I recently caught 12 Monkeys on Showtime and watched it for the first time in many years.
In 1995 Terry Gillian made one of his better trademark weird and brilliant films. 12 Monkeys tells the story of a man forced to volunteer for a dangerous mission into the past. The future is a post pandemic wasteland where wild animals run loose and the survivors have to live underground.
Terry Gilliam is a master of using Practical Effects, this means his post apocalyptic world is made with things from the real world and not from a computer. The result is his film worlds have a grit and reality that is missing from most modern films. His time machine is basically an old dry cleaning bag. His insane asylum has flaking off paint and domed ceilings. The rooms are all crowded. The people all wear outlandish clothes, just like real people in the real world. There are massive piles of random crap everywhere, also much like the real world.
Unlike the Syfy Channel’s recent series 12 Monkeys, which I am very fond of, this 12 Monkeys lacks all the many plotlines and minor characters that give the TV show it’s drive. This 12 Monkeys shows a man out of time doomed to failure. Unlike Marty McFly and his disappearing older brother, here we find that what’s done, is done. The past can’t be changed. Which makes the closing scenes all the more poignant, because Cole is mere inches away from changing everything.
Besides amazing practical effects, 12 Monkeys also has very odd looking people, odd camera angles and effects, and a general sense that there is something wrong with the world. As all fans of older movie like to say, I don’t think you could make 12 Monkeys today. It’s too weird, too depressing, too pointless. But that’s kind of why I like it. I’m a little sick of all the pure formula films that move smoothly from A to B to C. Even with constant foreshadowing, the end is still a bit surprising.
Two minor players stood out in the cast for me, Frank Gorshin, who I grew up watching play The Riddler and a very young Christopher Meloni playing, wait for it, a police detective.