Spurred by the commercial success of The Fisher King, Terry Gilliam would adapt Chris Marker’s short film La Jetée into 12 Monkeys, his most accessible film but one that still features his distinctive visual style and offbeat humour.
Following the commercial and critical success of The Fisher King, Terry Gilliam next feature would turn to science fiction and a screenplay by Janet and David Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven) inspired by Chris Marker’s classic short film La Jetée.
Terry Gilliam films are often pushed into the world kicking and screaming after numerous false starts exchanging four letter words liable to make a whore blush. Rare animals of madcap invention which are visually unique, stylistically quirky and leave an indelible mark on world cinema. Purposely produced devoid of conventional genre traits and steadfast in their opposition to easy classification, Gilliam films still manage to embrace both mainstream and arthouse sensibilities. From his early efforts with Monty Python through to Time Bandits, Jabberwocky, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Manchausen he has remained a singular voice of distinction.
12 Monkeys represents a rare moment in Gilliam’s filmography where everything came together. His commercial success with The Fisher King proved to Hollywood he could be trusted to bring in a film on budget, on time and with few problems. Inspired and to a certain degree lifted from Chris Marker’s Le Jetee, 12 Monkeys is perhaps Gilliam’s most mainstream movie. Starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt, 12 Monkeys is a futuristic fable shot through with Gilliam’s stylistic flair. It depicts a dystopian future where people live below ground after a viral outbreak incorporating notions of self and time travel narratives.
Made four years before The Sixth Sense, Gilliam taps into a similar vulnerability with Willis here. Perpetually disorientated, visibly wounded and clearly fallible, this is no role taken for its movie star kudos. Willis is withdrawn, measured and reacting off a Brad Pitt performance which all but steals the film. Surrounded by a clock work futurism which is reminiscent of Brazil in its scrapyard aesthetic, 12 Monkeys garners maximum effect with minimal outlay. Production design, sound and cinematography immerse you in a time-travel-thriller-noir with flashes of French New Wave befitting the source material.
For a film which is over twenty years old it remains untouched by filmmaking advances. There is an energy, urgency and visual flair which gives it a timeless quality. Any affects work is primarily practical while the few dashes of computer animation are seamlessly incorporated in this Blu-ray transfer. Invaluable extras for the Gilliam fan include a feature length documentary, which not only provides you with a unique insight but also expands on elements that may have slipped by unnoticed. Visually arresting and oddly engaging, this remains essential for any filmmaker or Python fanatic who wants to see a visionary actually bring that vision to life.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: David Peoples, Janet Peoples
Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer
12 Monkeys is out now on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video.