The Fly (1986) [retro review]

“It mated us, me and the fly. We hadn’t even been properly introduced.”

The Scoop: 1986 R, directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz

Tagline: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Summary Capsule: Scientist and fly merge disgustingly via a revolutionary breakthrough. I’ll stick with my car for transportation, thanks.

Justin’s Rating: Anyone else think of that scene from Star Trek: The Motion Picture — “Enterprise, what we got back didn’t live long… fortunately.”?

Justin’s Review: There’s got to be an official term for it, some hip post-modern internet lingo that describes how pop culture geeks become familiar with the parody of a product well before ever experiencing that product in its original state (and finding it decidedly odd when you do). Kind of like how you might know a Weird Al Yankovic tune intimately, yet it’s only years later that you finally hear the source song that he parodied – and, for you, the rip-off gets reversed. It’s that original song that is infringing on your well-known parody, and it takes some mental housekeeping to straighten things out.

It was like that with me and The Fly. There’s a well-known Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episode where they parody this movie, except that it’s Bart who changes heads with a fly, Homer who uses the telepods for experimental peeing, and a few quick jokes about the foolhardiness of scientific innovators. I’ve seen that episode about a dozen times before ever getting around to watching The Fly, so you can imagine that it was a little difficult to see the movie without thinking of BartFly chasing Lisa around the house, or FlyBart tormenting a spider. Still, all things considered, it was quite well-done: appropriately icky, interesting and somewhat touching (good luck trying to sell this movie-viewing experience to the ladies under the cover of “It’s a ROMANCE scifi-horror-insect movie!”).

Jeff Goldblum is, well, the same guy he plays in pretty much every film he’s been in: wide-eyed expression, stuttering out a halting monotone, conveying “urgent” without ever raising his voice. It suffices. He’s also one of those rogue scientists who rents out warehouses in order to conduct experiments that cover the sort of terrain where angels fear to tread. In this case, teleportation via enlarged salt-and-pepper shakers. After casually turning a baboon inside-out (where do scientists keep getting these test baboons from? Comic book ads?), he finally figures out the secret to transporting “the flesh”. Memorize those two words, because this screenplay rehashes that phrase so many times despite the fact that nobody actually says “the flesh” in conversation unless it’s followed up by “that I want to cut from your body and make into a skinsuit to impress my serial killer pals.”

He’s aided in the Questionable Science department by reporter Geena Davis, whose massive dimples seduce the nerdy Brundle (Goldblum) and they make all manner of icky, elbowy love. There’s another guy in the mix, some bearded schmo that the 80’s turned out in droves (see Ellis in Die Hard) but never you mind him for a moment.

The main attraction of The Fly, of course, is neither the romance nor the whiz-bang teleportation pods. Nay, it’s the horrible aftermath of Brundle accidentally letting in a fly into the telepod as he beams himself across the room. Oh, sure, it’s all fun and games at first: increased strength and agility, sexual prowess, all the candy bars you can handle. But before you can say “send ten million dollars to the prosthetics department’s budget!”, Brundle’s changes become more pronounced, and it ain’t gonna bode well for anyone involved. Except the fly, of course, which had an initial lifespan measured in hours and immensely enjoyed the stay of execution.

In many ways, especially during the third act, the transformation of Brundle to BrundleFly held many of the same elements of the creatures in The Thing that looked human, but that was only the shell. Brundle’s humanity dissolves from the inside-out, and I don’t know what was more unsettling: the insect special effects, or the constant rationalization that Brundle makes about how being a fly-man is a good, positive thing. Perhaps he assumed he was on his way to join a pantheon of superheroes with bug-related powers, like Spider-Man or The Tick, but I know that if my DNA merged with a fly and I didn’t get wings within a day, I’d probably be freaking out in the middle of the ER yelling “get it OUT OF MEEEEE!”

It’s a scifi-horror classic that needs very little urging from my part to convince anyone to see, but all the same – you know you want to see a guy bug out, if you haven’t already. Go.

To boldly go naked where none have gone before

Intermission!

  • Director David Cronenberg as the obstetrician who delivers the maggot baby.
  • Brundlefly’s “vomit drop” was, in reality, made from honey, eggs, and milk.
  • The line, “I’m saying I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it, but now that dream is over and the insect is awake,” is a reference to author Franz Kafka’s 1912 story “The Metamorphosis,” in which a man wakes from a nightmare to find himself transformed into a giant insect.
  • The background for the opening titles consists of an optically distorted, swirling mass of colors, which gradually transform into the opening shot of the film. This is a representation of how biologists believe a fly’s vision would appear to a human.

Groovy Quotes

Seth Brundle: My teeth have begun to fall out. The medicine cabinet is now the Brundle Museum of Natural History. You wanna see what else is in it?

Seth Brundle: Whaddaya think? A fly. Am I becoming a hundred-and-eighty-five-pound fly? No, I’m becoming something that never existed before. I’m becoming… Brundlefly. Don’t you think that’s worth a Nobel Prize or two?

Tawny: [after Seth says it’s Tawny’s turn to teleport] I’m afraid.
Seth Brundle: Don’t be afraid.
Ronnie: No. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Seth Brundle: A fly… got into the… transmitter pod with me that first time, when I was alone. The computer… got confused – there weren’t supposed to be two separate genetic patterns – and it decided to… uhh… splice us together. It mated us, me and the fly. We hadn’t even been properly introduced.

Seth Brundle: How does Brundlefly eat? Well, he found out the hard and painful way that he eats very much the way a fly eats. His teeth are now useless, because although he can chew up solid food, he can’t digest them. Solid food hurts. So like a fly, Brundlefly breaks down solids with a corrosive enzyme, playfully called “vomit drop”. He regurgitates on his food, it liquifies, and then he sucks it back up. Ready for a demonstration, kids? Here goes…

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • The Fly II
  • The Thing
  • Alien
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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Heather does Food of the Gods « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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