Critics (myself included) often harp on Hollywood's seemingly endless obsession with remakes, but that's only because we tend to forget the good ones. Sure, the vast majority of "re-imaginings" are either cynical cash-ins on superior originals or well-meaning but misguided homages, but every once in a while, a filmmaker comes along who finds a way to breathe new life into an old chestnut. Such was the case with 'The Fly,' David Cronenberg's 1986 update of the original 1958 Vincent Price chiller, which is not only a fitting tribute to its source but superior to it in almost every way.
Written by Charles Edward Pogue ('Psycho III,' 'Dragonheart'), the 1986 version of 'The Fly' takes only the basic set-up of the original and spins a whole new (and far scarier) story. Goldblum stars Seth Brundle, an idealistic if eccentric scientist obsessed with perfecting teleportation. After a chance meeting at a party, he falls for ambitious journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), and they soon begin a passionate romance. Veronica starts to document Seth's progress, until a teleporting experiment goes horribly wrong, and Seth inadvertently fuses his genetic DNA with a housefly. At first, he seems normal -- but changes gradually begin to occur. As Seth battles the warring genetics inside him, Veronica can only sit by and watch helplessly as his body and mind disintegrate.
"The Fly' works on every level intended. It's a great piece of paranoid science fiction, it's a genuinely horrifying tale of the body in revolt, and -- most miraculously of all -- it's a moving and sexy adult love story. Cronenberg is able to achieve such a successful frisson of elements because he innately understands that no matter how fantastical some elements of his story may be, the best horror films are those that are firmly rooted in reality. Even if we don't understand (or buy into) the nuts and bolts of the teleportation, we do believe in the character of Seth Brundle. Ultimately, the technology is not important to Cronenberg anyway -- it's just a vehicle to examine the erosion of compassion as the threat of death encroaches. That 'The Fly' ends on such a bleak note yet somehow remains romantically optimistic is some kind of minor miracle.
As impressive as Cronenberg's accomplishment on 'The Fly' is, the film would be nothing without Goldblum. It’s easily his greatest film performance, and quite frankly he should have earned Oscar attention for his efforts (unfortunately, like Christopher Walken's similarly fantastic performance in 1985's 'The Dead Zone' -- another underrated Cronenberg gem -- the Academy often turns up their noses at unabashed genre films). Although Goldblum at times appears to be on the verge of lapsing into his patented geeky shtick (hello, Ian Malcolm), instead he pulls out the heart and humanity of his character beyond just the dorky hair and bad suits. And with the help of some still-effective special make-up effects, he so completely inhabits the pitiful creature by the film's final scenes that it's truly gut-wrenching (and terrifying). The sublime brilliance of Goldblum's performance is that he finds the monstrous in the human, but never turns into a monster.
’The Fly’ is certainly David Cronenberg’s most accessible and commercial work, leading some of the director’s more hardcore fans to allege that it verges on a sell-out. I’m personally of the opinion that it ultimately comes off only as a savvy move, not a cynical cash-in. With 'The Fly,' Cronenberg just happened to find material perfectly suited to his visual sensibilities and thematic preoccupations -- that it attracted major box office would seem to be a happy accident. What's so wonderful and effective about 'The Fly' is that all the story elements are in place, the performances are perfect, and Cronenberg is able to masterfully brew them all together to create a powerful tonic of science, horror and romance. So why blame him? Genre films -- and remakes – just don't get much better than this.
'The Fly' comes to Blu-ray in a remastered 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As a big fan of the movie, I've owned it in several of its past video incarnations, including the most recent 2005 special edition DVD. While this Blu-ray edition doesn't look bad by any means, it doesn't look fantastic, either.
My biggest disappointment is that the source still shows its age. It's pretty clean aside from film grain typical of the period, and there is only a slight amount of dirt and blemishes, but the image just lacks pop -- blacks are solid, but contrast remains flat. Shadow delineation is also rarely better than average. Likewise, colors never leap off the screen, with even the most vibrant uses of reds and blues looking fairly ho-hum. Fleshtones, while generally accurate, don't reveal much detail, even in close-ups. Overall depth to the image is just fair, and I never felt like I was looking at a truly three-dimensional picture. The transfer is also generally soft and lacking in sharpness, though at least some of this is indicative of the source material. At least Fox has done a fine job with the encoding, as there’s no edge enhancement or apparent compression artifacts. Again, this one’s not awful – I just hoped for more of a high-def upgrade than this Blu-ray offers.
Fox offers up a nice enough DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) for 'The Fly,' even if the film's age prevents it from taking full advantage of the high-res format's capabilities.
'The Fly' isn't particularly aggressive, so envelopment is sporadic. The big effects moments (particularly the pod teleportations) send a few nice jolts to the rears, but that's about it. Atmosphere is limited to minor bleed in active crowd scenes (the opening party, the famous arm wrestling scene, etc.), although the terrific score by Howard Shore is nicely dispersed across the entire soundfield. Dynamics are pretty good for a 1986 flick, with a full sound to the upper ranges. Bass is flat, and dialogue also lacks distinction (especially deeper, hushed tones), although I never had to adjust the volume much. 'The Fly' sounds perfectly fine considering its age, but this track certainly doesn't "pop" like a more modern mix.
"The Fly' hit DVD back in 2005 in a fully-stocked two-disc special edition that featured just about everything a fan of the film could ask for. Happily Fox has not short-changed Blu-ray fans this time around, porting over every last one of the extras from that earlier package. Sadly, none of this material has been upgraded for HD (it's all 480p/i/MPEG-2 only), but it's such a comprehensive package that it’s hard to complain.
'The Fly' is a top-notch remake, and for my money is far superior to the campy original. It’s also certainly David Cronenberg's most accessible and entertaining picture. This Blu-ray release is a great deal for fans -- although I would have liked stronger video and audio, the supplement package alone is worth the price of admission. Even if you already own the previous DVD release, this Blu-ray is worth picking up.