The first time I watched 12 Monkeys I was about 9, and it was pretty much by accident. I was in the living room, insisting that I wasn’t tired enough to go to bed and that I should be allowed to stay up and watch films with my older brother and sister as I did every Friday night. When I say that I wanted to watch films with my older siblings what I mean is that they would watch the films and I’d constantly ask them what was happening, like the first time I watched Ransome and I kept asking them what the film was about.
Their only response was “ransom” which they said through gritted teeth. I think it goes without saying that I was an annoying little sister. I didn’t expect to actually stay awake through the whole film because in those days I’d start a film and wake up in my bed eight hours later but I actually did. Even at 9 years old I was engrossed in the film, even though I had no clue what was going on. I blame Gilliam rather than my immature mind, sometimes I still have trouble understanding what’s going on in his films and I’m 22 now, but what I do understand is that 12 Monkeys is a brilliant piece of cinema and Gilliam is the main reason why.
The storyline is compelling in and of itself. A convict named James Cole (Bruce Willis) is living in a world where most of the population has been wiped out because of a deadly virus and he has to go back to various points in time to stop it. Obviously his initial plans go awry and he ends up landing in the wrong time, ending up in an insane asylum where he meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) who is one of the people that the people of the future/present believe is behind the release of the virus. James then has to figure out if the information is correct and stop the attack while cozying up to Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe). Did I really just manage to sum up 12 Monkeys in three sentences? I’ve come a long way since my first viewing of it 13 years ago. The concept wasn’t exactly original, we’d had the Terminator that was released 12 years earlier and that involved time traveling to stop impending doom but 12 Monkeys managed to set itself apart for one reason only: Terry Gilliam.
I get it, Terry Gilliam is a bit of a marmite director, people either love him or hate him. I love him most of the time so of course I’m going to love 12 Monkeys and guard it’s legacy with my life. By life I mean I’ll guard it with my keyboard. I’d say that stylistically 12 Monkeys rises above the other films that share in it’s genre, even at 9 I knew it was beautifully shot. I can feel the crazy in the room during scenes at the asylum when the camera work decides to go haywire and it somehow makes my brain go all fuzzy, but when I’m watching Terminator the only thing that’s going on in my brain is “Oh that’s cool. When is he going to say I’ll be back?”. The film delves into a multitude of relevant (even now) issues such as animal testing seen through Jeffrey who is animal rights activist, and peoples perceptions of reality witnessed when Cole believes that his present isn’t real and wants to go back in time again. I don’t think that any other director could explore these themes so thoroughly in such a short space of time, especially when they are secondary story lines, so I can say that without a doubt if it wasn’t for Gilliam then 12 Monkeys would just be another decent science fiction film.
This makes the television reboot/re-imagining from SyFy that is completely Gilliam free quite bizarre. He undoubtedly made the film great so I find it hard to believe that the television series will be able to come close to the quality of the original. I thought this even before the trailer was released and I still think it now. It feels like another attempt to cash in on a franchise just by using its name like Scream is doing and the trailer doesn’t have the same feel of the film so I don’t think it will do so well. Judging by the trailer the show will be more sleek and will pretty much be your standard corruption, the good guy James Cole (Aaron Standford) working against the bad guy Leland Frost (Zeljko Ivanek) which is completely different from the original. Just from watching the trailer I feel like the essence of 12 Monkeys is lost.
It’s quite a shame because I’m a fan of the cast. Zeljko Ivanek always plays a marvelous villain and I’m a Nikita fan so I got quite a buzz from seeing Aaron Stanford and Noah Bean together again. I will probably watch the pilot episode just out of curiosity but I’m pretty certain that I’ll be left disappointed. So what are your thoughts on the reboot/reimagining? Will you be tuning in?