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20th Century Fox presents
The Fly/The Fly II (1986/1989)

"I'm saying I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it! But now thedream is over and the insect is awake."
- Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: September 06, 2000

Stars: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, Eric Stoltz
Other Stars: John Getz, Lee Richardson, Daphine Zuniga
Director: David Cronenberg / Chris Walas

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: R for (extreme gore and violence, language)
Run Time: (see below)
Release Date: September 05, 2000
UPC: 024543004578
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+A-A- D

DVD Review

The Fly/The Fly II marks the birth of 20th Century Fox's new series of "Double Feature" discs. Though I have little idea how long this series will last and what films will appear in it, for now I'll relish in the brilliant concept of releasing 2 similar (or related) movies on one double-sided disc at an extremely reasonable price. In this set, the 80's re-visitations of the classic Fly horror films from the 50's are presented.

Side One: The Fly (1986)
Style Grade: A, Substance Grade: A+,
Running Time: 01h:35m:00s
I'm sure in its day, the original 1958 film version of the George Langelaan short story The Fly was probably one of the most radically disturbing horror films the public had seen. The story of an ambitious scientist who accidentally exchanges heads with a common housefly will stick indefinitely in cinema history. Perhaps taking this into account, writer/director David Cronenberg's 1986 version of The Fly avoided every predictable cliché remakes usually carry with them. His dark vision of the story does not remake the original 1958 classic so much as it enhances the ideas behind it.

When journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) attempts to seek out a newsworthy story at a scientific convention, she meets Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), a geeky sort who claims he's working on a radical project. Though Veronica shrugs him off as another freaky inventor type, she soon discovers he's telling the truth. Brundle has developed a successful "Telepod" system that will transmit matter across any distance, thus redefining the concept of travel. Veronica works with Brundle as he improves the system to accept living organisms and soon becomes romantically involved with him. Brundle perfects the system, but his anger and jealousy over Veronica's problems with an ex-boyfriend leads him to teleport himself without proper testing of the equipment. In the process of his first teleport, a fly gets into the telepod chamber with him, so his confused computer system fuses Brundle with the insect. Though he initially thinks the teleport has improved him physically, eventually it becomes evident that his body and mind are decaying as a result of the fly's genetic elements taking over.

Cronenberg's take on this classic horror story is a deeply disturbing and macabre one. He has not re-written the original film, but instead constructed an entirely new, slightly similar scenario; a cautionary tale for the modern world. Rather than the predictable gamut of lavish effects, the style here is very subtle and deceivingly calm. Using muted cinematography and very simple production design, The Fly is a very realistic take on this subject matter. Seth Brundle could be any modern day scientific mind, whose ambition is blind to the possible drawbacks of what he's doing. He's not a bad person, but he ignores the obvious problems of his Telepods until he himself becomes the victim. His eventual downward spiral into "Brundlefly" leaves him with a new amount of wisdom he will, sadly, never be able to use.

Helping with the craft and style here is the effective, involving musical score by Howard Shore. Like other great director/composer teams (Alfred Hitchcock/Bernard Hermann, Tim Burton/Danny Elfman, Luc Besson/Eric Serra), David Cronenberg and Howard Shore collaborate very well together, and Shore has scored almost all of Cronenberg's films. The music takes an active role in underscoring the emotional impact of what's going on in the film and, without it, The Fly would be much different.

Rather than the sharp script and dramatic balance, most of the publicity over this update centered around its level of extreme brutality and violence, something of a standard trait of David Cronenberg's works. Unfortunately, many people missed the skill behind the use of this gore, failing to appreciate how controlled and measured it is. Again, avoiding clichés, Seth Brundle does not turn into some cartoonish movie monster who goes around killing screaming women, but rather unleashes his rage in sudden, frightening bursts. The sheer tension created by this effect truly elevates The Fly above most horror films and, ultimately, creates an absolutely devastating conclusion which must have sent scores of silent, contemplative audiences out of the theatre.



Side Two: The Fly II (1989)
Style Grade: C+, Substance Grade: C-,
Running Time: 01h:45m:00s
Almost every cliché that David Cronenberg avoided in his Fly, director Chris Walas makes up for here in The Fly II. I honestly don't know anything about the production of this film, but I'm guessing that it went something like this: The popularity and success of the The Fly begs for a sequel and for some reason, many directors (maybe even Cronenberg himself) decline to participate so directorial duties fall to special effects artist, Chris Walas, whose company did the FX for The Fly. While Walas had been a long time collaborator with Cronenberg on many of his older projects, it seems that he learned very little, artistically, from the first movie.

The Fly II is a very literal update of 1959's The Return Of The Fly. Just as in that film, the son of the original character (Seth Brundle) continues his father's work, only to lead to disastrous consequences. In the beginning, Veronica (NOT played by Geena Davis) dies giving birth to Martin Brundle (Eric Stoltz), who grows into an adult in 5 years. Bartok Industries (the company that funded Seth Brundle's experiments) "adopts" Martin and takes care of him. Of course, the ultimate aim of Bartok is that researching Martin will lead them to an understanding of his human/fly genes, perhaps to create new, super-strong soldiers. Once Martin begins to self-destruct like his father, he decides to help continue the Telepod work in the hopes that he can find a cure. Eventually, he becomes more insect than human and, like his father, figures the only solution is to fuse with a normal human in order to eject the bad fly genes. Out of anger over what Bartok Industries has done to his life, Martin goes into a homicidal rage as he transforms into a powerful monster.

The Fly II is a fairly basic, run-of-the-mill horror film, that doesn't do much to add to the first film. Whereas the original wielded its brutality with a measure of intelligent control, here we just see a lot of killing and gore that has no real purpose. The acting and direction are pretty good, but the story is the central weakness. Cronenberg's version was the story of deterioration and science gone wrong. Now that we've seen it, Fly II has nothing else to offer. It tries to be slightly happier and not as relentlessly dark, but you can't give this story a happy ending—that's the point.

These 2 movies are flip-sides of a coin. When a filmmaker gets the idea to participate in the remake of a classic sci-fi/horror film, there are ultimately 2 directions the project can take, and here are both directions.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicyesyes


Image Transfer Review: Both films are presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and, much to the pleasure of fans, the films have been given very good new transfers. While both source prints obviously have some slight age problems, both films are free from digital artifacts or pixelization. The anamorphic enhancement has added depth to the image without aliasing distortion, which seems to be a regular trait of 20th Century Fox. Colors in both are the most noticeably improved area in both films, especially The Fly.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Both films feature new Dolby 5.1 mixes. The audio in The Fly is a dramatic improvement over the original stereo mix. Though the track is mostly front focused, surrounds and the LFE channel are used for significant enhancement of the musical score. Specific scenes are also improved by the new soundstage and added frequency response. The Fly II is equally as good, except this film has much more on-screen action, so the surrounds are used much more as is general directionality. Both films have very well-balanced dialogue tracks that are never drowned out by other channel activity. A Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is also provided for each film, but neither one has the same kind of clarity and enhancement.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Fantastic Voyage, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and more.
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No real extras are present here, which is very disappointing overall. The Fly, especially, is deserving of at least some material considering the amount of success and instant acclaim it received. I would have really liked a Cronenberg commentary, or even some production notes taken from the book Shape of Rage, which is about his movies. Trailers are included for all of the current Fox Double Feature discs, including the hilarious one for Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

For me personally, the appearance of The Fly on DVD is an important step in getting the work of David Cronenberg onto the format. The way I look at it, this Double Feature disc essentially gives you The Fly II for free after purchasing the original. Fly II isn't horrible, but I feel it has never done justice to the themes and style that were begun in the first film. Thankfully, Hollywood dropped The Fly for any more half-hearted sequels, so hopefully we will see no more. Highly recommended.

 


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