A wise man told me not to judge a book by its cover, but the first line. “I’m working on something that will change the world — and human life as we know it.” Change “the world” to “my ability to digest food appropriately in a social setting”, and the same could be said of The Fly.
Eccentric scientist Seth Brundle thinks he’s solved the commuter problem once and for all. Nope, not free Sure roll-ons for bus users, but teleportation. Meeting journalist Veronica (Geena Davis), he agrees to let her chart his discovery and the pair quickly fall for each other/into bed. Until it becomes three’s a crowd when a housefly’s DNA enters the mix and Brundle’s horrific metamorphosis towards becoming a fly-man begins. If only Geena had a 10ft wine glass and a piece of card the size of a disabled parking space…
Maybe it’s the ultimate superhero movie. As man and beast are spliced to create a single being, his desire to become more powerful ultimately leads to despair. He should have learnt his lesson when he went through the telepod with Brian May – the only reasonable explanation for Goldblum’s perm.
The transformation is visually stunning, thanks to Oscar-winning make-up devised by Chris Walas — creator of the Gremlins (if you feed the fly after midnight, he’ll just vomit on it first). It’s fun to see how movie folks did things pre-CGI. Latex, revolving sets, huge contact lenses. Not to mention Goldblum’s (un)believable performance. By the end, the only fly-like quality he didn’t share was their insatiable appetite for steaming piles of dog turd (which, given it was the 80s, would have been white). Even Davis is good. Not many actresses can chart their success through the ratio of lover’s jaw falling off to staying on. But you only have to compare The Fly and Beetlejuice (jaw falls off in both) with Cutthroat Island (jaw remains intact) to prove the point.
That said, it’s the most mainstream of director David Cronenberg’s movies. It seems his penchant for brutal hacking applies to his editing too, with The Fly pretty tight at 95 minutes. Bizarrely, the original director was set to be Mel Brooks, the slapstick mind behind Blazing Saddles. And listen out for Bryan Ferry’s commissioned track in a scene involving a hooker and a broken wrist (I thought you employed hookers to avoid wrist strain?). Whilst the film is gory in parts, it’s only as a complement to what some would call a love story, others an analogy about AIDS (though Cronenberg says this wasn’t his intention) and others the weirdest advert for Durex ever.
Had the teleport experiment gone the other way, and we had a cute little fly with Goldblum’s jerky quips, we’d have had the next Pixar movie. As it is, The Fly is an absorbing semi-horror, with top-notch performances and effects that not only pack Brundle’s oozing wounds, but an emotional punch too.
To conclude, I’ll tell you a story. R Kelly is dining with a fly and orders a foot-long kebab, when the fly says “Twenty quid says you can’t eat all that!”. And R Kelly says, “I believe I can, fly”. Tenuous, but a good point to finish on I think.
Gemma Wildgoose (@gemwildgoose)