There are few directors in Hollywood, let alone the world, who can create such intricate, amazing and wondrous worlds as Terry Gilliam. He could also be the most unlucky director ever, and while the stories of his bad luck are well documented, the focus should be on the interesting and challenging movies he makes with one of his most successful projects making its debut on Blu-ray.
Based on the short film La Jetée, 12 Monkeys is set in a bleak version of the future. The year is 2035 and a virus has virtually wiped out the population, forcing humans to live underground and the animals to rule the surface. Trying to figure out how to take the planet back a group of scientists pick convict volunteer James Cole (Bruce Willis) to travel back in time to gather information on the virus in exchange of his freedom.
He is first mistakenly sent back to 1990 where his ramblings get him promptly locked up in an institution where he is treated by Dr Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and makes acquaintance with Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt).
After an escape attempt fails, Cole is sucked back to 2035 and, with no real results, asks to be sent back again, this time correctly to 1996. It is on his second journey that the film really begins to pick up pace as Cole kidnaps Kathryn and begins his search for the army of the 12 Monkeys whom he believes is behind the virus.
Sewn into the main plot is Cole’s haunting re-occurring dream of a child watching a man getting shot in an airport. I won’t go into too much detail other than to say this dream links beautifully into the eccentric and thought-provoking plot.
12 Monkeys, although not written by Gilliam, is a living, breathing visual interpretation of the inside of his mind but was, at the time, his most ‘Hollywood’ film to date. When it was released in 1995, Bruce Willis was on the top of his game, a major movie star who could open a movie without much effort and Brad Pitt was storming up the celebrity tree with Legends Of The Fall, Interview With The Vampire and Seven all coming out before its release. But the fame of its stars and the obvious pressure that must have put onto the film does not affect the final product in any way, shape or form and the movie itself is stronger for that.
Trying to step away from his action image, Willis is subtle in his portrayal of Cole who is slightly like an onion, the further you get into the movie the more layers he has, and as the lynchpin for the entire movie he holds himself up well. Brad Pitt, however, steals the show with his (Oscar-nominated) performance as Jeffery. His body inhabits the character so well you are caught up in his ramblings and static jointed motions. His entire being embraces the character and it makes you wish he would go back to these quirky roles more often.
As with all Gilliam’s movies, the scenery is unique but so fitting to the story. While the present is more dirty then reality, it is the future that holds up as this weird industrial underground realm and I can’t help but feel the influence of French directors Caro and Jeunet each time the plot takes us there. I also think that Roland Emmerich was more than a bit influenced by Cole’s trip out to the surface in his apocalyptic tale of global warming in The Day After Tomorrow.
12 Monkeys, ultimately, is sci-fi drama with gust. The story does not fall into the Hollywood trap of ending everything neatly and is open to interpretation and lends itself to multiple viewings. Solving the mystery of 12 Monkeys is well worth your time and this disc would be a welcome addition on any true film fans shelf.
This movie lends itself beautifully to the Blu-ray format and, although it won’t leave the likes of Terminator quaking in its boots due to picture quality, it is a vast improvement on previous incarnations and if you want a real comparison watch the trailer on the extra features to fully comprehend the improvement in picture and sound quality.
Extras include an extremely interesting making of documentary, ‘The Hamster Factor & Other Tales of 12 Monkeys’, which takes a looks at Gilliam’s past, how he finally made it to 12 Monkey‘s, his thoughts on the studio system and the minefield that is movie making.
Along with that comes a theatrical trailer, an interesting if not overly entertaining commentary with Gilliam and producer Charles ‘Chuck’ Roven and a 12 Monkeys archive of the monkey logos used in the movie.
The Film:The Disc:
Twelve Monkeys is out on Blu-ray now.