeling great, and soon realizes that he feels “enhanced” in regards to everything from his strength, sexual appetite, and even attitude. Veronica does not like these changes and fears what Seth has become. As time goes on, the real question becomes what is Seth becoming? The Fly is a remake of the 1958 original, starring Vincent Price. Both versions were based on the 1957 story by George Langelaan.
When we discuss movie monsters, the typical formula dictates that a person changes into a monster and is not in control of their actions, or the person is struggling to keep the monster at bay (i.e. The Wolfman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). However, The Fly is truly unique in the fact that Seth Brundle is still himself and for the most part in control mentally. Seth is fully aware of what is happening to him, however he does not fear it as he is actually welcoming it. Seth views this as an amazing advancement in the scientific world. The process doesn’t destroy his mind or make him insane; he is embracing his ever changing physical state. The whole idea of this is in thought an empowering one that many people can relate too. The theme of physical change and its effect on our mentality is a big one through this film. At the beginning Seth is eccentric but he is not self-absorbed. After his “enhancement” everything including his attitude about himself changes. He has more confidence, which for a little while at least improves his social life. Sex is another big theme of the film as we can gauge Seth’s personality through his encounters. At the beginning he is more or less unassuming, then his relationship with Veronica blossoms and he portrays the typical relationship happiness and tropes. After his experience he is no longer satisfied with Veronica and goes out searching for more sexual partners. This is something that speaks to most males especially of the high school age. (If you’re a male, you know you and your friends have had these talks after a few brews, don’t lie!) Seth however goes through this process in reverse, going from steady relationship to womanizing, whereas when we get older we usually strive for a lasting relationship. These little plot points make The Fly deeper on levels aside from the horrible transformation we see on the screen.
There are many things that I enjoyed about The Fly, first of which was the pacing. There is no wasted movement in this film, almost to a fault! We enter the film mid conversation between the two main characters, and it goes from there. Within the first five minutes of the film we already know the plot that is ahead of us, and that was a genius decision. The film doesn’t waste time on background or how we got to this point as it starts with everything we need to know; the rest being filled in as the adventure unfolds. The same goes for the climax of the film. After the final battle, the movie ends. We do not get to see the after effects or consequences of Seth’s experiment. Borans is still lying on the floor most likely going to die, and Veronica still has the decision of what to do not only with the baby, but the recordings she has done about the events. David Cronenberg delivered a film that perfectly told the story in front of us and wasted no time going beyond that, and I personally loved that! (I know the collector’s edition has deleted and extended scenes.) As much as I loved the pacing I can see it turning people off. There are large lapses in time when Seth is transforming that we just don’t see in the theatrical version. Little things could be nitpicked, however the film works perfectly with the pacing decisions that were made.
The real standout feature of the film is most definitely the effects. They were heralded when the film was first released and they still hold up when compared to today’s over used CGI effects. (Can you tell which method I prefer?) The team led by Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis created the different stages of Seth’s transformation. The transformation was inspired by the process of aging and there are awesome little details as Seth changes throughout the film, including losing teeth, and hair, almost having his human features deteriorate. Aside from the monster effects, the film shines in the gore departmen. My favorite being the end fight between Seth and Borans, where Borans has his hand and foot burned off by Seth’s digestive acids. It is an amazing scene that my description does not do justice too! The effects of Seth eating are also great. Walas and Dupuis’ work landed them an academy award win for makeup, and it was well deserved.
The Fly sported a small cast, another great decision by David Cronenberg. Jeff Goldblum landed the lead and absolutely impressed. He beautifully portrayed the eccentricities of Seth, as well as his dedication and constant fascination with what was happening to him. Goldblum was even nominated for and won a Saturn award for best actor, again well deserved. Geena Davis played Veronica, and I actually did not quite connect with her at first. As the film went on Davis fell more into the character. John Getz rounds the main cast out and gave a solid performance. He toed the line between jealous ex, editor and eventual savior. His character truly comes full circle. Howard Shore was in charge of the score, and its large atmospheric sounds performed by the London Philharmonic fits perfectly with the story in front of us.
Upon its release in 1986, The Fly was a critical and commercial success, becoming Cronenberg’s most financially successful film thus far. It is beloved for its effects as well as Goldblum’s performance. It is one of the most beloved science fiction films of all time, and has inspired a sequel (directed by Chris Walas himself) as well as a five run comic series. Numerous spin offs and sequels have been rumored for years, as well as Cronenberg himself expressing interest in revisiting the story, however the project has not gained traction. Until then, this remake of The Fly is a must watch.