Cronenberg's Fly (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

So, I sat down to grab screenshots for this review earlier today (technically yesterday), and I decided to stick on the latest episode of my favorite horror podcast, Shock Waves, because it can be kinda dry work. It turned out to be a special episode dedicated to 1986's The Fly! Is that kismet or what? ...Seriously, I'm asking. I don't have a firm grasp on what the word "kismet" means.
The Fly is one of the very few remakes that's considered to be superior to the original version. What else is there? Carpenter's The Thing, True Grit, Last Of the Mohicans, maybe the 70's Invasion Of the Body Snatchers... I guess you open the door wider if you allow feature films that remake earlier shorts (12 Monkeys vs. La Jetee or Evil Dead vs. Within the Woods) or subsequent adaptations of novels or plays (is every version of Macbeth a "remake" of the previous release?). The Fly feels like a pretty pure remake, but there is an original short story that both films are taken from, and yes, the 1986 version does claim the story as its source, not the original film. Anyway, David Cronenberg's version is pretty different from either potential source, as both of those have a pretty different story structure.

When I think of the 1958 Fly, the first thing that pops into my mind is the scientist in a while lab coat with a giant fly head looming at the screaming woman, and it feels like a very camp, 50s sci-fi creature feature. But going back to it, it's actually fairly intelligent and plays it very straight. The film starts out at scene of a gruesome murder scene, and the plot unspools backwards, as they try to figure out what dark secrets this death was hiding. That's how it was in the original story, too; but David Cronenberg's version does away with all that, and places the viewer in the perspective of the scientist himself, in this case played by Jeff Goldblum. And we begin right in what would be the flashback of the original, with Goldblum inventing his teleporters, and of course experimenting on himself without first spraying his lab for bugs.
It's Cronenberg, so of course it really amps up the "body horror" aspect of the story. Goldblum isn't just suddenly revealed to have a giant insect noggin; instead he slowly develops and mutates a more organic half-breed. Of course they take advantage of their access to more modern special effects. But surprisingly for Cronenberg - as his early films were often known for being rather "clinical" exposes - this film also really plays up the romance between Goldblum and Geena Davis. In the original, they're a long married couple with a ten year-old running around the house, and that has its own unique resonance in the way the film begins after the fact; but here we see the characters meet and fall in love. The key distinction is that our empathy is placed entirely with Goldblum as he becomes "the fly." In the original, our empathy is always shifting, with the final denouement landing on... Vincent Price's love of his brother's wife? Conveniently for him, she'd just widowed herself with his factory's steam-press and now he's gonna step in as the family patriarch? Yeah, that isn't touching at all. But Cronenberg's Fly strangely is.
So The Fly debuted on DVD in 2000 as a nice, widescreen double-feature with its sequel The Fly II. But this was an important cult film, that was also a major big studio science fiction title, so it deserved a decked out special edition. And it received that in 2005. Then when HD became a thing, The Fly was an early catalog title to come out on blu-ray, which it did in 2007. All from Fox, who produced and have always maintained the film. And that blu is still the most current version there is. I've got all three here, so let's examine it's evolution.
2000 DVD on top; 2005 special edition mid; 2007 blu-ray bottom.
So, we're not seeing any radical changes. All are anamorphic, 1.85:1 with no interlacing problems or anything. A casual viewer who didn't bother to enlarge the screencaps might think they all look identical, but like the character's transformation in the film itself, there is a gradual progression. Even between the two DVDs, the earlier disc is a little fuzzier and less defined than the 2005 reissue. And then, in the step up to HD, the boost might not blow your socks off, but the film does get even more defined. You see it when you get in close.
2000 DVD left; 2005 special edition mid; 2007 blu-ray right.
Each iteration is just a little more clarified and less compressed. It's an old blu-ray, and coming from a DVD that was quite good, so it's subtle, but the HD image is definitely the best. You might also notice that the color timing's gotten a little cooler on the blu, and the framing has shifted a tiny bit; but it's too slim to be significant or even noticeable without a direct comparison like this. Just in terms of clarity however, yes, the blu is the best. Could a modern 4k scan reveal even more of this film's potential? Maybe. But for a 2007 blu-ray, this really stands up rather well.

Audio-wise, there are no surprises. It's an important title from Fox, so it always sounds good. Both DVDs offer 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, as well as a French dub and English and Spanish subtitles. The 2005 reissue also adds a 5.1 DTS track. Then the blu reigns it in to just the one English 5.1 DTS mix, but it's of course lossless. It also has more dub (French and Spanish) and subtitle (English, Spanish, Korean, and Cantonese) options.
We'll just take a quick buzz [sorry!] by The Fly 2, since it's included in the 2000 double feature on a flipper disc.  It's not included with the other releases shown here, but there was also a collector's edition double pack released in 2007, giving the sequel plenty of extras. There has yet to be a blu-ray, though.

Anyway, The Fly 2 kind of follows the sequel to the original, 1959's Return Of the Fly, at least in some very basic ways. Both films follow the son of the original scientist (in this case Eric Stoltz plays Goldblum's son) who himself becomes a scientist and of course also winds up becoming a fly creature. The distinction being that he inherits his condition in this one, because he wasn't born until later, whereas in the 1959 version he was already a fully-grown kid, so he had to duplicate the experiments on himself to become the second monster. But in any case, both work to scientifically reverse their condition, and in this 1989 film, he racks up a gruesome little body count along the way.
Even the 1989 film would rather be watching the 1986 film.
Both sequels are big steps down from their original counterparts. In The Fly 2's case, it's a very typical 80s formula affair. There's a lame romance, evil corporate scientist goons running around with plastic machine guns, and a bigger, less human monster. There are some cool face meltings, John Getz returns to provide a little continuity even though his character doesn't have much to do, and Stoltz is a good actor; but don't come to this film looking for art or a rewarding story. This film did play theatrically, but in its heart, it's direct to video all the way.
So, the film's anamorphic widescreen, but the 2000 DVD is pretty soft and compressed. Like I said, there was a subsequent special edition, but this release only includes the theatrical trailer, plus trailers for the other Fly films. If you like this film, you'll want to track down the later special edition instead, but if you're just accepting this as essentially a bonus feature to the original, this is good enough. It'll satisfy your curiosity.
Now, getting back to the original... well, the original remake, anyway. The 2000 DVD has nothing but the trailers, and a couple bonus trailers. But the 2005 edition, which is a 2-disc set because you could never squeeze all this onto one DVD, brings its A game. First of all, yes, there's a Cronenberg commentary. He always does good ones, and this is right up there: a must-have for fans. Then there is a major, almost three hour long documentary, that walks you through the whole filmmaking process, interviewing pretty much everybody and including plenty of behind-the-scenes footage. Fox really knows how to do killer docs for their A-list titles like the Alien films, and they The Fly is definitely one of their A-listers. Then there are several deleted and extended scenes, sometimes including looks at the storyboards or script when not everything was fully shot. They really get definitive here. They include a whole collection of trailers for this and the other Fly films, a look at a film historian's Fly collection, two vintage EPK featurettes, special effect test footage, and a whole bunch of galleries with posters, photos, articles, the original short story and both versions of the screenplay. It also comes with a nice fold-out insert with notes and a map of the features, a second insert advertising the sequel, and a cool slip cover. You really couldn't ask for more.
The blu-ray carries all of that over, from the commentary and the mega-doc, to all the little features. It's all in SD (so it fits on one disc), but it's all there, including all the little galleries. I guess technically, you do lose the text features, i.e. the story and screenplays; but who reads stuff like that off a disc anyway? The only additions are a trivia subtitle track and a silly interactive game, which I tried out just to be thorough. You use your remote to control a flyswatter or bug zapper to kill animated flies that crawl over footage from the film. It's pretty easy until the last level, which took me a couple tries to beat. Depending whether you win or lose (if you kill enough flies before the time limit expires), you're shown two different clips of the film, like cut-scenes. Anyway, the bottom line is that for all practical intentions and purposes, all the important stuff is here with nothing new to bother over.
Final tally: the blu-ray is the best and recommended release of the film. But if you've got the collector's edition DVD set, you could upgrade or not, depending how important that HD bump is to you. It's a respectable bump, but not huge. And sure, I could imagine somebody like Arrow adding this to their collection of Cronenberg restorations - it's one of his biggest and best titles, after all - and I could see them cooking up a fancier transfer and a few more features. There's room for it, but we don't need it. This film's already pretty well off; and I'd much rather see labels focus on the titles that are in much more dire need than this one. This is widely available pretty cheap, and it's a commendable release. It's a little old, but still in fine shape.

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