David Cronenberg, well where do you start with this man? In his early career teenagers, including myself, flocked to see his latest flick wondering what new ways he had dreamed up to freak us all out. Another exploding head shot, another external womb being ripped open with teeth perhaps? Without a doubt he was the most visceral director of the late 70s and early 80s and whilst this style of picture is adequate for a short period of your life ultimately it gets all too repetitive and boring.
However it was welcomed when Cronenberg released The Dead Zone because it showed for the first time that perhaps there was more to this director than just blood and guts. The Fly seemed a perfect vehicle for this constant themes of body horror and everyone hoped that he took what he had learned from The Dead Zone and amalgamated it to his earlier truly horrific titles.
Since a small child Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) has always suffered from travel sickness and necessity being the mother of all invention he decides the best way to never experience these symptoms again is to invent devices which will allow teleportation from one place to another. He's a genius of a man and in time his dreams are realised, he's now ready for final tests and to let the world know about his great discovery.
To these ends he enlists the help of Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), a reporter for Particle magazine. It will be her job to monitor and record the progression, the highs and the lows of Brundle's journey as his invention nears completion. Their relationship develops into something more than a professional one and one night, slightly down, and nearing the completion of his tests Brundle decides to test his new invention on the ultimate subject; himself. He enters the telepod but unfortunately does not notice a small fly enter the chamber which him. On his exit from the recipient telepod only Brundle emerges, the fly is nowhere to be seen. It has in fact been fused at a genetic level and it's not only a matter of time before Brundle starts to adopt these genes into his own.
Cronenberg was drafted into this project after Stuart Cornfeld's (producer) original choice Robert Bierman had to withdraw due to a family tragedy. Once onboard though Cronenberg took the original screenplay by Charles Pogue and ultimately made it his own. Pogue's screenplay was more akin to the original 1958 version which in itself was more like the original short story by George Langelaan. Ultimately though without a shadow of doubt Cronenberg improved that screenplay and the end result is a film which still to this day stands up against the rest of them.
The reason behind this success though is the fact that The Fly can be regarded more as a love story, an interaction between two people, the tragedy which befalls them and the ultimate feeling of powerlessness as the situation deteriorates. Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis were in a relationship at the time and they are perfectly cast as the budding lovers embarking on this new adventure. The chemistry between the two of them is one of the best on I have seen on screen, you can certainly see the twinkle in thier eyes as they look and act off against each other.
It is this love story though that raises The Fly from mediocrity; to a film which stands the test of time and this is a credit to the initial writing then direction of Cronenberg himself. For me this is the stepping stone in his work, the piece which shows he had matured somewhat and realised that the characters within a film are the main stay, not the blood and gore. The couple are a joy to watch in the early part of their relationship, young and exciting, playful with one another. As the situation deteriorates into one they cannot control you can plainly see the agony and pain in Davis' face as she comes to terms with her new lover's predicament. It is as if she is actually looking at Goldblum and not Brundle when she sees the scientist on his downward journey into oblivion.
Goldblum himself has never been better, and this is a role he has played all too often since that time. His initial portrayal of the geeky, isolated scientist comes across well with a sense of innocence and naivety. It is though his storming performance as his body is consumed by alien genes that he will be remembered for. The twitches he develops, the anger plainly showing in his body movements; anger at himself and anger eventually at the outside world. Like Frankenstein's creature before him the viewer cannot feel anything other than pity for what he ultimately becomes, as he's lost within himself, lost to the world and more importantly lost to the one woman he has ever loved. Continually 'monsters' in our filmic past have addressed this concept of pathos, The Frankenstein creature taunted and abused for how he looks, and something completely out with his control. Through the ages the werewolf from Jon Chaney Jr in the 1941 The Wolf Man through to the excellent Landis production of American in Werewolf and the character of David Kessler; both are horrific creatures ripping the very souls from their victims and yet we feel for the perpetrator and their own tormented plight.
Where the earlier version of the film simply had an enlarged fly head and one limb stuck on the scientists body (interesting that he is still able to function seeing his brain was attached to his now small head on a fly's body) here we see Brundle slowly change as his and the fly's genes slowly mutate into something new. An allegory for the AIDS or cancer generation no doubt but it allowed Cronenberg to fully explore his own passion for ultimate body horror; how one reacts and what one does when your own body is fighting so strongly against your mind and your natural instincts. Make up for this piece is exemplary for its time and has more weight and depth to something which now would be achieved with copious amounts of CGI. Chris Walas and Stephen Dupuis took away an Oscar for their work and it was so deserved. The decay as Brundle falls apart, as his body changes from human to mutant is still shocking and still to this day holds its own against other transformations which have since been on screen. But it's really not just the make-up which should have been recognised, it's just that the awards in 1987 were awash with a number of excellent films form the past year; Platoon, Blue Velvet, Salvador, Mona Lisa and Aliens to name but a few.
Cronenberg has had an illustrious career but this has to be regarded as one of his best works, he took a fledgling storyline and padded it out to enable the audience not to simply just watch the film but empathise with the main characters involved and that's always some feat. His regular team made him proud that day with long term collaborator Howard Shore producing an aching track which in itself would make some members of the audience weep as it sums up the agony of our two main protagonists. Acting, special effects, make-up, set design are all excellent and this was a project were it all came together and in the end produced a work which has lasted well over the past two decades and will no doubt still be one which aficionados refer back to in the years that come.
I've always enjoyed Cronenberg's works and The Fly will always be highly recommended by me, even though the older I get I do have to cover my eyes a little at the Fly Vomit. It's one of the few remakes which eclipse the original by a country mile. You might say it's head and shoulders over the original 1958 offering.
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