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THE FLY (1986)

Your March Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Cool Dialogue: “The medicine cabinet is now the Brundle Museum of Natural History.”

Pizza: Royal Pizza



Random often has a sense of humor. At the last RMC, we got the movie WINGS. Now, we got THE FLY. What's next, CRAZY STUPID LARVAE?

David and Mel
Here’s something you may not know about the 1986 remake of THE FLY - it was produced by Max Bialystock, in a skewed way. It was, and I’m not joking, produced by Mel Brooks. Back in the 80s, Brooks produced dramas like 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD and THE ELEPHANT MAN, both wonderful movies. He also produced THE FLY. Though he made many decisions, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on set barking, “It’s good to be the producer!” Brooks was also responsible for the movie’s tagline, taken directly from its dialogue: “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” He’d suggested that “Veronica would be afraid, she’d be very afraid.” And it stuck. Used a zillion times since, including by yours truly in something I wrote years ago - Stephen: I destroyed a beautiful thing between two people! Something they had going for eight years. I feel like I did the wrong thing, and I'm afraid I made a mistake. Mother: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I love THE FLIES. There’s the 1958 original with Vincent Price (which screened at RMC back in 2002) and tonight’s entry, director David Cronenberg’s remake. They’re both wildly fun movies, but not for the same reasons. That’s a bit odd, being their wacky yet perfectly fine sci-fi premise is the same. But we’re here to talk about the remake, which is a rare bird in the Hollywood sky because it’s as good, if not better (depending on how I feel when asked), than the original. Apparently, scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) never watched the 1958 version, or he may have heeded its warning – “There are things Man should never experiment with.”

Brundle’s teleportation project goes terribly wrong, placing himself and others in peril. It’s a stalwart premise in sci-fi movies as well as every single ride at Universal Studios. But one of the things I love about THE FLY is that in spite of its majorly preposterous premise, we start feeling sorry for Brundle. Therein lies the skill of good characters and storytelling. In fact, everything in THE FLY makes sense, except for the fact that teleportation was invented before we all had cell phones. Also making sense, Cronenberg’s interest in the project, having been fascinated with insects since childhood. In fact, THE FLY was his biggest moneymaker and most accessible film, having previously made the films RABID, THE BROOD, the cult-y and cool VIDEODROME, THE DEAD ZONE (I keep forgetting that was before THE FLY) and SCANNERS (best trailer ever! http://go.shr.lc/1KUNeeI).

THE FLY wastes no time with set up. We enter a world where Brundle’s invention has been completed and is in test mode. He’s a cocky yet likable scientist who, within minutes of the opening credits, has seduced Particle Magazine reporter Veronica (Geena Davis). He wants her to come back to his lab to see his invention that will change the world (a pick-up line that often works for me). When they get there, he makes a beeline for an upright piano (a move that has never worked for me), and it sure sounds like he’s playing a version of LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING. Why?? Because although THE FLY is wearing Horror Film clothes, it’s actually a love story, you know, like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, KING KONG and KOYAANISQATSI. (Okay, maybe not KOYAANISQATSI.) Brundle shows her his teleportation devices – two ‘telepods’ that look like Gemini space capsules – makes sense, it’s Man exploring a new frontier (in actuality, they’re patterned after the Ducati motorcycle cylinder from Cronenberg’s bike). They sleep together, of course; he’s charming and ripped, and she’s Geena Davis. (Goldblum and Davis were already a couple when they were both cast in THE FLY. They’d marry a year later and divorce three years after that.)

Despite his protestations, Veronica is going to write an article on Brundle’s teleportation device. And to make matters worse for Brundle, Victoria used to date Stathis Borans (John Getz) (I went into the anagram maker to see if this name secretly meant something, and the closest I got was ‘Satan robs shit’), who is her boss at Particle Magazine. And boy oh boy oh boy do boys get jealous. And petty; Stathis runs the story on Brundle out of spite, behind Veronica’s back, and so Brundle, well…Brundle decides to run the test on himself. But this is no the-funders-are-going-to-pull-the-plug-on-my-project-so-I-must-try-it-on-myself trope. He does so out of very human traits – jealousy and anger (is Veronica going back to her ex?).

And then, something happens. And we are afraid, we are very afraid. The upside of this new Brundlefly (half man/half fly)? Brundle now has the stamina of a man on a steroids & Viagra cocktail, emphasis not on the ‘tail’ syllable. There’s something fascinating about Brundle’s transformation, besides the physical mechanics. Goldblum (and/or Cronenberg and/or his first draft writer Charles Edward Pogue, or any combo thereof) chose not to make Seth Brundle a mousy geek afraid of women (Peter Parker, Clark Kent). Or a dark soul tormented and damaged by events in his past. No, Brundle starts off kinetic and hyper, so when he transforms, he can only become hyperkinetic and, urrr…hyperhyper. And, against my better judgment had I only seen it on the page, it works really well.

Cronenberg’s pacing is something to be admired. It makes Brundle’s transformation easy to digest in a story that has a danger of getting unintentional laughs (I wonder if they worried about that). The arc of Brundle’s mental and physical deterioration is handled so adeptly that it feels we’re not asked to buy any of it – it’s more like we’re asking for it. Even when he’s past the point of no return, he somehow holds onto his humanity, and even his humor.

For a popular movie (people actually talked by the water cooler about this movie), it’s great to see how small the cast was. It just shows you what you can do with a great story, a great director and great actors. There was no CG budget because there was no CG back then. And let me tell you, some of the effects are beyond slick. All the stages of metamorphosis are smart and fun, and that regurgitation/breaking-down-of-the-hand-and-foot was more awesome than expected. And the arm wrestling scene? Wonderfully grotesque; memorable movie moments. The Blu-ray has a multitude of how-they-did-its worth your time, even if you’re not an effects geek. It’ll make you appreciate the movie even more. Included; the monkey-cat, a sequence that was cut after previews. Too bad, because I liked the monkey-cat death (Brundle kills it with a lead pipe). It was a mercy killing that foretells the ending. Those involved in the film said it didn’t test well, that once your main character kills an animal, even a hybrid monkey-cat, it’s hard to still like him. I wonder if it were directed differently (Yeesh, Rich, are you really giving Cronenberg notes? On a nearly 30 year old film?); if we saw the extreme anguish on Brundle’s face after the mercy killing so we’d feel for him, and show how hard it was not only to commit the act, but also his frustration that his experiment didn’t work. However, I’m very glad they cut the “butterfly baby” coda (Veronica dreams of her child as half baby/half butterfly). Not only that, but she ends up with Stathis, which just makes me hate her. I wasn’t alone on this. Everyone, including the producers and actors, didn’t want it. Not sure about Cornenberg’s thoughts. Damn, I just went on a little too long about this. Why didn’t you stop me?

Many see THE FLY as a parable of addiction or disease and the steps users or victims go through. And the relationship of their loved ones. Run with that or not, you’d have to admit that the stages of sickness are there; the infection, the symptoms, the denial, the acceptance. The tragedy.

Cronenberg, who has a brief role as a gynecologist, adds plenty of smart touches throughout. I love that Brundle bites his nails, a call-forward to what happens to him later. Also love the irony of Brundle having motion sickness when he’s in the car at the beginning. In a loft scene where he’s discovering his new strengths, Cronenberg and Co. choose to do it all without music, which ends up being very effective. It’s like you’re watching a gymnast live.

Nail biting

The Blu-ray is comprehensive and spectacular, with features that clock in over four times the running time of the actual film. Along with the original short story by George Langelaan (first published in Playboy in 1957), the first draft that was written by Charles Edward Pogue, and the very different script that Cronenberg rewrote from the Pogue draft, there are interviews from nearly everyone; Pogue, the editor, producer, production designer, effects, and Goldblum, Davis and Getz (my law firm). Everyone except Cronenberg himself. However, he is featured in test footage, on set, donning goofy fly wings and antennae, as he rides the cylinder gimbal that rotated the set for one of the shots.


“Help me!” If you’ve seen the original, you surely know those two words. Not only has "Help me!" been parodied in such things as THE SIMPSONS and THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE, but even Frank Zappa references it in his 1971 opus BILLY THE MOUNTAIN. The narrator says, “Soon the (telephone) booth was filling with flies,” as other voices respond in high-pitched screams of ‘Help me’.” In Cronenberg’s FLY, it’s winked at in a scene in a bar where a Bryan Ferry song is playing, a song called HELP ME. Though truth be told, the song feels more like a James Bond opening credits song. (It was originally meant to be THE FLY’s closing credits song).

The original 1958 film spawned two maggots; RETURN OF THE FLY was released minutes after THE FLY (you know how fast flies gestate!), and in 1965 - CURSE OF THE FLY. I loved them when I was a kid, but now I have no idea how good they actually are. I do remember they were a bit silly (in one, the scientist had guinea pig or rabbit paws). Even Cronenberg’s remake had a sequel, 1988’s THE FLY II. I saw it in the theater and remember nothing about it. Pretty sure there were no rabbit paws, though. In 2008, an opera version of THE FLY, directed by Cronenberg, was performed with music by Howard Shore, who did the original 1986 soundtrack (it’s so full sounding and elegant, with a mix of spookiness and triumph).

THE FLY is a fantastic movie. Yes, it’s got Geena Davis, a really good bad guy, a message, and all the stuff movies are meant to have. But let’s call it like it is; Cronenberg’s vision and Jeff Goldblum’s chops carry this movie on their tiny wings.

Housefly as seen through a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).
Photo courtesy of the RMC Librarian.


Ladies Man Cast

Alfred Molina starred as Jimmy in this sitcom that premiered in September of 1999 and went on for 26 episodes. The title refers not to his male prowess, but to the fact that his household is distaff-centric; wife Donna (Sharon Lawrence), ex-wife Claire (Park Overall), their kids Wendy (Katie Volding, who was replaced after this episode with Alexa Vega, seconds before she broke big in SPY KIDS), Bonnie (Shawna Waldron), another daughter on the way, and Claire’s mom Peaches, played by Dixie Carter. And that scene-stealer Betty White as Jimmy’s mother Mitzi. Somehow, show creator Chris Thompson, who created funny shows like BOSOM BUDDIES and THE NAKED TRUTH, manages to get the entire cast into the bathroom while Jimmy is trying to shave. Molina is likable (not like he was when he stole the idol from Indiana Jones), and so was the show. And funny, too.

Of course we’re going to get Y2K and “digital phone” jokes, but mostly it’s about their impending baby two weeks away, and Jimmy’s inability to have sex with Donna. It’s a throwback sitcom, more of the RAYMOND ilk than TWO AND A HALF MEN (LM’s penis jokes are more classy).

Original commercials from 1999 included Saturn, Calvin Klein’s Contradiction for Men, and the Ikea ad on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. You can also take a poll on what you think of CBS shows by logging on to America Online, keyword CBS.

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