“I’m afraid,” says Tawny to Seth Brundle. Seth responds, “Don’t be afraid.” Veronica Quaife walks in and warns Tawny, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
David Cronenberg’s 1986 classic The Fly isn’t the first film version of the story of a scientist who, after an accident, becomes a giant fly. 20th Century Fox made the original film in 1958. That film was directed by Kurt Neumann and written by James Clavell (which was based on the short story of the same name by George Langelaan). Cronenberg was the first choice to direct the remake, but he was unavailable at the time as he was working on Total Recall with Dino De Laurentiis. Robert Bierman was hired to direct, but during pre-production his daughter was accidentally killed while on a family vacation in South Africa. Bierman went to be with his family, and after four months, he told the producers he could not continue with the film (they understood and let him go). After Cronenberg was let go from Total Recall, he was hired to direct The Fly. He insisted on rewriting the script, making many changes to the characters and dialogue but keeping the basic plot and concept of the scientist’s gradual mutation from the draft by Charles Edward Pogue. About a couple of months ago, I had the chance to catch a screening of Cronenberg’s film at Film Forum in New York City, where it played as part of their sci-fi, horror, and fantasy film festival (and more specifically as part of a double feature with the 1958 original, which I was unable to see).
1986’s The Fly centers on an eccentric scientist named Seth Brundle, who is on the verge of achieving teleportation. He meets Veronica Quaife, a journalist at Particle magazine at an event held by Bartok Science Industries (the company that funds Brundle’s work). Brundle convinces Veronica to come back with him to his warehouse, where he shows her the telepods he’s been working on. Veronica agrees to keep quiet on his project in exchange for exclusive rights to the story. She helps document his work, and they soon become romantically involved. After successfully teleporting a baboon, Seth gets drunk and decides to teleport himself, unaware that a house fly is in the pod with him. At first, he believes that the teleportation has purified him, but he soon realizes, with Veronica’s help, that the computer spliced his genes with the fly and he is transforming into something else. Veronica is even more concerned when she finds out that she’s pregnant, and is unsure if the baby was conceived before or after Seth’s teleportation.
Cronenberg assembled fine actors for this film: Jeff Goldblum (as Seth Brundle), Geena Davis (as Veronica Quaife), and John Getz (as Stathis Borans, Veronica’s editor and former lover). Goldblum gives one of his finest performances ever as the eccentric Brundle; a tour de force performance that should’ve been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Davis is just as good as Veronica, a woman on the verge of the story of a lifetime who constantly has to deal with her editor’s continued advances(even after ending their relationship). She shows both strength and vulnerability when dealing with Seth’s mental and physical metamorphosis, as well as her own pregnancy (she fears that her child may not be human). Getz is slimy and almost unlikeable at first as Stathis, but he shows that even that character can have redeeming qualities.
Cronenberg’s direction is confident throughout. The re-write he did on Pogue’s screenplay enhanced the film (he was even nice enough to insist that the Writers Guild still give Pogue a screenplay credit too). Carol Spier’s production design was terrific (I liked Seth’s warehouse and particularly the design of the telepods). Mark Irwin’s cinematography was effectively noirish while maintaining an ’80s look to it. The Oscar-winning makeup design by Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis was incredible, with several different levels of the Brundlefly metamorphosis that needed to be depicted. Each level was well-detailed (the body parts slowly falling off were funny yet sad and grotesque). Howard Shore wrote an excellent, almost operatic score (one that was actually adapted into an opera more than 20 years later). Shore’s score underlines the tragic romance that develops between Seth and Veronica as well as the grim reality of Seth’s dreaded fate after his first teleportation.
Cronenberg made an incredible film (one that was produced by Brooksfilms; yes, Mel Brooks was the uncredited producer for this film). It’s curious that many people interpreted Brundle’s metamorphosis (particularly how he looked in the early stages) as an AIDS metaphor back then since Cronenberg’s intention was for it to be a metaphor for disease in general. His version of The Fly nevertheless stands as one of the best sci-fi horror films ever made.