The Fly (1986)

6 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” is a perfect example of the “experiment-gone-wrong” movie. It’s when a mad scientist wants to create a device that will change the way humanity sees things and something goes terribly wrong, and the direst consequences occur. That’s always one of the enjoyable of stories to be told in movies, and “The Fly,” a re-imagination of the 1958 sci-fi thriller of the same name (but a different story), is one of the best. It’s one of those horror movies in which we get to know the characters first and know the important setups to the oncoming rules of the gimmicks, so that when the terror happens, it amounts to something.

It begins as scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) meets a pretty journalist named Veronica (Geena Davis) and wants to impress her. So he puts it bluntly, starting out by saying that he has an invention that will change the world as we know it. Being a curious mind, Veronica accompanies Seth to his home. Seth wastes no time in impressing her—he shows her a pair of “telepods” connected together by cable and run by computer. He explains to Veronica that it’s a sort of “teleportation” device, which can move something from one telepod to another. It works great on items, such as a stocking that’s used as a test…but it turns living things inside out. (There’s a really gruesome scene in which Seth tests the machine on a baboon, and we actually see the outcome.)

One of the interesting elements of “The Fly” is that the science seems believable. That’s rare for a movie like this—usually, you roll your eyes at the very idea of certain experiments. But not here—I believed in this experiment, whether it could work or not.

Anyway, Seth figures out the problem with the invention, tests it another baboon with success, and then finally decides to try it on himself. However, something unexpected happens during the process. A housefly has made its way into the telepod with Seth and he makes it out, but with certain side effects. He suddenly has a great amount of energy and increased strength. However, that’s just the beginning and it may seem positive…but things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Seth is no longer Seth. He’s slowly but surely turning into a man-sized fly—or “Brundlefly,” as he describes himself. Ugliness starts to emerge and, thanks to first-rate makeup and effects, only looks worse and worse every time we see him again. Also, Seth’s nature is reversed, letting the menacing insect side take over what little of Seth is left. What’s Veronica to do? She wants to help him, but she’s ultimately powerless to do anything for him.

Too many of these mad-scientist movies are focused on ideas, but not so much with characters. Of course, there are exceptions, like “Frankenstein.” Now, here’s “The Fly,” in which we get to know and care for the two central characters played by Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. Goldblum’s Seth is a socially awkward but excited and likable character who gets his enthusiasm from his continuing experiment and his relationship with Davis’ Veronica, a curious reporter who gets way more than she bargained for. Goldblum gets lost in the role—it has to do with the way his eyes get wider whenever he gets excited or when he casually tries to explain certain elements of this new experiment. He plays it like he sees it. The result is a powerful performance. Davis is very good too, and she and Goldblum show great chemistry together.

The character development and interaction is arguably the most important aspect of “The Fly.” We care about these people, we fear for them, and we hope that somehow things will turn out all right for them. There’s a particularly strong scene in which we see Seth probably as bad as he’ll get before his human side is completely gone—the line “I’ll hurt you if you stay” (Seth saying it to Veronica) is chilling because of everything that led up to it.

The makeup and creature effects, created by Chris Walas, are horrifyingly excellent. I mentioned that Seth looks worse and worse every time we see him again, and I wasn’t exaggerating. The work done on making Jeff Goldblum look nearly human before transforming into a horrific insect-beast is consistently effective—creepy and sometimes even hard to watch, but remember, this isn’t a geek-show. The effects don’t make the movie—they’re there to serve the story.

There are troubling scenes in “The Fly,” but it’s a great film with terror that actually amounts to something with two well-developed, likable characters to feel for. And for people out there who search for new ways of changing the world as we know it, just be sure you know what you’re doing.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot—Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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