Tuesday, 12 January 2016

The Fly (1986 version) (4 Stars)

A few months ago a friend of mine created a Facebook group, "1001 films to see before you die". He has a book with that name, and every week he picks a film at random from the book for the group members to watch and comment on. When I first joined the group I was determined to watch all the films he named, but I never started. I usually have concrete plans what I want to watch in a week, so I never got round to watching his films, even if they were films I already owned on DVD or Blu-ray. I finally made an effort and watched "Gentlemen prefer blondes", his last film of 2015, and now I'm watching "The Fly", his first film of 2016. Let's see how long I can keep it up.

As my regular readers know I published my own personal list of the 30 films to watch before you die. You can find the list in the sidebar if you're reading my blog on a computer. Arguably, 30 films isn't enough. I realised when I was compiling the list that I was omitting many wonderful films. I just picked 30 because it's a handy number, one film a day for a month. Most people who make similar lists make a list with 50 or 100 films. If I'd allowed myself 100 films I would have been able to include all the films that I truly consider to be essential viewing. On the other hand, isn't 1001 films too many? That's an average of 10 films every year, if we set the starting point at "Birth of a Nation" in 1915. A list like that could never be complete if the bar is set so low. Every year there will be another 10 films that will have the right to be included. At least with my list of 30 films there will only be one film every three or four years, on average, that I might consider to be included.

Now to the film itself. It's a remake of a famous horror film with the same name made in 1958. I know that people (including myself) argue passionately about whether films should be remade or not, but in this case I'll block the discussion before it starts. What I said was wrong. This isn't a remake. It has different characters and a different plot. The only thing the two films share is the title. If the 1986 film had been given a different name, such as "The Experiment", nobody would have called it a remake. It's too different.

"The Fly" (this version) is about Seth Brundle, a man who has invented teleportation. First he sends inanimate objects from one teleportation pod to another across the room. Then a monkey. Finally himself. The problem is that when he teleports himself there's a second living being in the pod with him: a fly. This was something not allowed for in the computer program, so the result is that the two creatures, the man and the fly, are spliced together at the molecular genetic level. Initially Seth emerges from the pod looking the same. After a few days the first changes become visible and they seem positive: Seth is stronger, more agile and more sexually potent. As time progresses the changes are less appealing. His teeth and his fingernails fall out, and he's only able to nourish himself from liquids.

"The Fly" is also a love story. Seth meets Ronnie, a reporter from a scientific magazine who wants to write about his experiments. At first the relationship is platonic, but friendship turns into lust, and lust turns into love. A complication in the relationship is Ronnie's ex-boyfriend Stathis, who is also her boss. That's an uncomfortable position for anyone to be in. Having to work for your ex-lover? She should have changed her job. In this case it's particularly difficult, because Stathis is a domineering <insert-appropriate-swearword>. He still has a key to Ronnie's apartment and refuses to give it back when she asks. He follows her when she drives away. He suggests that they have sex to relieve the tension at work. I felt anger welling up inside me whenever he appeared on screen. He reminds me of Christian Grey in "50 Shades of Grey". They're both utterly despicable characters.

This is Jeff Goldblum's signature role, which I explained in my review of "The Girl from BIKINI". For me he will always be Seth Brundle. It's not just the quality of his acting. His looks, his madness and his mannerisms are iconic. Who else could have played the part? Geena Davis is perfectly cast as the wide-eyed innocent reporter Ronnie.

The film is a masterpiece. It's David Cronenberg at his best. From the 1970's to the 1990's he made horror films. Over the last 15 years he's turned to making dramas like "Maps to the stars". It's my opinion that he should return to horror. That's what he was best at. The film has hardly dated in the last 30 years. Only the vintage computer systems and Ronnie's 80's hair style make the film look old. The film's only real fault is the dream sequence in the latter half. I hate dream sequences in films. I consider them to be poor script-writing. Something happens, it terrifies the audience, then the person wakes up and surprise! It never really happened. That's poor.

One personal problem I have with the film is the visual horror aspects. I shuddered when I saw Seth's body falling apart. That's something I don't like to see, and it's also a reason why I don't want to watch the film more often. I don't mind gore if it's obviously fake, but I hate scenes which look as if they could really happen.

This isn't a remake, as I've already made clear, but it does pay homage to the old film in a way that casual viewers might miss. The last words spoken by the fly in the 1956 film are, "Help me. Please help me". They're the main unforgettable quote from the film. Seth Brundle speaks these exact words to Ronnie when he realises that his change is for the worse.

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