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The Fly (1986)

by on 2012/08/12

“I’m sure Typhoid Mary was a very nice person too when you saw her socially.”

* * * *

This isn’t your daddy’s Fly.

Or maybe it is, but I very much doubt it’s your grandfather’s.

Nominally a remake of the memorable 1958 original, it assumes the title and elements of the premise, and casts them with a distinctive new stamp. Co-written and directed by David Cronenberg, it features a core cast of three, including Geena Davis (The Long Kiss Goodnight), John Getz (Blood Simple), and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park). (The director also includes himself in a neat little cameo role.)

Skunkworks scientist Seth Brundle (Goldblum) tries to interest freelance journalist Ronnie Quaife (Davis) in his teleportation project. Her presence in his professional — and eventually personal — life inspires him to overcome a major obstacle. However, her editor ex-boyfriend (Getz) becomes both jealous of their relationship, and eager to exploit the breakthrough.

Then it gets weird. Really weird.

And gross. Really, really gross.

In Canada — a country known for being harder on violence than it is on language or nudity — how exactly did this body horror splatter-fest get rated 14A? Sympathy for the homegrown, possibly?

Regardless of the messy decoration — though one might argue it’s more than decoration — it’s an engaging story, with Big Things to discuss, well told, and unusually energized by the soon-to-be-married lead actors. Unfortunately, while their rapport is not an issue, their relative brainpower is.

Brundle is naive, unwise to a fault, over-trusting, and emotionally immature. These qualities — or lack thereof — may be counterpoints to overdeveloped brilliance, the splash damage of an anxious show-off, or a function of his romantic inexperience.

Ronnie is far less easy to believe in. Considering her part is played by a Mensan and Olympic semi-finalist, she’s unpalatably dim and incapable. Sympathetic and loyal, yes, but poor in judgment, and apparently unfit to write about science.

Why she consents to be locked in a stranger’s warehouse, in the middle of the night, without forewarning, and offer him a stocking for experimentation . . . I simply don’t understand it, I suppose. She then dismisses the teleportation devices as phone booths, microwave ovens, hologram projectors, perhaps a pair of jukeboxes. And despite the available evidence, continues to trust and forgive her exploitative ex.

She must give off some industrial-strength pheromones, because no one would be drawn to her mind.

She does, to her dubious credit, teach Seth it’s okay “to be made crazy by the flesh”. Which he then teaches his computer.

(Uh, really? Again? Didn’t we get enough of these wonky technology concepts in Scanners? Plus he chats with it in English sentences? That’s a pet peeve. Boo!)

At least its display looks good. In truth too damn good for 1986, but the pre-rendered animated screens help the movie to age very well. Plus, I appreciated the look of the picture overall. I enjoyed seeing the now-bygone Toronto of my youth, the streets, the buildings, and shops downtown. Even the swirly coloured waxed-paper drinking cups.

Interestingly the city isn’t shot in the way of many Toronto productions, synthetically slick, with an eerie video feel. Instead, the filmmakers allow grit to show through, which befits the urban setting, and benefits the special effects. It’s Ontario’s capital as the site of a modern Universal Horror, with mad scientist Brundle’s creature haunting the ramparts of his industrial district lab. Even composer Howard Shore’s low brass and high strings allude to the monsters’ golden age.

Oh, sure, I love the original Fly, starring the immortal Vincent Prince and a young Al (David) Hedison. However, this version does nearly everything it did and, in some ways, quite a bit more. It demonstrates a heavier Cronenberg influence than a recent example, The Dead Zone. While gross and viscerally horrifying, neither detracts from the whole, with its interesting ideas, chemistry, and execution.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

95 minutes

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