In between the other new stuff that’s come out (and the older stuff I’ve picked up), I wanted to try and whittle down the archives, so huzzah for small victories.
In a film inspired by the 1962 French short film, “La Jetee,” Cole (Bruce Willis), lives in an underground society. He gets volunteered to go back in time and return to the surface of the Earth, after a deadly virus has essentially wiped out the population. He goes back to find out the history of the source, and possibly attempt…to bring the few who survived the plague and lived underground back to the surface. He’s supposed to go back to 1996, but is accidentally sent to 1990, where he is institutionalized, and meets up with a very crazy Jeffrey Goines (in a strangely charismatic performance by Brad Pitt). Goines helps to free Cole, who then is locked into a solitary room, in which he’s transported back to the underground. During this time, Cole’s assigned psychiatrist, Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) is skeptical at first, but Cole’s memory and the events that play out only serve to convince Railly of the virus, and how the world is exposed to it. After a failed attempt to get back to 1996, Cole does get there, and finds that Railly has published a book about the familiar circumstances around Cole’s case. With Railly’s help Cole tries to find out more about the Army of the 12 Monkeys, a radical pro-environmental group founded by Goines between 1990 and 1996. Complicating matters further is the fact that Goines’ father is a noted virologist (played by veteran Christopher Plummer). Cole does what he can to try and stop the exposure of the virus to the world. You know, typical Willis “save the world” stuff.
What made this film different from others that Willis had appeared in is that after Moonlighting and Die Hard, Willis showed a different side of his character, one a bit soft-spoken and even a bit conflicted. He’s shown this depth in subsequent films like Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense. And both he and Pitt played characters that went against their previous perceptions at that time, Willis being the macho superstar type, and Pitt cutting off those pretty boy locks of his for this role, which earned him a Golden Globe award. With solid supporting performances by Jon Seda (Homicide: Life of the Street) and David Morse (The Green Mile), 12 Monkeys is an exciting combination of action and to a lesser degree, science-fiction, all brought together by the unique vision of Terry Gilliam (The Fisher King).
The audio is 5.1, and after listening to it again after a year or so, I still find it to be one of the better soundtracks out there, despite some of the dialogue almost being muted. Speaker panning is very evident when it needs to be, and the rear speakers are pretty active when the situation calls for it.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and is OK, but nothing special. The transfer rate is pretty average in checking it throughout the movie, and I did notice some artifacts in the film, but the film is a pretty dark one, despite some fuzzy whites during the asylum scenes.
The 1 hour, 27 minute, 14 chapter stop documentary with the longest name in the world is The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys: The Making of 12 Monkeys. This documentary is arguably the one every “Making Of” documentary should measure itself against. Filmed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (they later filmed the Making Of piece on another Gilliam film which evolved into Lost in La Mancha), the piece features interviews with Gilliam, and producers Lloyd Phillips and Charles Roven, to name a few. Even a movie extra with a speaking line was interviewed briefly, for reasons explained in the documentary. It’s one of the most entertaining things you’ll see. From the animation that’s vintage Gilliam, to signing releases on camera for the documentary, to Gilliam’s complaint about “being dragged into the abyss of success,” it’s all here. It really puts you in the room and lets you watch as Gilliam’s mood swings, and handles issues on set. Everything from seeing new dimensions of performances with Pitt and Willis receive some time, along with some footage of Pitt speaking with a therapist to help him get some character nuances down. Gilliam was banged up a bit during a horseback riding accident, and the shiner under his eye appears sporadically during the feature. While there isn’t footage of it, you hear about an argument Gilliam had with Roven about a particular production design, and Gilliam subsequently locks himself in his trailer for an hour. More humorous discussions about time travel resume later in the production, and other aspects of Gilliam’s involvement, including the scoring, looping and marketing of the film with the teaser art are included also. You also see Gilliam’s reaction at a test screening for the film, and the surprise when the cards come back with a different reaction than what he saw. To see his giddiness afterwards compared to the sample crowd survey conducted by a studio executive was interesting. Finally, the movie premieres, and is critical and box office success seems to vindicate Gilliam. We end with one of the last scenes, which is also from the beginning, Gilliam’s preparation for his appearance on The Late Show. Watching this documentary makes me look forward to seeing Lost in La Mancha, and to witness Gilliam’s trials and tribulations in trying to get that debacle off the ground. The Hamster Factor, along with Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, are the best, most comprehensive behind the scenes features you’re going to find accompanying a film.
This feature, along with the bonus material mentioned below would be enough, but we also get a commentary with Gilliam and Roven. In what apparently was a track pulled from the laserdisc version of the film, it may possibly be one of the best commentary tracks around, and certainly better than Gilliam’s commentary on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The two men stick remarkably close to the subject, while at the same time providing an abundant level of behind the scenes information on the picture as well, so much so that the DVD cuts Roven off after everything has run. These two can talk, and there is no time for dead space, and they probably could have gone on for another hour after the feature ended. Gilliam raves about the performances of Willis, Stowe and Pitt, who originally wanted the part of Cole, but then went the extra effort to prove to Gilliam that he could play the role of Goines. A lot of time is given to Gilliam’s working relationships with his crew, from the Director of Photography to the Editor. Terry also sounds off on test screenings, director’s cuts and of course, monkeys. Easily up there among the top two or three commentaries around, and worth repeated listenings. 28 pages of production notes are included, with the majority of the information surrounding the locations, set designs and costumes. The cast and filmmakers section includes biographies and filmographies for Willis, Stowe, Pitt, Plummer and Gilliam up to 1997. The trailer rounds out the package.
Sure, Gilliam isn’t for everyone, Baron Munchausen may be a case in point. The film was (sorry Terry) a box office success, and the film has gotten better with age, with challenging performances by both Willis and Pitt. It’s a good movie with a cheap price, combined with an excellent documentary and one of the best commentary tracks you’ll find, make it easy to recommend for any film fan’s collection.
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- “The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys” behind the scenes feature
- Production Notes