David Cronenberg’s The Fly should be the standard of science-fiction at large. Sci-fi is like the nerd on the playground, he gets picked on for being a dork, but notice if you will those heavy texts he carries. The genre covers two important things: ideas and visuals, the former of which is illustrated by my lovely analogy. Often times the strengths of others genres, like emotional depth or characterization is lost on poor old sci-fi, but I’ll get to that later.

            The visuals of the science-fiction genre sometimes both overshadow and undermine the ideas. Case in point is The Fly, which some people like to pick on because of its blatant gross out nature and shock value a la The Thing, of the same decade. Because I don’t believe that in the slightest, I’m going to pick on The Fly for a different reason – ultimately that the idea of a man merging with a fly is inherently silly. Cronenberg’s philosophy regarding the new flesh and the visual manifestations of age on the body would in theory be lost on the viewer if the plot was simply described to them: a man turns into a fly and goes on a rampage.

            Such is not the case if one actually watches the movie. Cronenberg synthesizes his built up skill, honed over many years of a quirky career, and combines the emotional impact of The Dead Zone with the visual repulsion and philosophy of Videodrome. His skill as director reflects the skills of the three main actors, led by Jeff Goldblum. Ian Malcolm himself plays Seth Brundle, whose tragic transformation and death is indeed influenced by and involving a fly, but it is nowhere near ‘silly.’

Max Renn lost his gun. Can you help him find it?

            Going back to that idea of the standard of science-fiction at large, The Fly does one (among many) great thing. It overcomes the silly idea at its center to make a real, human, emotional impact on the viewer, and provoke thought on death and, unfortunately, AIDS. This is comparable to the political/social message overcoming the goofball alien invasion situation in The Day the Earth Stood Still, or the allegory ultimately outpacing the space battles in The Forever War.

            The one thing of course, lacking in the latter example is the visuals that manifest the silliness. When the visuals outpace the visuals and raise themselves to the stimulating level of the ideas, you have something like Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell, or even the aforementioned Videodrome. The two cyberpunk classics are indeed based on original works, but the imagery in both is haunting and supports/compliments the thought-provoking themes explored.

            The Fly, as well as all previous and subsequent films of David Cronenberg, is a deeper movie than the casual filmgoer will anticipate. Once again, this speaks to the entire genre of SF, regardless the fact that Cronenberg doesn’t do ‘genre;’ that’s not how he sees film. People go to see this weekend’s popcorn flick and they see something that just so happens to take place in space or have robots. But it was super dumb; it was Johnny Mnemonic or the next Michael Bay movie – no brain, unless you download data into it, I guess (I don’t know I thought of my favorite Keanu flick and no other…).

Man/Machine Interface

            The stereotype of science-fiction is then created, and this pains me to the deepest of my deep core. We’re talking about some literature in an English class, and the teacher mentioned today or yesterday that the closest to science-fiction she’ll touch is Harry Potter. Somebody had mentioned Star Wars, and she was distraught immediately.

            It’s been a long time since the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, possibly the three greatest decades of science-fiction, a trilogy of eras that brought us films as ranged as Alien to Robocop, and ended with The Matrix. Every once in awhile we’ll get a Children of Men or a Ghost in the Shell 2, but Hollywood isn’t exactly helping heal the pain I mentioned.

            My hope is that one day theses modern filmmakers will learn from the ranged and fascinating filmography of Cronenberg (he’s seemingly done with genre stuff, at least for now), and take the genre seriously, like very seriously, and equate the visuals and ideas, creating the ultimate synthesis, and possibly a race of atomic supermen as byproduct. The SF movies we have now excite me to no end, and I’ve seen not one-fourth of them. But what excites me even more is the genre’s potential – the things to come.

Eastern Promises. That's what to come.

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