Director: David Cronenberg
Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg
|Stars: Jeff Goldblum (Seth Brundle), Gena Davis (Ronnie Quiafe), John Getz (Stathis
Borans, Joy Boushel (Tawny), Les Carlson (Dr. Cheevers)
|Year of Release: 1986
|The Fly II
|Director: Chris Walas
|Screenplay: Mick Garris and Jim & Ken Wheat and Frank Darabont (story by Mick
|Stars: Eric Stoltz (Martin Brundle), Daphne Zuniga (Beth), Lee Richardson (Bartok), John
Getz (Stathis Borans), Frank C. Turner (Shepard), Ann Marie Lee (Jaloway), Gary Chalk
(Scorby), Saffron Henderson (Ronnie)
|Year of Release: 1989
Near the middle of David Cronenberg's "The Fly," the main character, a
brilliant scientist named Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), declares, "You can't penetrate
beyond society's sick, grave fear of the flesh."
That statement essentially summarizes the cinematic career of David Cronenberg.
Throughout all his films, from his early horror movies like "The Brood" (1979) to his
highly controversial adaptation of J.G. Ballard's "Crash" (1996), his central aim has always
been penetrating the fear we have of our own bodies by distorting them. As Steven Shaviro
noted in his excellent book, "The Cinematic Body," "David Cronenberg's films focus
insistently, obsessively on the body.... They are unsparingly visceral; that is what makes
them so disturbing."
In the history of cinema, there has been no filmmaker more adept at making us feel uneasy
about our own bodies than Cronenberg. His entire oeuvre (especially his early films) is a
catalog of human grotesquerie, mutation, and biological horror. In "Shivers" (1975), a
parasite invades a high-tech apartment building and turns its inhabitants into libidinal
zombies, which has often been read as a metaphor for venereal disease. In "Rabid" (1977),
an ordinary woman becomes a vampiric creature after plastic surgery, and in "Videodrome"
(1982) the human body finds its ultimate role in becoming the servant of video technology,
the literal merging of the flesh and the mechanical.
Yet, Cronenberg does not detest the body, as film scholar Robin Wood has argued, and his
primary aim is not simply to drive his audience to revulsion, a point that has been made by
Pauline Kael. Instead, these extreme examples of biological horror are simply a means of
making his audience face and deal with their physical bodily existence. The fact that his
films cause such unease is testament to his filmmaking abilities and the way in which they
tap into preexisting fears.
In terms of generating unease about our own bodies, Cronenberg's real masterpiece is his
1986 film "The Fly," which is a loose remake of the late '50s cult classic in which a
scientist finds himself with the head and arm of a housefly after an experiment with a
teleportation device goes terribly wrong. Cronenberg and co-screenwriter Charles Edward
Pogue maintain this basic scenario, but they twist it by having the effects of being
genetically combined with a fly emerge gradually, like a degenerative disease.
When Brundle first emerges from his great invention, a teleportation device that breaks
down an object in one pod and then reassembles it in another, he thinks that the machine
has somehow improved him. Full of energy and vigor and with strength and agility he has
never known before, he lives briefly under the delusion that he has become superhuman.
That delusion quickly fades once his exterior begins to break down. Lesions appear on his
face, his fingernails start to fall off, and strange, wiry hairs grow from his back. His
personality changes with his physical mutations, which serves to strengthen the connection
between the mind and body; in Cronenberg's films, the mind and body are inextricably
linked, which breaks down traditional (and often reassuring in the times of disease)
Cartesian notions of a mind/body split. In Cronenberg's world, when the body is in turmoil,
so is the spirit.
Brundle's girlfriend, a science journalist named Ronnie (Geena Davis), tries to help him, but
there is nothing that can be done. Like so many bodies in Cronenberg's films, Brundle's is
out of control. There is nothing he can do but go through denial before eventually accepting
his fate: He is becoming Brundlefly, a new life form that has never existed before.
To many, "The Fly" is merely another Cronenbergian exercise in being gross. To be sure,
the movie is quite sickening in the visceral detail with which Cronenberg documents
Brundle's metamorphosis. Physical change of this magnitude is an ugly thing, and
Cronenberg's camera never shies away from any of it.
Yet, the film is much deeper than its sci-fi/horror surface. The metaphorical possibilities
inherent in the material have led people to read "The Fly" in many ways, most notably as
an allegory about AIDS. This reading can be supported, but I see it in more general terms as
another means by which Cronenberg can make us face our existence as physical creatures.
With virtual reality and cyberspace becoming more prevalent, the idea of separating
ourselves from our physical bodies is becoming more and more plausible. What Cronenberg
pushes is the notion that, no matter what, we always have to return to our flesh.
Where other Cronenberg films have collapsed under the heavy weight of their own ideas
(despite its many virtues, can anyone actually explain the last 15 minutes of
"Videodrome"?), "The Fly" succeeds. Perhaps this is because the idea is more simple, more
primal. The deterioration of the human body is as primal a concept as there is, and it is
something most everyone has considered, especially those who have been first-hand
witness to the many degenerative human diseases that are still incurable.
The film also works largely on the performers and their characters. Cronenberg's previous
films did have particularly likable or identifiable characters, so Goldblum's amiable Seth
Brundle is something of a standout. Although Brundle's personality changes with
practically every scene, he still maintains his basic humanity, even in the worst situations.
This is testament to the fine performance by Goldblum, who is so convincing as a brilliant
scientist that he has become typecast in the role ("Jurassic Park," "Independence Day").
His romantic relationship with Geena Davis' Ronnie is affecting and believable, so when
Ronnie is forced to do the unthinkable at the end of the film, it an overwhelmingly
emotional, as well as horrific, scene.
Cronenberg's film was followed a few years later by an inferior, yet still interesting sequel,
"The Fly II". Directed by Chris Walas, who designed the creature
effects for the first film, "The Fly II" is a more straightforward horror film that picks up
where the original left off. Ronnie, pregnant with Brundle's child, dies while giving horrible
birth to what turns out to be a seemingly normal baby. Since the baby was conceived after
Brundle's genetic combination with a fly, there is great expectation that the child will carry
those same characteristics.
While "The Fly" concentrated heavily on issues surrounding the human body, "The Fly II"
takes a wider view and becomes a cautionary story about runaway capitalistic greed.
Similar to the capitalist critique in James Cameron's "Aliens" (1986), "The Fly II"
establishes a fictional megacorporation, Bartock, which was mentioned briefly in the first
film as the company the financed Brundle's experiments. Bartock is run by its namesake,
Mr. Bartock (Lee Richardson), a vicious capitalist predator disguised as a harmless old
businessman. Literally deluded by his God complex, Bartock assumes ownership of
Martin, the Brundle child, who grows up under the watchful, uncaring eye of his scientists
and lab technicians without ever seeing the outside world.
Things are different for Martin because he grows at an accelerated rate. By the time he is
five years old, he is in the body of a normal 20-year-old. Played by Eric Stoltz, who had
already played shy, misunderstood teenagers in "Mask" (1985) and "Some Kind of
Wonderful" (1987), Martin is a hero not unlike his father. Starting off shy and socially
inept, once his mutations begin to take over, he changes into a murderous, yet sympathetic
villain. Martin does not need to go through the teleporter to experience genetic mutation
into Brundlefly; it is already written into his genetic code. Hence, it is only a matter of
"The Fly II" is actually grosser than the first film, but it also far more clumsy. Walas is a
much better special effects designer than he is a director, and the final third of the film in
which Martin, as the enormous mutated Brundlefly, stalks the Bartock compound
wrecking havoc and murdering anyone who did him wrong earlier in the film, is an awkward
concoction of science fiction horror and slasher diatribes. Walas is so intent on grossing out
his audience out that he stages death after death, each other a little more vicious and ineptly
filmed than the first. At one point, a character's head is crushed by a descending elevator in
gratuitous close-up, but the lackluster editing robs the scene of any impact because it is
obvious that he had plenty of time to get out of the way.
Yet, the movie almost redeems itself in the end by finishing with grand poetic justice for
Bartock, the immoral businessman. So intent on owning the Brundle genetic mutation in
order to exploit it for his own profits, Bartock eventually finds himself on the worst of the
receiving end. Death is too good for him, and the final shot is a great moment of deserved
|The Fly / The Fly II Fox Double
|Audio||Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround (both)
|Languages||English (5.1, 2.0)|
trailers for both films|
Original theatrical trailers for other Fox Double Feature DVDs, including "The
Fly"/"Return of the Fly" and "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea"/"Fantastic
|Distributor||20th Century Fox|
|Both films have been transferred in anamorphic widescreen in
their original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, but there is a stark difference between their respective
visual qualities. "The Fly" looks quite good, with nice detail and fairly solid black levels.
The film's color scheme is purposefully muted, giving the film a dark, edgy look. "The Fly
II" tries to replicate this look, but the transfer here is exceptionally grainy. There are
numerous sequences in which large parts of the screen are dark, and film grain is abundant
almost to the point of distraction. Colors and flesh tones looks good, but some of the detail
|Both films are available in both newly remastered Dolby Digital
5.1 surround tracks and Dolby 2.0 surround tracks. Both soundtracks are nicely rendered,
with strong bass and good imaging for the musical scores. Both films are replete with
disgusting sound effects of flesh pulling apart, body parts falling off, and slime oozing, all
of which is given excellent aural treatment.|
|The only supplements on the disc are original theatrical trailers
for both "The Fly" and "The Fly II," both of which are presented in full screen. The disc
also features as trailers for four other movies that Fox is offering on double-feature DVDs:
the original 1958 "The Fly" and its 1959 sequel "Return of the Fly" (both in
nonanamorphic widescreen) and "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (in nonanamorphic
widescreen) and "Fantastic Voyage" (in full frame).|
Overall Rating: (3.5)