Friday, August 19, 2016
Franchises: The Fly. The Fly (1986)
At a meet-the-press type of party arranged by Bartok Science Industries, Seth Brundle, an eccentric and rather reclusive scientist who works for the company, meets Veronica, also known as "Ronnie," a journalist for Particle Magazine. Telling her that he's working on, "Something that'll change the world and human life as we know it," but refusing to elaborate, he takes her to the warehouse where he both lives and works, revealing that he's invented a set of machines, called "Telepods," that can teleport objects. Excited by this, and determined to get a great story, Veronica secretly records Seth's explanation of how he invented the machines and, despite his protests, attempts to have her editor and former boyfriend, Stathis Borans, shape it into a story. Fortunately for Seth, Borans is unimpressed, thinking it to be a con, and he's able to convince Veronica to hold off on writing about the Telepods until he's perfected them and then, she'll be able to publish a book that will serve as the complete record of the groundbreaking machine. As she covers his work, Veronica and Seth become romantically involved and after she inadvertently gives him some inspiration about how to fix the machine's problems with teleporting living creatures, and despite some obsessed intrusion from Borans, the Telepods soon work perfectly. However, just as they're about to celebrate, Veronica discovers a package that was slipped under Seth's door that turns out to be a threat from Borans regarding publishing the story without her consent. Heading off to confront him without explaining, Seth's insecurities over their possibly seeing each other behind his back lead him to become jealous and drunk. His judgement impaired, he decides to go ahead and teleport himself, not noticing a housefly that slips into the pod with him. He emerges from the receiver pod, seemingly normal, and he and Veronica reconcile when she returns later that night. The next day, Seth realizes that he's now much stronger and more energetic, to the point of becoming manic, in addition to a strong taste for sugar, seemingly endless sexual potency, and strange, black hairs growing out of his back. Veronica is unable to keep up and when she refuses to be teleported, as Seth thinks the process is somehow purifying and cleansing, he angrily heads out to find somehow willing to do so. When this plan doesn't work, mostly due to Veronica's intervention, who then tells Seth that the hairs from his back resembled those of an insect, he throws her out. But, when he sees horrific and disgusting things happening to his body in the bathroom, he reviews the record of his teleportation, learns about the fly, and discovers that the computer spliced him and the fly together. As time passes and Seth mutates more and more, becoming less human and more insect-like, physically and mentally, he tries to find a way to cure himself, while, at the same time, Veronica learns that the real horror may be growing inside her, as she's pregnant with Seth's child.
At first, it seems like the teleportation went off without a hitch and Seth is the same as he was when he went through. However, there's an interesting moment not too long after the teleportation where he first realizes that's not the case, one that I think is unfairly overlooked whenever people talk about the film. In the early morning hours, he's lying in bed with Veronica as a fly buzzes back and forth above them, when his right arm juts up automatically and catches it in his hand. Seth then wakes up, opens his hand to reveal the fly, and when it buzzes off, he has a perplexed look on his face, clearly not sure what to make of what just happened, and gets out of bed. It's a really eerie, well-played by moment by Goldblum and it's obvious that he knows something's different. That's when he learns that the difference seems to be a good thing, as he's now much stronger and more agile than he ever was before, with seemingly endless stamina, a change that he likens to the teleportation, feeling that the process is a purifying one akin to coffee being put through a filter. What Seth doesn't notice, though, is how manic he now is, rattling on in a restaurant about his theory of how he's changed at a very fast pace and a rather loud tone, to the point where he's pounding the table, much to Veronica's concern and embarrassment. In addition to a sudden, constant craving for sugar, Seth also finds that he now has remarkable sexual potency, able to do it for hours on end without stopping, which absolutely wears Veronica out. And, most notably, he's now more arrogant, impatient, and short-tempered, which we get a hint of at the restaurant when he becomes irritated with a waiter and then see full-on when he yells at Veronica when she refuses to be teleported, "You're a fucking drag, you know that?!" He refuses to listen to her when she tries to tell him that something went wrong when he was teleported, feeling that she's not worthy of being with him as she's too afraid to, "Dive into the plasma pool," and become perfect as he feels he's become, leading him to go find somebody else. He brazenly hits on a woman named Tawny who he meets at a bar and effortlessly breaks the arm of the enormous guy she's wife, taking her with him as his prize. While she enjoys his rather aggressive sex, she's not too thrilled about being teleported, which he recklessly showed her earlier (it's obvious he no longer cares about getting in trouble with his employers or peers), and is saved from doing so when Veronica intervenes. She again tries to warn him that there's something seriously wrong with him, telling him that the strange black hairs that were growing out of his back earlier proved to be similar to insect hairs when she had them analyzed, but all Seth hears is someone who's jealous of the "freedom" he now has and angrily throws her out, telling her not to come back. But, that's when he bothers to look at himself in the bathroom and discovers that there is something wrong when he's able to bite and pull his fingernails completely off. Now frightened that he's dying, Seth checks the records of his first teleportation and learns the horrific truth of what happened with the fly.
Whenever people talk about remakes and how some of them are better than you might expect, The Fly is one that always come up as being one of the best of the best. While it is an excellent movie, no doubt about that, I've always felt that describing it as just one of the best remakes and leaving it at that is an injustice to it as it's so much more. Like John Carpenter's The Thing, I see this movie as less of a remake of the 50's film of the same name and more of a different take on the original source material that they're both based on. In this instance, it's Cronenberg taking the same basic plot and title of George Langelaan's short story, which he's said he doesn't think much of, and adding his own unique touches and sensibilities to create something totally different from what had been made before. And yes, even though Charles Edward Pogue wrote the initial screenplay and Cronenberg insisted that they share screenplay credit, as he said he wouldn't have been able to create the final script if he didn't have Pogue's to act as a foundation, I do consider the movie that was made to be Cronenberg's vision from start to finish.
While we're on the subject, if there's one qualm with the film that I have, it's that I wished it was a tiny bit longer, maybe another ten minutes, and we got to see more scenes of what Seth is going through. He teleports himself fairly early on but it's around the hour mark when his metamorphosis kicks into high gear, in a movie that's only 95 minutes long (which is just about the same length as the original, which is ironic given how producer Stuart Cornfeld thought that the new concept would make for a longer story), and while we do get plenty of Seth's plight in the movie as is, I would have liked a couple of more scenes of him by himself as he becomes aware that he's really starting to go downhill. For instance, he tells Veronica in that insect politics scene that he's becoming dangerous and can't control himself, so maybe it would have been nice if we had a scene where he first realizes it, like if he thinks of killing someone or hunting Veronica down. One moment that was deleted that I wished they'd kept in is when Seth is on the roof of his warehouse, falls down the side, and an insect leg bursts out of his side that he has to bite off. I know why they cut the bit leading up to that scene, the infamous "monkey-cat" sequence, because it made it hard to feel sympathy for him when he's being so cruel to those animals, but it would have nice if they'd filmed something else leading up to the moment with the leg, like maybe have Seth become frustrated with his debilitating condition and the hopelessness of it and then climb up on the roof. The movie is still great the way it is and I wouldn't remove anything but I just feel that a couple of moments like those would have added to its power.
Howard Shore is to David Cronenberg what Danny Elfman is to Tim Burton. Except for The Dead Zone, he's scored every one of Cronenberg's films since The Brood and his score for The Fly is definitely a highpoint in both his career in general and his collaborations with Cronenberg. What I've always found odd is that, in the otherwise excellent documentary on the movie's special edition, the music is never mentioned, which is a major oversight in my eyes. The score is interesting in that it changes as the film itself does. It starts out with an opening title piece that brings to mind the wonder and majesty you often get with science fiction (in fact, I wondered if I was watching the right movie when I first heard it), a feeling that continues through the first third of the movie, as you get a piece with vocalizing voices that almost gives off a sense of magic when the first baboon is teleported, a rather poignant bit of music when the thing is reintegrated inside out, a nice, sexy romance theme for Seth and Veronica that's done through a soft horn and piano, and a continuing feeling of wonder and even playfulness when the steak and second baboon are teleported. The piece that plays during Seth's ill-fated teleportation is interesting in that it recognizes the suspense of the sequence when the fly gets into the pod without Seth noticing and the horror that is to come from it but there's still that feeling of wonder, as the music builds up to a fever pitch until we get a loud release when Seth goes through. When he comes out of the other Telepod, seemingly normal, the music becomes airy and mystical again... but, later on when you get your first look at the fly hairs growing out of the cuts in his back, the music starts to become more eerie, leading into the moment where Seth catches a fly in his hand while he's still asleep and realizes that there's something different about him. The eerie feeling doesn't long but it's the first cue that something isn't right.
The film's main theme, which is that well-known, doom-laden piece that sounds like it's descending as it plays, is first heard when Seth tries to drag Veronica into the Telepod and continues when he becomes angry at being refused and heads out to find somebody. The music builds as he rants about taking the dive into the plasma pool and hits full on when you see him walking down the street, hunting for a sexual partner worthy of him. The music grows progressively nightmarish from then on, with loud, bombastic pieces hitting you in scenes like the arm-wrestling match and when Veronica dreams about giving birth to the larva, and quieter, more unsettling themes for moments such as when Seth goes into the bathroom and finds that his fingernails are coming off (the part where he pulls of his middle one is accompanied by a really creepy sound) and when he checks the records of his first teleportation and learns what happened. The latter moment and one that happens afterward, when Veronica returns to his home and sees how far he's deteriorated after a month, both have stings of music that I often hear whenever the movie is shown on TV but that I never hear on the DVD. As the computer screen gradually shows Seth the graphic of the fly, there's a musical buildup to a very frightening sound when the insect is fully revealed, and when Seth steps out and Veronica sees him during her visit, there's a loud screeching sound that accompanies the music. Like I said, neither of these are on the DVD, although I can hear the latter during Cronenberg's audio commentary (I can't hear the other one because he talks all the way through that scene). Speaking of the latter piece, the buildup to Seth's reveal when Veronica arrives is a low, haunting version of the main theme, alluding to how far he's fallen by this point and how it's only going to get worse from here. The theme skips to a more tranquil bit after Seth steps out but on the soundtrack, it goes on through an even more nightmarish version of the main theme's second half. Another noteworthy use of the main theme is used during the "insect politics" scene, with the music starting out quiet and building as Seth talks, the main theme hitting hard when he tells her, "I'll hurt you if you stay," signifying that there's no going back now. The music during the climax is just absolute chaos and horror, going well with the hands and feet getting dissolved and the flesh falling off to reveal the final Brundlefly creature, with the music swelling to the main theme after Brundlefly is fused with the Telepod and Stathis Borans uses his remaining strength to free Veronica. You get a repeat of the music from the insect politics scene when Veronica is ultimately forced to kill Brundlefly now that he's been fused with the Telepod and is hopelessly in pain, leading into a full-on suite of the main theme during the ending credits, followed by some other pieces before ending with the dramatic music the score began with.
As hard as it to believe, Mel Brooks and Stuart Cornfeld wanted a rock song to help promote the movie and had Bryan Ferry compose a song called Help Me, which I feel has to be an ode to the famous spider-web scene from the original. Apparently, there was even a music video made for the song and it was originally supposed to play over the ending credits. Cronenberg, however, despite liking the song itself, felt that it was inappropriate to go from the tragedy of the ending into this rock music and when he showed it to the producers, they understood what he meant and dropped it. It's still in the movie, playing in the background in the bar when Seth first comes in and meets Tawny, and from what I can hear of it, it doesn't sound that bad, but I think Cronenberg made the right decision in not playing it over the ending credits. It was a much better idea to just stick with Howard Shore's music.