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The Fly: A Sci-Fi Classic For Thirty Years And Counting

The Brundle Fly in the classic sci-fi movie The Fly

In the context of The Fly, If you were bitten by a radioactive spider today, what do you think would happen?

Well, probably one of two things, right? Either you’d die a slow and painful death, or you’d become a real-life Spider-Man. As sensational, spectacular, and amazing as the latter would likely be, let’s face it – the former is much more likely. I’ll give you that “realistic” isn’t exactly a rallying cry among sci-fi fans, and yet, without strong ties to our real experiences in the form of believable circumstances and relatable characters, science fiction would never have cultivated such a robust and dedicated following. In other words, it’s safe to say that even we sci-fi fans don’t mind a bit of appropriately administered realism, and to a certain extent, we even rely on it.

I bring all of this up because what I like most about the classic sci-fi movie The Fly (and I’m referring to the 1986 version) is its realism. Clearly, there’s a lot about the movie that isn’t realistic at all, but I’m talking specifically about the fact that we’ve become more or less conditioned to imagine that every time a brilliant scientist (or promising young honor student, for that matter) becomes the victim of a really cool science experience gone wrong, awesome things ensue. Now, two notes:

  1. Awesome doesn’t have to mean you turn out to be one of the “good guys” – The Leader, Doctor Octopus, Mister Sinister – I humbly submit that those are all pretty awesome dudes.
  2. You could argue that what happens to Seth Brundle in The Fly is, in fact, awesome by definition…and I would agree, but it’s still not the kind of “awesome” that I mean.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that superhero flicks should be more realistic, I’m just saying that it’s also fun to see the other side of things on occasion. You know, like what would actually  happen if someone spliced lizard DNA with their own. Anyway, there are several other reasons that The Fly is one of my favorite classic sci-fi films.

Jeff Goldblum is a Really Cool Human Being

Jeff Goldblum in the classic sci-fi movie The FlyAnd I don’t just mean that he’s cool for a Hollywood actor. I mean, he is, by all accounts, a legitimately cool guy. Now, what is cool, exactly? As much as I’d like to list all the things that most certainly aren’t cool, I guess it comes down to perspective. To me, Jeff Goldblum seems cool in the sense that he is smart, curious, witty, wise, humble, and insanely charming (and you really only need to hear him give one interview to get all of that).

Without Jeff Goldblum, The Fly would have been a different movie. It was him, actually, that gave Seth Brundle’s character a depth that even director David Cronenberg hadn’t realized prior to the leading actor contributing his own vision. It almost was a different movie, with multiple actors (including Richard Dreyfuss and Michael Keaton) having turned down the role prior to Goldblum’s hiring.

Allegedly, a Fox executive who was helping to manage production of The Fly didn’t want Goldblum to have the role because he wasn’t a “bankable” movie star. Luckily, nobody listened to him, and we now have a sci-fi classic that is as good today as it was 30 years ago, thanks in no small part to the half-brilliant, half-lucky casting of Jeff Goldblum.

Credit Where Credit is Due

The Brundle Fly dieing in the classic sci-fi movie The FlyI’m not a stickler for homage or accuracy when it comes to remakes, but I can still appreciate it when it’s done well. I love that in remaking The Fly, Cronenberg recycled the famous two-word line “Help me” from the 1958 version, while adding a meaningful twist.

“Help me,” Brundle says to his girlfriend Veronica, “Help me be human.”

In a movie that, at least according to its director, is essentially about the inevitable process of death and dying, this simple piece of dialogue really sums up the theme nicely. It’s tough to be human – to care and to feel and to ponder – in a world that doesn’t care back, that doesn’t offer up any meaning of its own. We crave experience, but experience has to end (until Singularity, or unless you incorporated cryonics into your last will and testament) and we could all use a bit of help facing it.

On a different but related note, Cronenberg proved that you can be a Hollywood director and a nice guy by bull-headedly insisting that Charles Pogue, who wrote the remake’s first script, receive onscreen writing credit, despite the fact that he essentially had nothing to do with the movie after writing his first draft. Even after revamping the characters, dialogue, and plot, Cronenberg still felt that part of the movie belonged to Pogue.

Seth Brundle and the Teleport pods in classic sci-fi movie The FlyYou would expect class from the guy behind the wheel of a movie like Eastern Promises, but really? Splitting the credit when nobody said you had to (especially in the cutthroat world of L.A.) is pretty stand-up. Speaking of credit, the Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati deserves a bit, too, as it was the cylinder from the engine in David Cronenberg’s 450 Desmo that inspired the design of scientist Seth Brundle’s tele-pods. A nice guy who likes vintage motorcycles, eh? I guess Cronenberg might be a moderately cool human being himself.

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Final words [seem to come easily in movies].

Okay, these words weren’t his final ones in the movie, but there was definitely a stark finality to the way Goldblum’s character said “I’m just gonna have to disintegrate. In a novel way, no doubt. And then I’ll die, and it will be over”. If I have the distinct pleasure of growing old, or otherwise have to face up to my own mortality before kicking it, I sure hope I can do it with the courage that Seth Brundle did. Of course, becoming a mad scientist first might help a bit, I dunno…

Moral of the story, if you made it this far without seeing The Fly, do yourself a favor and check it out. If you have seen it…hell, it’s been 30 years, see it again!

Featured Images: 20th Century Fox

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