October Extras 2: 12 Monkeys (1995)

OCTOBER 24, 2008


I remember going to see Twelve Monkeys in theaters and wondering when Bruce was gonna shoot some guys. At the time, the only time I had seen him in non-action films were in supporting roles (Mortal Thoughts, North, Pulp Fiction...). It was the first time I became aware of his existence as a guy who could carry a movie without a single explosion. But once I realized that this was not John McClane in post-apocalyptic Philadelphia, I found I quite enjoyed the movie, and as a result, I now see each and every Bruce Willis movie (In theaters! In fact, other than The Jackal, this began my still-unbroken streak of seeing his films theatrically).

Apparently, Terry Gilliam had the same opinion I did; he said that he wouldn’t cast Bruce if he did that “steely blue eyed look”, which is pretty hilarious. That’s one of the many great tidbits to be learned in the disc’s only extra feature (besides the commentary): a feature length documentary about the film’s production. Compared to Brothers Grimm, Don Quixote, etc (is it just me or is there a book or a documentary about the troubled production of just about every single Gilliam film?), the production was a snooze, but there is just enough sort of tension and trouble to elevate the film far above the usual EPK bullshit contained on a studio sanctioned DVD.

The film is the real draw though. It’s a well crafted time travel tale, with no apparent holes in the narrative (I am a fierce nitpicker when it comes to time travel movies). I like the idea of a time travel movie in which only a few years are covered (except for the brief WWI bit, it’s all back and forth between six years), and it’s rare for the idea to be used in a completely humorless setting. The cast really sells it too; Bruce is terrific as the shell-shocked would-be savior. And Brad Pitt (this is the movie in which he earned my respect as well) is simply incredible as a guy so crazy that he makes Willis’ character look completely normal in contrast. Rounding out the trio is Madeline Stowe, aka the hottest “old enough to be my mom” woman in the world (well, tied with Rene Russo). She’s a bit annoying towards the end when she starts to believe, but otherwise it’s one of her most memorable roles. There are a few familiar faces in the supporting cast as well; I had forgotten that David Morse was in the movie (him and Bruce would square off again in the underrated 16 Blocks), and Chris Meloni pops up as a detective.

I can’t recall if it was intentional, or if the DVD just plain sucks, but the transfer is very soft. Gilliam’s images should be presented as clearly as possible, but if this was his intent, so be it. Either way, it’s always an interesting looking movie (I still love the random shots of bears and elephants just walking around Philadelphia), with the traditional gonzo set designs and off kilter framing that he excels at. This was his most financially successful film (in that it was the only one that, well, was), and in many ways his most accessible as well (tied with Fisher King anyway), and I hope it turned some folks on to his other films. His movies are not always perfect, but they are seemingly always interfered with in some way as well. I hope he is someday given a blank check and total control, just to see what he comes up with. It may just be that he needs a director friendly studio (which Universal is) to step aside and let him work and only intrude when it becomes a major concern over how their money is being spent. It’s worth noting that this and its followup, Fear and Loathing (also Universal), are pretty much his only films in which production problems are NOT part of its lore.

What say you?


  1. You should see the short 12 Monkeys was based on [inspired by?]

    La Jatee. It's an experimental film [I know how much you lv those!] from 1962 told in black and white still photos [the ken burns effect] with a voice over narration. It's French. Worth your time.

    So 12 Monkeys. My Dad, Brother and Dad's-Friend walked into this movie 20 minutes late.I was lost for a while, but still enjoyed the crap out of it. First DVD I ever bought too.

  2. mercury rising was painful though.

  3. it's reviews like this that make me feel my age. (the grand old age of 33). i remember when no one would take seriously bruce's turn in die hard 'cause of his work in moonlighting and you, (29? 30?) initially couldn't buy bruce in a movie without explosions.

    i'm increasing obsessed with the differing frames of reference between people just a few years apart in ages.

  4. I thought Brad Pitt was great in this. I think that maybe because of his looks and the chicks he gets, he is somewhat underrated as an actor. You never hear him mentioned among the best of his generation.


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