Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Monkey Business

Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys is debatably a classic. Written by David and Janet Peoples, the 1995 movie follows James Cole (Bruce Willis), a prisoner from the future who is sent to a pre-apocalyptic Philadelphia to retrieve an unmated form of a virus that destroyed most of his world. Finding himself in an insane asylum, he's cared for by psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) who begins to take a peculiar interest in the comments he's making, beyond simply being the ramblings of a homeless man who claims to be from the future.

Like a lot of time travel stories, Twelve Monkeys often questions the hero's own sanity. But it also delves into the possibility that a therapist may question her own if she becomes too personally involved in her subject.

The plot is often confusing, waxing and waning between the past and future as much as it treads between what's real and what's not, even the relevance of a past that's already happened. Using 1995's Philadelphia as a backdrop, the city is as much a character as any of the actors in the film. 

Other time travelers occasionally expose themselves as future prisoners who escaped to the dying past, homeless prophets in front of the derelict Met Opera House or along Frankford Avenue awaiting to relive the impending outbreak.

It's good. It's cerebral. Loosely based on the short French film, La jetee, it received the critical acclaim it deserved. 

But SyFy is turning it into a series. Without releasing too many spoilers (if you haven't seen the film, you probably shouldn't read any further), the premise of Twelve Monkeys can't be respectfully made into a television show. With Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett of Terra Nova having written the pilot, it's clear that those in charge of SyFy's Twelve Monkeys didn't get Twelve Monkeys

Like the CW, SyFy is a cable network that arduously employs viewer feedback to continuously retool a show's premise. But what made Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys so great is that it was upsetting, confusing, and never once offered the audience what it wanted or expected. Some of the best movies don't end neatly and happily, and aren't meant to be resolved.

While SyFy's Twelve Monkeys is meant to be a reboot only inspired by the movie, the trailer show's a pilot episode that recaps and retells most of the movie, leading those who enjoyed the movie to wonder how writers could possibly move beyond the final scene.

But why bother capitalizing on a movie with only an arguably cult following? SyFy's Continuum delves into a very similar premise and has obviously scraped content from Twelve Monkeys, particularly when the homeless man, Jason found another time traveler. Why not expand that? Why shoehorn the same premise into a new show that Terry Gilliam himself called "dumb" and "ridiculous."

If you've never seen Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys, SyFy's looks like it might be a fun ride. But if you have seen the film, and liked it, take a look at Continuum. You'll get the same thrill ride without the frustration of watching a well crafted and artistic movie get castrated.

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