Fox // 1986 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // November 9th, 2007
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The downside of this whole next-generation format war right now is that Fox, a Blu-ray exclusive studio, has a small handful of titles currently on the market. But the upside is that The Fly is one of them. The David Cronenberg film is known in many circles as a modern horror gem for genre enthusiasts, and now that it's out on Blu-ray, is it the bee's knees?
Charles Edward Pogue (Dragonheart) adapted the story from George Langelaan's story, which Cronenberg directs. It tells the tale of Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum, Nine Months), a scientist who is rapidly developing the power of teleportation with Veronica (Geena Davis, Tootsie) reporting on his progress. He transports steak, Veronica's stockings, then he moves to livelier fare, so a baboon is the next step. That rung passed, he decides on a human test. He decides to perform it himself, when a common housefly enters the "telepod" during the countdown, merging both of their respective DNA strings and sending Seth down a one-way elevator to hell.
It's nice to know that fate can sometimes work out for the better. Cronenberg was busy working on Total Recall before eventually being forced to pull out and work on The Fly, and providing several rewrites. And yeah, with Cronenberg films, you're going to get violence. Perhaps not gratuitous amounts of it, but it sure is fun when fingernails fall or get pulled off, and people's feet are vomited on before eaten. But what makes the film work is that it successfully mixes the Cronenberg trademark horror with an unknowingly powerful statement that makes it work to this day.
You see, ole' Dave made the decision to tell Goldblum and Davis to play the film with a degree of sincerity that makes them forget as much as possible that Goldblum is morphing from neurotic surgeon to dangerous fly. When Veronica hugs Seth, long after Seth is less than recognizable (and missing an ear), it's a gesture of one human being caring for by another. When you remember that The Fly was released over twenty years ago, that gesture becomes a poignant message to AIDS discrimination, albeit one that was illustrated a little bit on the extreme side. And sure, maybe Veronica says the line in the charge above, but it's done more for safety over someone else, because Seth's mood has changed and become more violent. So I guess you could say I come back for the more emotional moments in this film, rather than the exploding monkeys.
I think this might be the oldest Fox title I've seen on Blu-ray, and this 1.85:1 widescreen presentation isn't too shabby. Film grain tends to stand out a little more on this release but isn't really distracting. If there's anything to take from this version in its 1080p glory, it's that detail in the background is nice to see. From an audio point of view, there's not really too much going on here. The DTS-HD track reproduces the dialogue rather well, the score is the thing that benefits here, not a lot of action sequences involve the surrounds but it all sounds fine.
DVD producer David Prior has come up with another winner in terms of packaging, with a load of supplemental material, starting with a commentary from Cronenberg. Watching the film again for the first time in awhile, he mentions the joy of watching it again, which is pretty cool. He talks about why he cast Cronenberg and Davis and how he got to the film in the first place, and recalls trivia such as the creation of the teleportation pods, which was intriguing. He doesn't have too much production-specific information on the track, but it's very informative and well worth the time.
A trivia track for the film is largely redundant, restating things from Cronenberg's commentary track, though there are some unrelated scientific tidbits thrown in that are pretty nice, but the track's inclusion isn't really worth turning on. The big extra is a three part documentary entitled "Fear of the Flesh," which you can play individually or as one big feature that lasts over two hours. There's a lot of footage from the set shot with a handheld video camera, but it's extremely comprehensive, from the story's origins to the film three decades later. You get a bunch of footage from the original film too and the crew's thoughts on it. A lot of issues in getting the film realized were discussed in frank terms, which is always a welcome thing. Not the news, but the honesty, even when Cronenberg came on to do the film, with some of his old work on it. The cast members recall how they got the role and their thoughts on the production, and deleted scenes abound through the piece as well. Watching Goldblum in test footage as the creature acting a little demure is a sight, let me tell you. The crew also discusses some of the production challenges over the course of the film, with some accompanying rehearsal footage of various scenes (the one with Goldblum in a room rotated by gimbals set to 2001 was my favorite). Even the odd stuff is discussed, specifically the babboon's affection for the female script supervisor, and the infamous "monkey-cat" creature is shown in all its glory. There's even an "Enhanced Viewing Mode" that takes you to some additional footage on a particular subject as well when selected. Surprisingly, Cronenberg doesn't appear in this, but with his commentary (and presumably his home video footage), he's still an active party on this piece. Bottom line is that it's as complete as you'd expect when Prior gets carte blanche to work on something like this, and it's no exception here.
Moving on, some the deleted scenes are included in a standalone section on the disc, along with some others, not to mention some extended scenes. Overall the deleted scenes total about twenty minutes in length. Some test footage Cronenberg shot is next, running about eight minutes in length. You've got the original short story, the screenplay (and Cronenberg's rewrite), and two magazine articles on the film follow, along with teasers, trailers and TV spots for all of the Fly films, along with the on-set featurette/press kit. Stills galleries from the production and posters of the film round this disc out.
Goldblum's performance is good. So good, in fact, that he's almost made a cottage industry out of being the overly chatty and slightly neurotic scientist. Take a look at Seth Brundle here, Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park and David Levinson in Independence Day, Professor Brody in Cats and Dogs, and aside from the prosthetics, what's the difference? That's what I thought.
As a standard definition disc, The Fly falls into must-own territory with memorable supplements, compelling performances and great storytelling. As a next-generation catalog title, there is something left to be desired, but the film remains the best bet. It's a shame that Cronenberg will never win an Oscar with the subject matter that he uses, because the guy has nuances that go unrecognized a lot of times.
Shoo Brundlefly, shoo!
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary by Director David Cronenberg
* "Fear of the Flesh" Documentary
* "Brundle Museum of Natural History" Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Pre-Production Test Footage
* Publicity Material
* Original Short Story
* Screenplay Drafts
* Interactive Articles
* Stills Galleries
* Theatrical Trailers
* Original Verdict Review
* Verdict Review: The Fly Collection