Directed by Terry Gilliam Twelve Monkeys is the second film that Gilliam did not write or co-write the screenplay for. The first film was The Fisher King (1991). An interesting thing to note about both films is the fact that they were both well received by critics and the public.
The film is set in the future. The earth’s population has been decimated by a manufactured virus that was released in 1996. The virus was so contagious that the survivors moved underground and can only go outside wearing protected clothing.
Bruce Willis is a convicted criminal who volunteers to go out and collect samples from the contaminated remains of the outside world. He is working towards a pardon and his freedom.
Scientists have discovered through intelligence that a group called The Army of the Twelve Monkeys were active in 1996 and 1997 and believe that this group is responsible for releasing the virus. James Cole (Willis) is recruited to go back in time and get a ‘pure’ sample of the virus so scientists can develop a cure.
Unfortunately the time travel ‘machine’ developed by the scientists is not exact and James is sent back to 1990. He ends up getting arrested and placed in a mental hospital for observation. When he is brought back, the scientists quiz him about a phone message from a female.
James convinces the scientists to send him back and after a bit of another ‘false’ start he ends up in the right year.
Twelve Monkeys has always felt like a curious blend of Time Bandits and Fifth Element to me. Despite this blend, the film is too non-linear to be likened to any other film too much. The film does have Gilliam’s stamp all over it.
The scene where Cole is being interrogated by the panel of scientists and he tells them that they are not real, they do not exist. The scientist’s react badly to this, with one female scientist sounding very hurt when she remonstrates Cole for his remark.
In another scene, Cole has been badly injured and is in a hospital bed in his own time. The scientists have surrounded his bed and are singing to him. Gilliam is a master of surrealism and Twelve Monkeys is about as surreal as you can get.
Willis breathes defeated life into James Cole and before the film is halfway through we recognise that this is a doomed individual, but we’re behind him every step of he way.
Brad Pitt’s character Jeffrey Goines is a complete fruit loop and his love/hate relationship with his father Dr Goines (Christopher Plummer) is what has made him rebel against the animal testing in daddy’s labs. Madeleine Stowe is Cole’s therapist who eventually believes his outlandish story of time travel and tries to help him find the virus.
In Twelve Monkeys the future is depicted as filthy, grimy and cold. Human life, especially in the prison, has little to no value. Animals have taken over the planet and man can only take very limited trips to the surface. Of course the 1996 and 1997 that Cole visits is also not very clean.
Graffiti is on practically every city wall and rubbish lines the streets. The authorities are cynical and bored. And towards the end of the film, we begin to wonder if all this time travel isn’t just some sort of nightmarish dream of Cole’s.
Having a limited amount of special effects has meant that the film has aged pretty well. It is still a compelling film to watch and I consider Twelve Monkeys Terry Gilliam’s jewel in his crown. Although The Fisher King could be considered a close tie.
My final rating of the film is ‘a two bagger’ for the constant to-ing and fro-ing that the film does between time. And a large coke to help wash down that bitter ending.
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The IMDb credits listing for Dead West lists Douglas Myers as the writer of this cross-genre film. Not too surprising is the fact that there is no listing for a director. The DVD that I purchased gives Myers’ name as both writer and director. This film appears to be his first venture in the film world. I would not be surprised to see it as his last.
I’m sure that first time producer Lisa Hilton must have thought this was a good idea for a film. Looking at the plot on paper it should work. But it doesn’t. Using stock 1995 footage of Old Tuscon Studios burning and then showing the burnt, gutted buildings was the most authentic and exciting part of the film.
The film stars Jasen Wade a young actor who looks like a cross between Brad Pitt and a young Chuck Norris. Unfortunately his acting skills don’t resemble either actor. Although he does come close to the young Chuck Norris in his performance. Just imagine how wooden Chuck Norris was when he first started out and then multiply it by two. Jasen looks good as Johnny Dust, the films main protagonist, but only from a distance and with his mouth closed.
But then I am being a bit unfair to the rest of the cast. Their performances were just as wooden and unbelievable. Before I start pointing out their shortcomings though, I’d better outline the plot.
Johnny Dust is a western actor who has never risen higher than the film’s title that he is in. His slender to non-existent back story indicates that he was friends with “The Kid” an actor who was ‘big’ in westerns. Played by William R. Scott, he is the best thing in the film (apart from the stock footage of Old Tuscon burning) and he’s not even listed on IMDb.
Johnny works as a ‘stunt’ cowboy working at Old Tuscon. He is divorced and running around with Gloria Valenzuela (Angélica Celaya) and their relationship is not too stable as she is using him to further her career. That she thinks Johnny can further her career shows that she is obviously not the sharpest tool in the shed. Old Tuscon as a tourist attraction is not doing well financially and the only filming that takes place is for local television commercials. The town gets taken over by a big corporation that specializes in theme parks.
The company representative explains that they are going to turn the old western town into a ghost town theme park and make use of the broken down ‘Haunted Dutchman Mine ride.’
The first part of the film was boring, slow, amateurish and cheap. The soundtrack sounded like old non-copyright music lifted from an 1970’s television show. It does not help the film one bit, but having said that, I don’t think anything could have helped the film.
The second part of the film, where the company opens up an old Indian burial jar and releases an evil spirit, does pick up a bit. We finally get to meet the company owner who looks like the great-great grandson of Nosferatu. Gloria is turned into a vampire along with the company rep.
The ‘new’ themed town will open up on Halloween and the unsuspecting public are to be the vampire’s and ghoul’s midnight snack. The funniest part of the film is when the editor shows several cut shots of peoples feet entering the mine ride. One woman is wearing a very distinctive pair of shoes. By the amount of times we see the shoes, she is either going in and out of the mine repeatedly, or the editor and director failed to notice that they were using the same piece of film to indicate a huge crowd of people were going into the mine.
Johnny realises that he must stop them and he takes a silver cross blesses it with holy water and turns it into a small amount of silver bullets. Unfortunately as he is an actor playing a cowboy and not the real deal, his aim is so poor that he places most of his shots on the surrounding area and not his intended victims. He must kill all the vampires and ghouls to save his ex-wife and daughter who are in the mine.
Johnny does manage to save the day, but he dies in the process.
This film is something of an anomaly for me. I generally love independent films. Dead West is indeed an independent film. Unfortunately it was so bad that when the second half of the film actually reached the grand heights of mediocre, I didn’t care. It was a case of ‘way too little, way too late.’
I do hope that Jasen Wade’s resemblance to Pitt and Norris doesn’t stop him from working. He needs as much work as he can get to help him learn his craft better. Any more films like Dead West and he can star in the film Dead Careerwritten and directed by Douglas Myers.
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