Science on screen is all the buzz at Amherst Cinema

By Kevin Romani

Josh Kellogg/Collegian

This fall, Amherst Cinema is showcasing a three-part “Science on Screen” film series, sponsored by A2Z Science of Northampton. The series – which combines the screening of a film with a lecture on the scientific subject matter covered in the plot – presented its second installment on Monday evening with David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” which was shown alongside a presentation by cell biologist Amie McClellan.

“The Fly” – released in 1986 – was an early hit for stars Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. The film tells the story of an eccentric scientist who boasts on having invented a machine that “will change the world.” The machine is a transportation device that moves the contents inside from one teleporting device to another. The machine’s idea is that people will be able to travel seamlessly from point A to point B without wasting the time required to physically travel. Everything seems to be working well for Seth Brundle (Goldblum), until he tests the machine himself. Little does Brundle know that a fly made its way into the machine, which leads to the beginning of a disturbing transformation within Brundle’s genetic structure.

The opening presentation from McClellan was both informative and humorous. Knowing her audience, McClellan realized a majority of the crowd was attending primarily for the special screening and not purely for information on cell mutation. She broke down the basics of cell genealogy and mutation in a way that was simple to understand, and was helpful for following the events that followed in the film. She was able to answer the crowd’s questions with engaging answers.

Considering it is 25-years-old, “The Fly” has aged nicely. The film is a perfect example of the quality that the horror genre once possessed, which has not translated into contemporary horror films. Cronenberg’s focus on the characters, makeup and sound added to the authentic feeling and mood of the film. Brundle’s transformation works so well because the audience relates to the character and does not wish for such a brutal series of alterations to happen to him. The transformation also works because it uses excellent makeup instead of cheesy special effects. The audio even added to the realism, specifically when Brundle would lose certain body parts. It sounded so genuine that the viewer could not help but cringe.

The dialogue was often unnatural, but it fit for the style of the film. It provided humor to the story that already contained several disturbing pieces of imagery. Howard Shore – whose work on “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Silence of the Lambs” has made his name familiar to many film enthusiasts – provided the score for the film by leaving a strong mark on the atmosphere. Shore’s music provided the narration with the themes matching perfectly with the emotions derived by the audience from the various scenes.

“The Fly” is a perfect film for the Halloween season, as it offers a different take on the “monster” film. Cronenberg’s story is more thought-provoking than most horror films, and provides real dramatic moments that lack in many current productions. Often times today, horror filmmakers are seeking to outshine one another with gore instead of actually producing a quality film. The genre has become nothing more than a laughing stock, as no viewer takes current horror films seriously. Modern filmmakers should take a look back at the films of the 1970s and 1980s that defined the genre, and realize that strong characters and societal influences helped legitimize horror films.

The first installment of the “Science on Screen” series focused on Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” with an opening lecture from evolutionary biologist Dr. Jeff Podos.

The next and final installment of the series will be offered on two nights. The documentary “Grey Gardens” will be presented Monday, Nov. 14 and Tuesday, November 15th at 7:30 p.m. Psychologist Randy O. Frost will be the guest lecturer, and hoarding will be the topic of this presentation.

Kevin Romani can be reached at [email protected] Follow Kevin Romani on twitter @KevinRomani.