Original vs. Remake: The Fly (1958) vs. The Fly (1986)
"The computer... got confused … It mated us, me and the fly. We hadn't even been properly introduced." --Seth Brundle, The Fly (1986)
That is how Jeff Goldblum's character tries to make sense of what happened to him, during a teleportation experiment gone wrong. Somehow, his body has been fused with that of a housefly, which gradually presents devastating effects; not only to his body and mind, but also to those around him.
Based on a 1957 short story by George Langelaan, The Fly was first adapted on a 1958 film starring Patricia Owens and Al Hedison. Goldblum’s version comes from a reimagining released almost 30 years after. Here's a look at both films (SPOILERS included)
The Fly (1958)
Released in 1958, the original film follows Langelaan’s short-story closely, with a slightly broken chronology, starting with the moment when Helene Delambre (Owens) calmly surrenders herself after allegedly murdering her husband Andre (Hedison). With the questions of Andre’s brother (Vincent Price) and a criminal investigation on her, Helene decides to tell the story of what happened, as the story backtracks a couple of months.
Andre, a brilliant scientist, had been working on a matter transporter on his laboratory, until one of his experiments apparently goes awry, when a fly gets into the machine with him. Hiding in his basement, with a cloth over his head to cover the effects of the experiment, Andre tries to ask his wife for help in finding a particular fly to revert the process, while also keeping her at a distance. Unfortunately, Andre’s brain begins to suffer the consequences of the transformation, putting Helene and their son at risk.
The Fly (1986)
Released in 1986, the remake is significantly different to the original film, and therefore to the original story, although it still retains the same basic premise. Here, an eccentric scientist called Seth Brundle (Goldblum) befriends a journalist (Davis) in his desire to talk about his latest experiment. He has been working on a teleportation device that he thinks might change the world. However, as he works on some tweaks on the machine, he decides to test it on himself, not realizing that a fly has gotten into the tele-pod with him. As a result, Brundle becomes fused with the fly, which at first results in superhuman agility and stamina.
Unfortunately, Brundle slowly begins to transform physically and mentally. Not only does his body begins to deform, but he also becomes aggressive. Veronica tries to help him through the process, but as the transformation proceeds further, she is unable to do more, forcing her to see the man she loves decay and disappear.
Comparison of Both Films
August 29, 1958
August 15, 1986
Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg
Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price
Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz
The Fly is another case in which I had seen the remake back in the late 80's, before I even knew there was a previous version. But still, I didn't remember much about it. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to both watch the original, and revisit the remake to see how they compared against each other. The original ended up being better than I expected, since I was expecting more of a goofy and campy creature film, but it was quite solid. I think it perfectly embodies the essence of 50's creature films while still managing to be both effective and creepy.
There were things that initially bothered me a bit, like Helene's reaction to the death of her husband. But after reading that her calm demeanor was part of the original story, I sorta appreciated that more. I also think that the climatic reveal of Andre's physical transformation near the middle of the film wasn't managed as well as it could've, but overall, I enjoyed the film a lot.
The remake, like The Blob in the following years, takes advantage of the 80's trend of horror and gore. But with David Cronenberg direction, the gore runs more towards the really icky stuff. But despite its abundant gruesomeness, particularly in the last act, the film doesn't rely solely on it to succeed. The film is successfully carried by the performances of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, who pretty much carry the whole film on their shoulders. Although I do think their relationship felt a bit rushed in the beginning, they do have a lot of chemistry, and Davis is perfect emoting the suffering that a person might feel by seeing a loved one slowly decay in front of you.
The only other character that has significant screen time is Davis' boss, Stathis Borans (John Getz), who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend. Still in love with her, Borans feels jealous about her relationship with Brundle, and serves as some sort of light antagonist to the pair. Still, I would've appreciated if the writers didn't turn him into a sleazy douchebag at first. It felt gimmicky, and just for the sake of having an antagonist. But, for what it's worth, he was probably the most level-headed character during the last act.
Another interesting aspect is how Cronenberg chooses to draw a parallel between Brundle's transformation and terminal illness. The way that Brundle's body and mind slowly decay can be synonymous to cancer, or AIDS. And seeing Veronica deal with it makes you think how tough it must be for the relatives of those that are terminally ill to deal with the situation. Although I do think the second act where Brundle starts exploring the effects of the experiment was a bit weak, there's a tragic aura over the last act of the film that's really intense and makes you feel the emotional pain of Davis' character.
The original, on the other hand, relies more on the mystery of Andre's death and the creature aspect, building everything until the reveal where we first see Andre's transformed head. And even though I think that moment wasn't that well handled, there's still an inherent creepiness in it that's quite effective. But if that's creepy, more creepy is the last iconic scene with the spider and the web. Like Inspector Charas says: "I shall never forget that scream as long as I live..." I also appreciated the broken chronology of the film, but since most people that watch the film probably know the reasons why Helene killed Andre, there really is no mystery to the events that lead to it.
Original or Remake?
Well, although my write-up leans more towards the remake, this one is closer than the Blob matchup. I really enjoyed the original film, and thought it was both engaging and effective. But the remake, despite significantly deviating from the source material, manages to push the subject further and in a more effective, and emotional way. Plus, the impressive special effects from the remake are also on its favor. So this is another round for the remakes. Still, don't let my preference stop you from watching the original film. It's a really good film.
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