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Saturday, May 18, 2024

That Time David Cronenberg Remade ‘The Fly’ as an Opera (Yes, Really)

The Big Picture

  • The Fly
    represents the quintessential Cronenberg film, showcasing his thematic resonance and meticulous craft.
  • The 2008
    opera blends elements from previous adaptations, offering a gruesome and vile stage rendition.
  • The opera, a joint effort by Howard Shore, David Henry Hwang, and David Cronenberg, portrays Seth Brundle’s transformation in a 1950s setting.

David Cronenberg is a man of many talents. He’s a screenwriter, actor, and even the author of a globe-trotting, geopolitical horror novel. Listen, we all know where this man is at his best, though. Cronenberg has spent the last half a century as one of the most inventive and disgusting filmmakers on the planet, drudging up one instant classic body horror film after the next. The ’60s saw him kick off his career with the bizarro experimental trip that is Stereo (Tile 3B of a CAEE Educational Mosaic), a film that even the biggest Crone-heads will have a tough time wrapping their brains around. With the ’70s and ’80s, Cronenberg came into his own with body horror classics like Shivers, Videodrome, Scanners, and, of course, The Fly — his masterpiece. As the iconic filmmaker made his way into the 1990s and 2000s, he proved that he was anything but a one-trick pony. The releases of movies like Crash, Spider, A History of Violence, and Eastern Promises saw him dipping his toes into the pools of various other genres. He could be a dramatic storyteller, a psychological thriller craftsman, an action aficionado, and even throw together a gangster epic like it was no big deal.

Just when we all thought that everyone’s favorite barf bag maestro had shown all of his cards, he got back up and reinvented himself again. The year was 2008, a mere 22 years after Cronenberg’s critically acclaimed remake of The Fly was released. Howard Shore, the composer behind the 1986 remake, and David Henry Hwang, a critically acclaimed play writer and screenwriter, took the tragedy of Seth Brundle on themselves, teleported its particles into outer space, and brought it back down as an opera. Just like he did 22 years before, Shore composed the music for this new version, with different compositions than before. Hwang, on the other hand, wrote the libretto. So, the music and story were taken care of, but who on Earth could possibly bring the production to life? That would be the master himself — David Cronenberg, boosting his resume once more as the director of an opera. The Fly (the opera) would go on to receive mixed reviews, but it has enough interesting characteristics that no one should disrespect its ambition.


The Fly

In a daring exploration of science’s potential to alter human life, a brilliant but eccentric scientist develops a technology for teleportation. When he decides to test the device on himself, a tragic error involving a common housefly leads to horrifying consequences. The film chillingly portrays his transformation and the impact it has on his relationship and psyche.

Release Date
August 15, 1986

96 minutes

20th Century

‘The Fly’ Is the Most David Cronenberg Movie Ever Made

The Fly just might be the quintessential David Cronenberg movie. On its surface, it’s a disgusting, sci-fi horror nightmare that roots its terror in the slow, unstoppable mutilation of one’s own body. Beyond that, it’s got all of its filmmaker’s topical resonance, pseudosexual metaphorical imagery, and meticulous craft, all executed at the greatest level that he ever managed to pull off. Jeff Goldblum‘s devastating performance as Seth Brundle, the inventor of a teleportation system who, in a major oversight, mixes his molecules with those of an ordinary housefly and slowly turns into a human-sized hybrid, is as repulsive as it is Oscar-worthy. Geena Davis as Brundle’s girlfriend, Veronica Quaife, cannot be overlooked either — one that shows about as real of a depiction of grief as you’ll find in any genre monster movie. Cronenberg has a whole slew of classics to his name, but nothing beats The Fly.

As easy as it would be to give Cronenberg all the credit for this masterpiece, he did have decades of source material to work off of. Most people think that 1958’s original Fly was a work of primordial, atomic age sci-fi horror. Despite that film, and its sequels, being a boat load of mid-century monster fun, even they weren’t the first to tell the story of a man turned pesky insect. This whole franchise originates with George Langelaan‘s original 1957 short story of the same name, first published in Playboy magazine’s June issue of that year. While the short story, first feature adaptation, and the iconic remake all take their own individual liberties with the story, each of them is deeply rooted in the same shared premise.


No David Cronenberg Scene Is More Disturbing and Hopeless Than This One

The master of body horror knows how to devastate.

The 2008 ‘Fly’ Opera Is a Combination of Everything That Came Before It

While there’s been no shortage of musical adaptations of popular films, The Fly admittedly feels like a strange choice for an operatic adaptation. David Cronenberg disagrees, however. “The Fly already had many ‘operatic’ ingredients. But I didn’t want to redo the film, or work with the projection or video. I wanted to bring to life a truly theatrical experience,” the prolific director explained via The Guardian.

As Shore, Hwang, and Cronenberg brought their 2008 opera to life, they had more material to pull from than any previous incarnation. In that, the opera seems to be pulling a little bit from each of them. For one, the decision was made not to bring it to modern day or set it in the 1980s, but to take things back to the source. The opera is set in the 1950s and is framed in a flashback, but otherwise, continues to tell the story of Seth Brundle’s (Daniel Okulitch) teleportation-based transformation into a big mean housefly. So, despite being set in the same decade as the short story and original film, the actual beats mostly follow those that Cronenberg laid out. Brundle falls in love with Veronica Quaife (Ruxandra Donose), de-and-recomposes between his two devices, attains superhuman strength, slowly becomes more disgusting, compound fractures a guy’s arm in a bar, is discovered by Stathis Boran (David Curry, Gary Lehman), and, eventually, becomes the hulking monstrosity that is Brundlefly.

So yeah, The Fly opera actually goes all the way with what came before it. This production is even more gruesome and vile than you might expect. There’s blood, gore, sex, and action in this stage rendition. Even the Brundlefly costume, which is as bulbous, hairy, and generally nauseating as it should be, manages to ooze all kinds of nasty juice for the audience to see (but hopefully not smell). Still, Daniel Okulitch’s performance shines through all the makeup and costuming magic (designed by David’s sister, Denise Cronenberg). He’s no Goldblum (who is, really?), but he delivers both the passion and the ultimate devastation that somebody playing Brundle should feel.

Despite returning to a project that is so deeply embedded in his career’s DNA, Howard Shore’s newer compositions are different from those he created for the ’86 film. While still containing various lavish Shore-isms, the music in the opera is far less grandiose than its cinematic counterpart. Instead, the conductor opts out for either a more low-rumbling drone or cult-like chants to fill Brundle’s soundscape. It’s undoubtedly an interesting change of pace, but still doesn’t match up with his original compositions. The Fly might not be his Lord of the Rings score, but it just might be Shore’s best horror score.

The Fly didn’t last too long on stage. It premiered in 2008, only to quietly close its doors in 2009. This goes without saying, but the idea of bringing Brundlefly to the operahouse is about as strange of a creative decision as anyone has made this century. Still, Cronenberg, Shore, and Hwang achieved the impossible and brought this grotesque tale to life, in front of audiences, in real time. No matter what anyone thinks of the final product, that ambition is something to be celebrated.

The Fly is available to rent on Prime Video in the U.S.

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