Released at the end of 1995, audiences and film fans in general were caught by surprise with 12 Monkeys. Described as a neo-noir science fiction film and based on a short film entitled La Jetee and directed by Terry Gilliam, known for his work with comedy royalty Monty Python and directing cult film fare such as Time Bandits, Spies Like Us, The Fisher King and Brazil, one wouldn’t expect a Hollywood approved blockbuster but casting two of among Hollywood’s biggest stars at the time certainly must have helped as 12 Monkeys was something of a hit at the time and has since gone on to attain ‘cult classic’ status and as this new release from Arrow Video proves, it’s definitely deserving of that.
The casting of Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt may have been a stroke of genius in terms of marketing for 12 Monkeys, inadvertently or not, but it’s clear early on that this isn’t the type of film that will rely on Willis’ action hero credentials or Brad Pitts’ dashing good looks to carry viewers through the film. 12 Monkeys is a science fiction film that puts us in three different years; 2035, 1990 and 1996 and is made to get us thinking. Bruce Willis’ time travelling prisoner, James Cole and Brad Pitts’ mental patient, Jeffery Goines both have more to them than initially meets the eye and therefore required performances that were convincing and strong enough to take us through this complex journey and fortunately both actors rise to occasion here, showing their commitment to their roles and Gilliam’s ambitious project in general, giving powerful and believable performances. Brad Pitt’s in particular earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Somewhat scarily relevant to an extent now, 12 Monkeys plot revolves around a deadly virus being released upon the world by a group that call themselves the Army of the 12 Monkeys which destroys most of the world’s population in 1996. In 2035, with time travel presumably a normal and potentially effective possibility, James Cole (Willis) is a survivor sent back in time to help scientists find a cure and prevent humanity being wiped out. Of course, we can’t really speculate about time travel right now but the threat of groups attacking the population with disastrous consequences is unfortunately a very real situation that we find ourselves in in 2018 so kudos to writers David and Janet Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven) for doing what a lot of the science fiction greats have done before and given us an epic, if slightly terrifying vision of a potential future on Earth. Thanks guys!
Watching 12 Monkeys now is mostly an enjoyable experience. It’s nearly two and a half hour running time never really dragging to much. The only slightly niggling part would be the romance between Madeline Stowe’s character, Kathryn Railly and James Cole. As good as Stowe is as the psychiatric nurse we first meet when she is assigned to help Cole after he ends up in a mental hospital after his first time travelling experience in the film, the relationship between them feels a little forced at times. Saying that, Railly often says how she feels as though they have already met which might get the viewer thinking about subjects such as fate and the like. Attention to detail within the plot is another strength that 12 Monkeys possesses so things may not be as clear or as simple as they first appear.
Although somewhat puzzling at times, 12 Monkeys forces you to think, during and long after you’ve finished watching. So, while this may not appeal to everyone, and certainly would’ve caught the respective Willis/Pitt fan clubs off guard, 12 Monkeys still stands up as solid example of modern science fiction.
Extras for this release include a feature length making of documentary – The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys, which is a must see for any fan of the film. The Film Exchange with Terry Gilliam is an interview with Gilliam in front of a live audience made upon the films original release. There is also a new appreciation of 12 Monkeys by film scholar and writer Ian Christie. Add to that an extensive image and archive gallery, an audio commentary by Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Roven, the theatrical trailer, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film as well as a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin, Arrow weren’t monkeying around with the extras on this release.
12 Monkeys is out now from Arrow Video.