director Terry Gilliam
Having turned Felix on to Terry Gilliam’s unusual brand of dystopic sci-fi with The Zero Theorem (2013), I thought he might enjoy this, the second film of Gilliam’s dystopia trilogy, his foray in Hollywood big time filmmaking, 1995’s 12 Monkeys.
“Inspired by” Chris Marker’s seminal 1962 avant-garde short film La Jetee, 12 Monkeys, as I’d recalled from the 1990’s was a pretty good movie. What did I remember about it exactly? Time travel, Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, a young Brad Pitt (who got an Oscar nomination for his Supporting Role) and actually, not much else specifically. The film has recently inspired a Syfy channel television show, further expansion of our world of all things science fiction obscure now mainstream pop culture.
First and foremost, the kids thought the movie was long. It is 127 minutes long. My experience is that time is truly relative in a film. 80 minutes can seem forever in some cases. Clara was clearly bored through much of the film and Felix kept noting that it was “a long movie”.
Me, I enjoyed it again. My complaint about The Zero Theorem had to do with the apparent budgetary limitations of the film. And for 12 Monkeys, that isn’t something one will be thinking about. It seems kind of intangible to put one’s finger on exactly what “looks cheap” and what “looks good”, but 12 Monkeys is a nice-looking film. Gilliam frequently employs a skewed camera, like a fish-eye at a wonky angle that sets the whole shot into a cockeyed perspective. It might not be his strongest characteristic, but otherwise, the film is pretty gorgeous.
Though it begins with a flashback to a scene in an airport where a young boy witnesses the shooting of a man with long hair in an ambiguous reflection, the film is set in a present of 2027, on an Earth despoiled by a virulent man-made disease that has made the planet’s surface uninhabitable by humans, now overrun by the animals formerly of the zoo. Bruce Willis is a bald prisoner of this weirdo future state who is sent back into the past to try to uncover the origins of the disease so that it can be better rectified in the future. He first ends up in 1990 and then in 1996, the year in which the disease is unleashed on the world by a madman.
The 1990’s were a great time for Bruce Willis. He made a number of excellent and commercially successful films with a variety of interesting directors (as well as a lot of crap too). Brad Pitt was just emerging on the scene — kind of hard to remember when he wasn’t one of Hollywood’s biggest names, but this film was produced before he “broke big”. He’s pretty good here.
I actually enjoyed the film. Clara was clearly restless, and while Felix did enjoy it, I guess he found it more of a slog than the other film. I guess I was a little surprised by their collective ambivalence, but maybe the film is perhaps a little more “adult” in the ways that it’s interesting…I don’t know. I’d rate it as very good, but perhaps not quite great. It is quite interesting from a perspective of current affairs with diseases like Ebola last year and measles this year and terrorism everywhere.