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Back in 1986, the big scary movie everyone thought they were going to get that summer was the sequel to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien. As it turns out, and even though it is a great film and does have its fair share of horrific and edge of your seat moments, James Cameron’s Aliens turned out to be more of a sci-fi action picture than the ride through the spook house the first film was. The real horror film of the summer came a few weeks later when Twentieth Century Fox released director David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly to movie audiences that had little to no idea what they were in store for at the time.

Fly: Collector's Edition, The
Cronenberg had just released The Dead Zone in 1983 for Paramount, and while directing a film based on a book by such a celebrated and well known writer such as Stephen King might have seemed like an odd choice for a director that had until that time written much of his own material, the choice of directing The Fly, a remake of the Vincent Price shocker of the same name from 1958, seemed doubly odd. Granted, remakes at that time were not as prevalent on the big screen as what we are accustomed to in 2005, and while generally not looked down upon as much then as it has become trendy to do so today, the film was still a remake of what many consider one of the classic horror pictures of the 1950s. Add to this the fact that another such remake, John Carpenter’s The Thing, proved to be a box office disappointment just three years earlier, and Cronenberg’s choice of directing the film as his second studio picture looked to be a gamble at best.

Loosely based on the 1958 film, The Fly stars Jeff Goldblum as a reclusive scientist, Seth Brundle, who is on the verge of unveiling an invention that would change the world in countless ways—a set of teleportation pods that disintegrate particles of matter in one place and reintegrate them in another. The good doctor’s attentions, however, are soon shifted towards investigative journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), and in an attempt to impress her he unveils the invention to her. When she decides to go ahead with a story for her magazine against Seth’s wishes, he offers that instead she let the article wait and chronicle the entire completion of the project.

Brundle’s first tests on inanimate objects prove to be successful, but the machine cannot seem to quantify and successfully transport living tissue. Shortly after experiencing an epiphany that would seem to resolve this one glaring issue, Seth decides to test the transport pods on himself. From all first indications, the experiment proves to be a success, but soon his body begins to change which leads Seth to a horrifying conclusion—his DNA has fused with that of the common housefly that had unknowingly flown into the pod with him during the experiment. As he begins a desperate attempt to use his invention as the means to a possible cure, the transformation, like a disease, slowly begins to overcome him both physically and mentally.

In much the same way that John Carpenter approached his 1982 film, Cronenberg took the basic story elements from his source material and jettisoned the rest in crafting his own unique vision. Borrowing from Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Cronenberg shaped the film into a horrifying story of a man whose body becomes his worst enemy as he attempts to reverse the inevitable. The film also works on the level of a tragic romance between the two leads, and in the process better grounds the film to reality when the screenplay veers further and further into the science fiction and horror aspects of the story than the original film even attempted. Cronenberg is so successful at making the material his own and drawing the viewer into the most intimate moments in these people’s lives that it makes his earlier film Videodrome a more fitting companion piece to this film than the original and makes the fact that The Fly is a remake a moot point.

Fly: Collector's Edition, The
Besides Cronenberg’s deft direction and the excellent screenplay by Cronenberg and Charles Edward Pogue, every aspect of the production is of the highest order, from the brilliant cast to the special effects that ooze off of the screen. Jeff Goldblum gives one of his best, multi-layered performances as the troubled scientist, while Geena Davis, who at that time had mostly done comedy, portrays the love interest who can only watch as the man she loves slips further and further away from his humanity in one of the highlights of her career. The makeup effects designed by Chris Walas, who had worked with Cronenberg before on Scanners and went on to direct this film’s unfortunately inferior sequel, still hold up today nearly twenty years later, and, I must say, still make me squirm in my seat when they appear on screen. After watching the film, you will more than likely never watch Stallone’s Over the Top in the same way again (Oh come on…you know you watch it every time it runs on cable at one in the morning).

In retrospect, it’s plain to see that Cronenberg’s gamble of taking on The Fly was a choice well made as it stands as a clear example of what a director at the top of his game can do with material that was once thought of as definitive. With all of the remakes proliferating theatres in recent years, and in what I am sure are many more to come, today’s directors can learn a lesson from Cronenberg’s film. The best way to approach such material is not to film a carbon copy of the original, but to make a unique work, one that offers a fresh spin on the material and plays on audiences’ expectations based on the knowledge of what they think they know. If every attempt at remaking or re-imagining a movie adhered to this philosophy, we just might have more remakes that are not only much more interesting, but also surpass their source material just as The Fly most certainly does.

Video


Fox Home Video presents The Fly in its second incarnation on DVD with an anamorphic transfer at the film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. For a film that is nearly twenty years old, the transfer presented here is quite good and free of any glaring defects with the exception of the occasional artefact that pops up every now and again due to debris on the source. Comparing this release to the disc released in 2000, the print used here seems to be the same one used for the former release so the film hasn’t been re-mastered, but it does contain a new video transfer of the print that has an overall bit rate 35% greater than the original release. The results of Fox’s efforts in creating a new transfer are that this new one offers a much sharper image than before and better handles light and darkness contrasts. If you were looking for reasons to upgrade to this new disc, the video transfer is number one out of many that I will get to shortly.

Audio


Besides the new video transfer, Fox has supplied the film with the choice of English soundtracks in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound along with tracks containing Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround audio. As is the case with most films that were originally mixed with stereo surround, the effects in each of the 5.1 tracks are kept to a minimum and relegated mostly to the front speakers, though at times they do offer up a surprise or two. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track seems to be taken directly from the original release and while it is a good track, the less compressed DTS track, with its wider range and depth, is definitely the way to go when watching the movie. The major beneficiary of the upgraded sound turns out to be Howard Shore’s haunting and operatic score, which sounds so good it that I wish an isolated score was included on the disc as an alternate track. Overall, the audio tracks presented here are exactly what I expected from the release and are another reason to upgrade to this two-disc set, although it would have been nice if the film’s original stereo surround track were carried over from the 2000 release.

Fly: Collector's Edition, The

Extras


After releasing the film on DVD five years ago as a basically featureless double feature disc with its sequel, Fox Home Video has served up plenty of extras for their re-release of The Fly that alone are worth the price of the two-disc set, so be prepared to comb through a few hours of quality bonus material.

Besides containing the film itself, disc one contains commentary with writer and director David Cronenberg. If you have ever listened to any of the director’s previous commentary tracks on DVDs such as Videodrome or Naked Lunch, you already know that you are in for an informative, introspective and entertaining listen, and this track does not disappoint in the least. Cronenberg discusses virtually every aspect of making the film and along the way lets a few interesting facts come to light, such as the inspiration for the telepods’ design, how he goes about thinking up character names for use in his screenplays, explanations for several of the film’s effects shots, and the involvement of producer Mel Brooks on the project. If you have yet to give Cronenberg a listen on any of the previous discs that he has been involved with, this track is as good a place as any to start.

Disc two contains the rest of the special features contained in the set, including a nearly three hour documentary, featurettes, stills galleries, scripts, magazine articles, and trailers. The piece de resistance of this second disc is the outstanding documentary ‘Fear the Flesh: The Making of The Fly’, which carries with it the option of watching it in either a two hour and fifteen minute cut or with deleted portions of interviews thrown back into the documentary via an enhanced viewing mode which brings the total running time of the feature to just over two hours and forty-five minutes. The documentary also contains the option of either watching it as one complete feature or, if you are running short of time, viewing it in three distinct parts, each covering a different stage in the production of the movie.

The only other documentaries that come to mind when thinking of comparisons are those found in the extended edition box sets of The Lord of the Rings films or the two-disc edition of Spider-Man 2, but this is the only documentary of this scope that I have seen for an older film with the possible exception of the ones found in the Alien Quadrilogy set, also from Fox, and either edition of John Carpenter’s The Thing from Universal Home Video. Nearly every major participant in making the film is featured in new interviews, including among many others producer Stuart Cornfeld, special effects designer Chris Walas, director of photography Mark Irwin, and actors Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz. Each offer their particular insight into the production along with a plethora of anecdotes and little known facts about the production and are entertaining as they are informative. The one omission from the documentary I found strange, however, is that Cronenberg himself is nowhere to be found. Granted, he is the sole contributor to the film’s commentary track, but his presence would have added to an already great documentary.

Fly: Collector's Edition, The
Next is a feature that once again harkens back to the Alien Quadrilogy box set, a featurette, entitled ‘The Brundle Museum of Natural History’, that finds special effects supervisor Chris Walas visiting with some of his nearly twenty year-old creations in the basement of horror icon collector Bob Burns. Over the course of the eleven minute piece, Walas explains the origins of several pieces in Burns’ collection, many of which are maquettes of different development ideas for the design of the Brundlefly creature in the movie. This is an excellent featurette and really delivers on its intention of showing some of the work that went into the making of the film that was never realized on film.

The next features included in the set are a series of extended and deleted scenes, some in finished form, some in work print form, and one in script form. For the most part, these scenes were wisely cut to quicken the pace of the film, but one deleted scene was cut mainly to assure the film would not disconnect the audience from the main character. This scene, which is also the longest of the cut and trimmed scenes available here, is an entire sequence involving Brundle fusing the DNA of his baboon and a cat while researching a cure for his affliction. Once you see the scene, you will immediately understand the reasons for it being cut from the film and why the filmmakers felt that the film was better off for having it left out. The film’s preview audience tested, alternate ending is also included, and once you see it you will understand why it too was removed from the film, but for entirely different reasons. Also included are a few different clips of test footage, such as makeup tests and exploding head experiments which are all fairly interesting and a welcome addition to the set.

A portion of the special features are devoted to printed material, and included in this section are George Langelaan's original short story as printed in a 1957 issue of Playboy, Charles Edward Pogue’s original screenplay, and David Cronenberg’s rewrite of the screenplay. The only issue I have with these additions is that I would have preferred they be included on the disc as DVD-ROM features rather than having them accessible only through the DVD menu; taking the time to actually read them on a television screen while constantly using the remote is exhausting, but they could always be viewed on a PC with such programs as Power DVD or Windows Media Player in similar fashion to what the DVD-ROM versions would allow so it really isn’t a big deal.

The other printed material features are two interactive articles from Cinefex and American Cinematographer magazines which contain a number of stills and video clips accessible as each article is read. These pieces, written at the time of the film’s original release, contain a great deal of interesting insight and information, and any gaps not filled by the disc’s main documentary are adequately taken care of here.

Under the promotional materials menu are two more featurettes made for the release of the film, one focusing on director David Cronenberg and the other an electronic press kit that focuses on the film itself. With a running time of about five minutes each, these features are nowhere near as extensive as the other featurettes on the disc, but in all fairness were never meant to be. Their inclusion here is more for posterity, but they remain a welcome addition to the set nonetheless. The rest of the promotional materials are rounded out by the film’s theatrical teaser and trailer, television commercials, trailers for the sequel and original films in the series, and a movie poster and lobby card gallery.

Rounding out the features found within the set are a series of still galleries that focus in on particular aspects of the production; publicity, behind-the-scenes, concept art and visual effects. In total, there are a couple hundred stills to be found within the galleries, ranging from the very technical to the very candid, featuring the cast and crew of the film as well as a few shots of producer Mel Brooks as he visits the set.

Overall, Fox Home Video has gathered a collection of supplemental material for this two-disc set that rivals any current DVD available on the market. It’s sets like this that remind me of the potential that the DVD format holds and really make me wish everything was released with such care and bang for the buck.

Fly: Collector's Edition, The

Overall


The Fly stands as David Cronenberg’s biggest success at achieving both critical accolades and big box office receipts, and for good reason too—expertly crafted in every aspect, The Fly is Cronenberg at the top of his game and to this day remains as the director’s most memorable work of cinema. The film works on multiple levels, and while the horror on screen may seem outlandish and absurdly disturbing, the underlying themes of the movie hit the viewer on a very real and visceral level.

Fox Home Video has given horror fans an early Halloween treat this year with a second DVD release of the film that features better picture and sound than the older disc along with special features that include another great Cronenberg commentary track, one of the best documentaries I have ever seen on DVD, and loads of other extras packed within the two-disc set. For those of you that picked up Criterion’s release of Videodrome last year and thought it was great, you will be absolutely floored with this presentation. For those of you that haven’t yet experienced The Fly and/or David Cronenberg, now is the time to pick up the movie and this package, which is so far the best release of 2005. Be afraid, be very afraid indeed.


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