SEPTEMBER 3, 2008
Some of my movie choices come from the strangest sources. For example, I was originally going to watch whatever Blockbuster had sent me in the mail today. But when I checked my email, I saw that an email chain concerning the screening of Die Hard and Robocop at my beloved New Bev had somehow turned into a debate over the merits of The Fly II. As people posted examples of why it was good, I realized that I couldn't remember a goddamn useful thing about the movie anymore (I thought I watched it when I was like 16, but it must have been even earlier, or I would have recognized Frank Darabont's name in the credits, since I saw Shawshank when I was 14 and it instantly became one of my favorite movies), so I opened the DVD I had won when it came out a few years ago and decided to see on which side of the argument I would fall.
Well, I liked it! Sure, it's maybe not as "smart" as the original, but come on – it's a movie about a guy who is becoming a fly, and I like that Chris Walas and his crew embraced the fact that they were making a monster movie. Eric Stoltz disappears entirely at around 1:10 in the 1:45 film, so you get over a half hour of pure giant fly action. Why go the whole metaphorical/psychological route again? That's what the first film is for. I don't think it hurt the Alien franchise very much by going balls to the wall for its sequel, so I'm not sure why there was any dissidence here.
Now obviously it does have its shortcomings. Eric Stoltz is hardly as interesting as Jeff Goldblum (either as an actor or a character), making the "all fly" aspect of the film's final third all the more appreciated. And it's also a bit too slight; even at 1:45, it feels a bit rushed at times, and there isn't much complication to the plot. I would have liked to have seen the story have another layer to it somehow, instead of the rather simplistic "he starts to turn and he gets revenge" angle.
A couple other minor things annoyed me too. One is the goddamn holographic badges that everyone wears. They are so distracting, I almost wanted to take the color out of the film (it would be sort of fitting, the 50s Fly was color but ITS sequel was filmed B&W to save some dough). The fake computers annoy me too; there's a part where Martin hacks into the database to change his security clearance and when he succeeds, it suddenly plays some "victory!" music, as if he had just beaten Super Mario or something. And I had to laugh when Martin gets his own place and it's decorated like a retirement home for a 80 year old woman. He's like a five year old in a 20 year old's body, at least get the kid a car poster or something.
Otherwise it's a damn solid sequel. It's gory as hell, which is not only good but incredibly surprising; in 1988 and 89, the MPAA was being completely unreasonable in regards to gore, resulting in damn near bloodless horror films like Friday the 13th 7 and TCMIII (which was almost incomprehensible at times due to the MPAA edits). The guy who tears off his own (fly-juice-covered) face as he screams is simply amazing, as is the head crush that occurs a few minutes later. The monsters are also incredible, in addition to the fly itself, there are also a pair of "bad transport" freaks that are not only great looking, but are more "alive" than the thing at the end of the first film. The movie even offers us a mutant cactus.
Fly II also contains what is now my favorite break up line of all time: "Stay out of my sector! You no longer have clearance!" Next time I have to dump someone, I hope I remember to use that line (the less contextual sense it makes, the better). And I guess I should mention the scene where the kid does a maze, because it was the only part of the movie that felt familiar to me as I watched it (I also recalled that Martin lived at the end, something I don't really agree with – the dude killed like 7 people!).
Of course, no one can forget the dog stuff (well, I did; it was someone's claim that it upset them so much that they had to leave the theater that made me decide to revisit it). Like The Gate, it seems as if the filmmakers were hellbent on making the audience cry. Young Martin sees his dog suffer a bad transport, and that's bad enough, but then he comes across it a few years later. The poor thing has been kept alive in a pit, and then the movie ramps up the tear-making antics: the little mutant dog wags its tail, and then sticks its mutant tongue out to try to show affection for his old pal. THEN, Stoltz weeps as he puts the thing out of its misery, which it clearly protests. Christ!
Like the original, it has an inordinate amount of people with incredibly goofy names. Our primary bad guy's name is Bartok, a name better used for cartoon rats in Anastasia movies. And the resident asshole henchman character is named Scorby. Plus the original's Stathis Borans returns (the only cast member to do so, though some deleted Goldblum footage is resurrected).
The DVD is jampacked; I didn't even have time to go through it all. There are a pair of documentaries that are close to an hour each; one about Fly II, one about the entire franchise. Then there are some storyboard comparisons and brief featurettes (one from 1989, it's hilariously cheesy). There is also an "alternate ending" which is really an "alternate prologue", as it doesn't change anything about the actual ending of the film. Plus another deleted scene, some random trailers (The Omen?) and a commentary by Walas which I will hopefully get to soon. As a bonus, a lot of the extras are anamorphic, which was appreciated. It's a bit of a bummer that so few people from the film came back for the retrospective documentary (Walas is there, obviously, but not a single cast member and hardly any crew join him), especially when I watched this stuff right after going through the extras on the new Child's Play DVD, in which just about every major cast member and the entire creative team came back for new interviews.
Anyway, I hope folks give this one another look; it's much better than you might expect, and even if you dislike it, the monster action/makeup/gore is definitely worth your time.
What say you?