Saturday, November 27, 2010

Be Afraid...Be Very Afraid

It was 1986 and America was dealing with a number of technological and medical changes having to do with the body.  Gyms and spas were featuring more and more advanced body toning and sculpting equipment, plastic surgery (which began as a procedure to help those with disfigurement and now was being used for more vain endeavors) was rising in prominence among the affluent, and a disease called AIDS was slowly putting itself into a position to destroy us from the inside out.  It seemed that everywhere you looked, something was changing our bodies into vessels that were unfamiliar to us.  It created intrigue, curiosity, and fear...and director David Chronenburg was right in the middle of it.  He was already examining the effects of science and the body in films such as The Brood, Scanners, and Videodrome and was poised to bring his vision of body transformation to an old tale and make it relevant again.  To date it is considered one of the best remakes to come out of the 80s remake trend and also one of the grossest films of the 80s.  So lets take a look at a science fiction classic called The Fly.

It is almost like an old-fashioned romance.  Veronica "Ronnie" Quaffe is a lovely journalist attending a party for the Bartok Technologies corporation and while there she meets the mild-mannered but attractive Dr. Seth Brundle who promises her that he is working on something extraordinary.  Against her better judgment, she follows him to his apartment where he shows her his new invention, two large black pods.  Brundle tells her that they are teleportation pods and that they can transfer matter between them through the use of digital technology.  She is skeptical at first, but when he teleports one of her stockings she becomes a believer.  He makes a deal with her then.  If she will act as a historian for his work, he will give her exclusive rights to the story and permit her to write a book about the process.  It is a slow and difficult process, as he is having difficulty teleporting organic material through the machines.  Soon though, as a result of a budding romance with Ronnie, Brundle solves the problem of the organic material and sends a baboon through unharmed.  It seems as though the process will yield both a successful discovery and a relationship, but then something goes wrong.  Brundle goes through the telepods unsupervised and doesn't notice that he has been joined by a common housefly.  The computer becomes confused and instead of keeping the two of them separate, it merges them at the genetic level.  Soon Brundle is going through serious changes and Ronnie has to choose between her love for him and her own safety.

The Fly really is an excellent remake.  It takes the familiar elements of the original story and grafts them onto a tale that is highly relevant to the times.  Brundle's discovery of sex and subsequent spiral into disintegrating health is almost like an allegory for the AIDS and HIV epidemic that was racing through the headlines and Ronnie's brush with an unwanted pregnancy has shades of the 'safe-sex' and 'planned parenthood' debates that were beginning to rage.  The idea that unwanted changes could occur within our own bodies was something that was sure to make the people in the theater squirm in their seats.  Add to this idea the amazing performances of Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle and Geena Davis as Veronica Quaffe and you have the makings of a solid science fiction thriller.  The juicy effects work is also high quality and sure to make even the strongest of stomachs lurch a little as we go from little things falling off of Brundle to the full transformation at the end.  Last but not least is the orchestral score by Howard Shore that makes the film sound bigger than its claustrophobic surroundings and also links it to its 1950s film roots.  Would a straight remake of the original story be welcome here?  Of course, but this is a great film too and with the changes it feels like a fully original work.  Its certainly no surprise that Chronenberg went on to bigger and better things.  So if you think your stomach can handle the ick, give this one a try.  It will surely keep you up at night.

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