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From my experience, everybody loves a good monster movie. Be it some over-the-top, cheesy, camp and delirious 50s effort, or modern day special effect laden blockbusters, audiences cannot get enough of seeing bizarre creatures come to life and leave chaos and destruction in their wake. One of Hollywood’s greatest assets, at least in modern consensus, is its ability to blow stuff up with mindless bravado seen nowhere else but in their coveted studios. Back in 1958, when cinemagoers worldwide ventured into the complexes to be thrust in front of giant blobs, claymation dinosaurs and octopuses, one flick did something a little unexpected. The Fly – aptly titled as it is – placed its human protagonist in a situation where he suddenly became his deadly opposite, the antagonist of the plot.

Fly: Ultimate Collector's Edition, The
Feature
This is a theme Hollywood has since picked up on in several blatant rip-offs over the years; some have even managed to do a much better job of it, too. The Fly, as bold and convincing as it was (for the time), had several plot holes and inconsistencies that are probably best described as being sinfully opaque. Though the thrill of seeing a man adorned in a hairy suit chasing innocent bystanders was sure to scare innocent audiences back in the 50s, today it comes off as ludicrous and perhaps painfully cheesy. Indeed, this 1950s original does not hold up as well as one might think, nor does its 1959 follow-up, Return of the Fly.

In this film, story and plot points cleverly setup in the first were shunned in favour of higher quantities of makeup and special effects – a theme all audiences of today are all too familiar with. And while it can be said that the first now appears boring by today’s standards, for all intents and purposes it does still come over as a good, solid film. Return of the Fly is just plain bad however. Everything about it screams gloom; its dire makeup that is even worse that the first; a plot so thin it threatens to snap before your very eyes and dialogue delivery that is comparable to a game of ping pong, jabbing back and forth with an almost sadistic quality.

Fly: Ultimate Collector's Edition, The
Then we come to the killer, the third and (thankfully) final act of this horror trilogy – Curse of the Fly. Coming several years after the second, you’d expect tighter, more visceral action and special effects, but you’d be dead wrong. What you can expect is a film fit for a bowl of dirty dishwater – a benign, maniacal frenzy so far removed from its original it is barely worth watching. The main problem with both of The Fly’s sequels is that they did nothing new, they repeat themes over and over again and lost direction and subtlety along the way.

By this third film, the series begins to parody itself in ways so mundane you’ll be forgiven for falling asleep less then half way though. Indeed, Hollywood has always been this way, but you may be shocked to learn that cinema was as uneven and disorderly back in the 50s as it is today. A great many people seem to think cinema is worse today than it used to be, but if this seven disc boxset teaches us anything, it is that cinema has always been this way. Hollywood hasn’t changed one iota, and I doubt it ever will.

After all of these three films drifted from modern memory, it wasn’t until the mid eighties that Hollywood execs decided a remake was necessary. Film fans had a right to be sceptical – why remake a series that didn’t exactly enjoy booming success, why not just leave it dead and buried? But what Canadian director David Cronenberg brought to his remake was just about everything that was absent from all of its older brothers – scares, substance and plenty of visual style.

Fly: Ultimate Collector's Edition, The
It was this film that quickly became the series’ grandest achievement, even heartily surpassing the original from which it was inspired. Cronenberg delivered, and his direction, coupled with a strong, methodical story won over a whole new generation of cinemagoers. It was also the film that saw Jeff Goldblum’s career skyrocket. His supporting cast also did a fantastic job, not least the lovely Geena Davis. And while the film didn’t break any box office records, or go on to win any major awards, it took an aging concept and reworked it into something fresh and rewarding.

Sadly however, Hollywood’s greed got in the way once more, as it called for more sequels. You’d think that they would have learned by this time that sequels, especially for films of this nature, are not good for business. But still, they persisted, and the result was the fifth and final film in this collection, The Fly II. Just like the original 1958 version had dire sequels, it seemed the same fate awaited this modern saga. Weak storytelling, bland characters and a complete lack of imagination is what plagues this sequel – all too familiar signs a series has outstayed its welcome. After The Fly II crashed hard at the box office, Hollywood got the message – this franchise was over and done with, for the second time.

Fly: Ultimate Collector's Edition, The
Video
The video presentation across all five film discs is good, if resoundingly unspectacular. Two of the first three films are in black and white and are naturally overcharged with more noise than your average Slipknot concert. As with many horror films, I often appreciate this effect, unintentional or not. It is quite obvious that here the effect is unintentional, but it still serves its purpose well enough. The newer generation of films are slightly better, but are still just as unclean and uneven as their siblings. Images are not as sharp as they need to be, and more often than not the images are plagued with annoying artefacts which serve as welcome distractions for the less favourable films in this set. Still, for what they are, and considering their age they look pretty good.

Audio
Each film is presented in Dolby Digital, though not all are given the full 5.1 treatment. The first crop of films sound virtually identical to most films produced in the 50s and 60s. Audio is tinny, often piercing and bass response is practically non-existent. Thankfully, the later generation films sound better (as expected), but in all honestly the sound is still oddly underwhelming. Directional effects are mostly flat, and any bass that comes across the sound range is again not particularly spectacular. Overall, these films sound good, but not as much as they could have done, especially the latter two.

Fly: Ultimate Collector's Edition, The
Extras
Let us start from the very first film in this set. On this disc, all you are going to get is a theatrical trailer, and an ugly one at that. There’s no documentary present, no interviews and no commentary – highly disappointing indeed. The second film and disc fares no better either, with yet another ugly-looking theatrical trailer present. The third film, Curse of the Fly has no features at all.

Onto the second generation of films. The 1986 version of The Fly has plenty of features, thankfully. On disc one you get a great commentary from David Cronenberg to whet your appetite. Disc two kicks off with two decent documentaries: ‘Fear of the Flesh’ and ‘The Brundle Museum of Natural History’. There are also several deleted scenes, a small handful of which were quite interesting. The ‘Written Works’ menu contains the full script for the original short story, the screenplay, the rewrite and finally some magazine articles. The disc also includes several film test segments, each about a minute or two in length. Lastly, you get some promotional material such as trailers, TV spots and a still gallery that rounds out the disc.

Disc one of The Fly II contains a director’s commentary. Chris Walas isn’t as good a talker as David Cronenberg, but he still provides an insightful commentary for his drab film. Joining him on this commentary is film historian Bob Burns. Next up is a deleted scene, an alternate ending, and trailers for each film in the entire saga, save for this one, oddly. On disc two we get another two documentaries: ‘Transformations’ and ‘The Buzz on Hollywood’s Scariest Insect’. The latter is a little bias perhaps, but both are reasonably entertaining. Next up there are three featurettes: ‘1989 Theatrical EPK’, ‘CWI Video’ and ‘Composer’s Master Class’. For those that appreciate storyboard to film comparisons, you will no doubt like the variant that appears on this disc. You can select from three scenes, and there is also an option to have director’s commentary on or off. Lastly there are some trailers (which actually does contain the trailer for this film) and a stills gallery.

Fly: Ultimate Collector's Edition, The
Overall
If the messages throughout this review have not already become clear, then I will state it more obviously: I cannot, and do not recommend this DVD set, even if film lore if your thing. To be honest, I cannot imagine this set appealing to anyone but the most fussy and avid collectors, and even then it is sure to test their patience. The highlight of the set is Jeff Goldblum’s interpretation of The Fly, and the original 1958 effort still offers plenty of camp entertainment, but the set as a whole inspires very mixed feelings.

This uneven nature also transpires to the audio and video presentation, too. Though things could certainly have been worse, the technical aspects are not particularly impressive or rewarding. Even the extra features contained within this seven disc set create the feeling of monotony, and only the faintest glimmer of hope comes from the 1986 version and its spattering of extras. In all, The Fly boxset is a mixed bag, and one with holes aplenty. Overall, this set is not worth the price of admission.


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