David Cronenberg's "The Fly" (1986) is among a very few movies that give me a sense of hesitation as soon as the credits appear. I've owned a couple of home video versions since its release twenty some years ago, according to the technology in favor, but I doubt I've played them more than a handful of times (including that for the purpose of this review). For such a well made and entertaining movie this is particularly odd but among the great horror flicks (it certainly fits the bill) this one hits you a little bit below the belt for enjoyment's sake."The Fly" deals with Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), an eccentric inventor who meets reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) at a science convention and (somewhat unwillingly) spills the beans about his latest creation, one that will "change the world as we know it". The contraption in question is a teleportation system for inanimate objects, which is basically the same concept used for getting characters on and off the Starship Enterprise in "Star Trek". With Veronica alongside him to document his progress Seth is able to take the next step, giving his invention the ability to transport live beings. After a failed attempt (that's putting it mildly!) with a baboon that should have given him some pause, Seth unwisely decides to rush testing the system with himself as passenger, unaware that a seemingly innocent house fly has hitched a ride alongside him (at least they weren't joined by that other baboon!). After the initial apparent success, an oblivious Seth will find himself gaining incredible agility and strength but will progressively become a mean, selfish, stench-filled and tragic individual, illustrating in the process the nature of those insects in much higher detail than we would ever want to learn. By film's end we'll end up seeing these creatures in a very different light and Seth will not be able to regret enough the fact that he did not provide his device with an UNDO command.Much like he previously did in "The Dead Zone" (1983), Cronenberg creates a very convincing couple for the audience to identify with before tragedy strikes. The difference in "The Fly" is that he doesn't show them the slightest bit of mercy (the fates of Christopher Walken and Brooke Adams in "The Dead Zone" amounted to a happy ending in comparison). This doesn't necessarily make one movie better than the other (though "The Dead Zone"'s conclusion is truly sublime). Both entries were treated correctly according to their very different subjects but the ending in "The Fly" is not quite as easy to appreciate. The audience here is even taunted for a while with the possibility that the experiment's results are going to be for the best and that makes the lead's fate all the more painful. What can you say about a movie in which the villain of the piece (Davis' egotistical and sexist boss played by John Getz) suddenly finds himself becoming the hero? Perhaps that Getz' initial evil was no match for the enormity and wrongness of the situations in this movie."The Exorcist" (1973) aside, I can't think of another horror film as
PRESS RELEASE: CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Terrence Malick's 1978 film "Days of Heaven" won an Oscar for best cinematography, and Roger Ebert likely found that no surprise. It is "above all one of the most beautiful films ever made," Ebert said in a 1997 review. So it's only appropriate that the film will open the 15th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival on April 17 in the big-screen, newly renovated Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.
David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone" (1983) is my favorite adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel. Some parts from "The Shawshank Redemption" are terrifying in a different way, and are better classified in other genres. I'm also fond of some of the other films his works have inspired. "Carrie" and "The Shining" were mostly outstanding, but the casting of adults as teens in the first and the absence of an everyman feel to the lead protagonist in the second are the main reasons why I place "The Dead Zone" above them. The latter films were made by exceptional directors (DePalma and Kubrick), but Cronenberg's taste for the unusual, turned out to be a more adequate fit for King's material.
"Troops of nomads swept over the country at harvest time like a visitation of locusts, reckless young fellows, handsome, profane, licentious, given to drink, powerful but inconstant workmen, quarrelsome and difficult to manage at all times. They came in the season when work was plenty and wages high. They dressed well, in their own peculiar fashion, and made much of their freedom to come and go.
"They told of the city, and sinister and poisonous jungles all cities seemed in their stories. They were scarred with battles. They came from the far-away and unknown, and passed on to the north, mysterious as the flight of locusts, leaving the people of Sun Prairie quite as ignorant of their real names and characters as upon the first day of their coming."
-- Hamlin Garland, "Boy Life on the Prairie" (1899), epigraph for Terrence Malick's screenplay for "Days of Heaven," revised June 2, 1976
At some point in 1976, "Days of Heaven" was a screenplay that contained conventionally discrete scenes, developed exchanges of dialog and a fairly straightforward (melo-)dramatic narrative structure. Principal photography took place that year in the plains of Alberta, Canada (standing in for the Texas panhandle shortly before World War I), and the movie that emerged in 1978, after two years of editing, did away almost all of it. What the movie became -- as everyone couldn't help but notice at the time of its original release -- is a film in which the "background" (nature, the landscape) moves into the foreground and the human characters recede into macrocosmic expanses of earth and sky, and microcosmic observations of flora and fauna. And bugs.
Terrence Malick's vision is reflected in his process, whereby an enormous amount of material -- scripted and unscripted, A-roll and B-roll -- is pared down, peeled back, opened up.¹ Camera operator John Bailey, in an interview on the Criterion Blu-Ray edition of "Days of Heaven," describes how the so-called "second unit" work. The close-ups of animals or plants, or the pastoral images of trees or streams are "very, very inserty-type shots, and yet they have the same kind of dramatic impact" as the spectacular wide shots -- or, for that matter, the scenes involving the lead actors. Some complained about that at the time -- that the film was gorgeous but insufficiently developed as human drama, that characters were cyphers, that the technique was "intolerably artsy" and "artificial."²