All right, I can admit when I'm wrong.
Usually, I'm the guy hopping up and down on his soapbox ranting and raving about how much he hates remakes. It's true. For the most part, I hate 'em. I watched the clock all through The Amityville Horror remake the other day (which terrified me mostly in that, no matter how hard I try, I could never look like Ryan Reynolds), and the news of any further remakes elicits responses from me ranging from groans to shrieking threats to burn Hollywood to the ground.
Of course, in all my squealing fits, I foolishly forgot about that ever-so-rare breed, the good remake. John Carpenter updated The Thing in a suitably creepy infectious retooling for the pathophobic Eighties, and of course, David Cronenberg left his unmistakable, gooey mark on The Fly, which Fox has just re-released onto DVD (along with its unsatisfying sequel) for mass consumption. They represent the cream of the crop, reworkings of the original themes in new, exciting ways without losing sight (or respect) of their source materials.
Much like the original, Cronenberg's Fly centers around teleportation, although this time pioneered by Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) rather than Andre Delambre. He meets the lovely journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) at a party, where, at his insistence, she accompanies him to his apartment where he shows her his "telepods" (actually modelled after the cylinder head of Cronenberg's Ducati motorcycle), and makes her an offer she can't refuse: to be the journalist who records one of the most amazing accomplishments in human history. She accepts, much to the chagrin of her editor/ex-boyfriend Stathis Borans (John Getz), who senses Veronica's growing feelings for Brundle as they spend day and night together, recording all of the accomplishments and pratfalls of the telepods, including a particularly nasty episode where a baboon is reintegrated inside-out. Figuring out the problem over, of all things, a steak dinner, they finally hit their first major milestone: a second baboon is transmitted without harm.
Drunken and despondent over Veronica when she goes to confront the increasingly hostile Stathis, Brundle decides to take the plunge and teleport himself. Seeing as how this movie isn't called The Experiment That Went Just Right or Seth Brundle: He Didn't Get Hurt, Brundle's telepods hit a snag when he is joined in the chamber by a common housefly. Only programmed to teleport one entity, the computer takes the additional genetic information from the fly and mixes it in with Brundle's. At first, the changes are positive and subtle: Brundle experiences newfound vigor and energy and his sexual stamina increases tenfold, although his overpowering need for simple sugars (Dr. Atkins would cry) and occasional violent outbursts concern Veronica. Unfortunately, the fly's DNA entwined in Brundle's begins to manifest itself more and more, turning Brundle into a self-coined "Brundle-Fly," who continues to deteriorate as Veronica can do nothing but watch her rapidly degenerating lover.
Underneath all the snot and slime that coats The Fly (much like many of his movies), Cronenberg and co-screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue manage to weave a much deeper, more adult film than one would expect from the source material. At its core, The Fly is as much a love story exploring the blooming romance between Brundle and Veronica even as Brundle's body is collapsing. The air practically buzzes with their sexual tension (a mood helped, no doubt, by the fact that Goldblum and Davis were dating at the time), from the early scene where Veronica doffs a stocking for teleportation to one of the many passionate love scenes between the pair. Their chemistry is undeniable, and lends true believability to the film...as much as a film about a man mutating into a humanoid insect can be, anyways. Jeff Goldblum's rather spastic acting style translates perfectly in this case, supplying the already wired Brundle with even more insectile tics and movements once his transformation is underway. Geena Davis' growing fear for Brundle (and herself, when she discovers she's pregnant with his child) is always simmering just under the surface, even when she tries to conceal it under a veneer of disgust at his increasingly erratic behavior. John Getz is also quite notable, portraying a man full of smoldering jealousy and a generous, oily slice of sleaze.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Cronenberg movie without that aforementioned slime, and the Fly delivers in spades. The practical effects are invariably disgusting, as Brundle's body begins shedding "unnecessary" parts which he keeps in a morbid museum in his medicine cabinet. His deteriorating frame is riddled with sores and growths, all of which Brundle examines with equal parts fear and scientific curiosity. "This," he announces into a camera on which he is recording his transformation, "is how Brundle-Fly eats." He then nonchalantly vomits up milky stomach acid onto a donut held in a pincer-like hand. Hell, even almost 20 years later, Brundle's flesh-shucking final transformation is still one of the best cinematic money shots in history.
For those of you who already own The Fly on DVD (which includes me), you're certainly wondering if this new release is worth it. I can say, without a moment's hesitation, yes. While the video quality is only a baby-step over the previous release (slightly improved color saturation can't hide the myriad dings, scratches, and hairs), the audio remix is positively awesome. The previous English Dolby 5.1 mix is joined by a new DTS mix which adds some extra "oomph" to the already clean mix and pumps up the awesome Howard Shore score quite nicely. Even better, the nonexistent extras of the previous disc are completely overshadowed by the new version's positively stunning number of goodies. We're given feature-length commentary from Cronenberg, a two and a half hour documentary (which, surprisingly, never once wore out its welcome), a collection of trailers, TV spots, and posters. Best of all of these is the startlingly well-done collection of deleted and extended scenes. Not content with shoving a daily onto the disc and calling it a day, Fox went the admirable route of remastering every one of these scenes, sometimes even doing a bang-up job restoring from the original workprint, inserting music and sound effects, whatever it took to make the deleted scene seem like it was part of the original release. Sure, a few of the workprint cuts look washed out and are exceptionally damaged, but many of these scenes could easily be reinserted into the film with almost no visible seams. We're also given the original Pogue screenplay, the Cronenberg rewrite, and original short story on which The Fly was based as it appeared in Playboy back in 1957. Normally I scoff at so-called "Collector's Editions," but this time Fox has shown us how it's done. Everyone else would be advised to follow suit.
The Fly is one of those movies that, honestly, belongs in the collection of everyone who's into horror or sci-fi. It takes a rather hokey concept (cue shot of a tiny Andre Delambre trapped in a spiderweb, squealing "Help me pleeeeeease!") and makes it scary, provocative, and decidedly adult. Even if you already own the "double feature" release, the new upgrade is worth every penny and then some.