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Review: The Fly



Let’s talk about the Fly. Specifically, let’s talk about the 1986 remake by David Cronenberg, rather than the original B-movie starring Vincent Price. The Fly is one of those rare few examples of a remake done right. Exceptionally right. In fact, one could even say it even exceeds the original! The Fly had a bit of a troubled origin, and it took a few years for the project to get off the ground. David Cronenberg did not initially get involved with the film because he was working on Total Recall at the time. When it came time to cast the leads; various actors turned down the role of Brundle because they were skeptical about the amount of makeup and prosthetics involved. Eventually, Jeff Goldblum was cast as the titular creature. Fox executives were skeptical at the time since Goldblum was not yet a huge star, but they allowed Cronenberg to take his gamble. Goldblum’s then-girlfriend, Geena Davis, was cast Veronica Quaife, Brundle’s love interest. Though it seems like casting a real-life couple in the lead roles could invite all sorts of problems; in this case it actually works in the film’s favor. More on that later.

Davis’ character, Veronica (a reporter), meets the nerdy and eccentric scientist Seth Brundle at a science convention. He promises her he has an invention that will change the world forever, and invites her to observe his progress in exchange for exclusive rights to the story. Brundle has invented a teleportation device not unlike the transporters on Star Trek. The first few attempts at transporting matter do not go over very well, so Brundle reprograms the teleporter. After a seemingly successful test with a baboon; Brundle wants to celebrate with a romantic outing. But there’s a misunderstanding and he thinks Veronica has gone back to her former lover and editor, Stathis Borans. Feeling dejected, Brundle decides to use the telepod himself; and it is apparently successful.

Brundle initially thinks the teleporter has changed him for the better. He develops impressive strength, athletic abilities, and sexual prowess. But then things very quickly begin to go wrong. He sleeps with Tawny, a girl he met at the bar, and repeatedly tries to teleport a very unwilling Veronica. Eventually, Brundle is forced to realize that things are going horribly wrong: he develops a deformed appearance, and his body parts begin to fall off. Over time, he begins to look less and less human and more like some misshapen creature. Veronica later finds out she’s pregnant with Brundle’s baby, which could quite possibly be mutated as well. She doesn’t initially tell him because she isn’t sure how to break the news, and goes to get an abortion.

At the clinic, however, Brundle ‘rescues’ her and takes her back to the lab. Brundle reveals he wants to teleport her so that she, him, and the baby will form a combined being- the ‘ultimate family’. Just as he is about to do so, his face and jaw melt off to reveal a horrifying, grotesque man-fly hybrid. Brundle- now the Brundlefly- enters the telepod and emerges even more deformed; fused with broken pieces of the machine. Veronica blasts the creature’s head off with a shotgun, ending its suffering. The film abruptly ends there.

A number of epilogues were shot: Veronica keeping the baby, Veronica getting pregnant by Stathis and having a dream about a butterfly baby, etc. But test audiences did not react well to these endings, and they were scrapped. There’s also an infamous deleted scene involving Brundle fusing a baboon with a cat, and murdering the resultant hybrid creature. Again, audiences did not respond well to this scene because they thought it was gratuitously cruel rather than a foreshadowing to the climax. Because the film was such a critical and financial success; a sequel was perhaps inevitable. Unfortunately, Cronenberg did not direct it, and I don’t really consider it canon anyway. Perhaps I’ll talk about the sequel another time.

Now that I’ve given an overview of the film and its plot, let’s talk about the quality of the film itself. For a movie produced in 1986, the Fly still holds up beautifully. The makeup and practical effects are astonishing. You really empathize with Goldblum and Davis as they struggle through this nightmare; particularly for his character, Brundle, as he becomes less and less human. I think it helps that Goldblum and Davis were a real-life couple at the time; it makes their characters’ relationship seem more believable and real. At the time, there was a lot of speculation that the film was a metaphor for a couple affected by AIDS. Cronenberg always refuted this, saying it was about the general process of aging, disease, and death. It’s an inevitable process that affects us all. Again, I think that’s what helps make this such a powerful movie. It’s thought-provoking and heartbreaking, which isn’t something you can say about a lot of usual horror films.

One of the things about this film that continues to affect me is the ending. It’s simply tragic. I do think ending it on that note was the right thing to do; and that adding in one of the epilogues would have felt awkward and shoehorned. But still. The monster that was Veronica’s lover is dead; but the fate of her unborn baby is left open-ended.

Again, assuming you don’t take the sequel as canon, it really gives the viewer a lot of freedom to speculate what happens next. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But again, you really come to care about Veronica and Brundle over the course of the film, and the ending is nothing short of heartbreaking. The Fly really is one of the best horror films in recent years, and I really do wish there were more like it. It’s a wonderful, tragic film and one I highly recommend.
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