September 25, 2009

Cronenberg Jumps the Shark


Confession time: I'm not really a big fan of David Cronenberg. Despite being a closeted horror film fan and, of course, a proud Canadian, I've never really gotten into his films; particularly the earlier chapters of his career dominated by grisly, goofy genre films.

All of his late 70's early 80's tax shelter movies - "classics" like The Brood, Scanners and Videodrome - struck more as confused messes then exercises in horror. His 1986 remake The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum was a rarity for me as a kid; a movie that was covered in Fangoria magazine, my gore bible in my younger days, and yet also a movie that got great reviews and praise from the mainstream media. The only problem was, when I finally saw the film, it left me unimpressed. There's something maddening about the absurdity of the situation that Jeff Goldblum's title character finds himself in - he's literally turning into a fly - and the idiotically calm and rationale way that Geena Davis' love interest character reacts to the increasingly insane process of him morphing into a giant fly.

Any time I'm talking about a film from the 1980's here, it's inevitably because the movie is being remade, and this is no exception. A successful genre flick from the mid-80's going the remake route wouldn't even register a blip on my pop culture radar because of its utter predictability; but this one is unique. The Fly was a springboard movie for Cronenberg, taking his career to the next level and establishing himself as a director that could make interesting, unique genre pictures, but also a guy who could deliver a studio picture and turn a tidy profit. Within three years, it had spawned a sequel, creatively titled Fly II and it was also adapted into, of all things, an opera that was staged in Paris and Los Angeles, with creative input from Cronenberg himself. In recent years, when talk of some of his earlier films being remade - including The Fly - Cronenberg dimissed the idea, telling MTV, "I've heard of remakes of everything from The Brood to The Fly to you name it. There's such a desire to have some kind of comfort level amongst producers. So I guess it's inevitable that they'd be trolling for remakes." And now, The Fly is being remade with a writer/director on board to re-invent this property yet again. That man is David Cronenberg.

Amazingly, he's signing on to remake his own movie. This isn't precedent setting - Alfred Hitchcock remade The Man Who Knew Too Much years ago; but it seems like an awfully strange choice for Cronenberg to make at this stage in his career. Directors have remade their own movies for a variety of reasons; the original was in a different language; the original was a short; the original was made on a micro-budget; the original was silent. But Cronenberg would be remaking a film he made in 1986 with a generous $15 million budget and established Hollywood stars in the lead roles. It is also worth noting that he would also be remaking his remake of the original 1958 film. What's the point?
Cronenberg, who in the last decade has matured into a filmmaker who's work I've enjoyed very much - both of Eastern Promises and A History of Violence were interesting, well made films - could surely spend the time and energy he would put into making another version of The Fly to do something fresher and more interesting. At the very least, he could make a movie that, you know.... he hasn't already made. That doesn't seem too much to ask.

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