TERRY GILLIAM'S "TWELVE MONKEYS"
by Hans ten Cate
Thursday, 5 October 1995

"Between the past and the future... Between sanity and madness... Between dreams and reality... Between life and death itself... Lies the mystery of twelve monkeys."

Python fans are eagerly awaiting the next Terry Gilliam opus, "Twelve Monkeys," scheduled to open in American theaters December 25. This science-fiction thriller, currently in production at Universal Pictures, has a star-studded cast, including: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer, Frank Gorshin, and David Morse.

The film takes place in the year 2035. Bruce Willis plays a prisoner who lives underground with the few humans who have survived an apocolyptic virus. To win his freedom, Willis "volunteers" to travel back through time to the mid 1990s and to figure out how the virus was started or, perhaps, even prevent it from ever happening. At the risk of spoiling too much, too soon, I will refrain from revealing more. However, if you really insist on knowing more, a more detailed plot summary (with possible plot spoilers) has been provided below.

If, after reading the plot, the film sounds confusing, thats good... Terry Gilliam, known for his elaborately staged and eccentric films ("Time Bandits," "Brazil," "Fisher King," and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen") likes it that way. "I actually go out of my way to make films that are hard to define," he has said.

Bruce Willis, the psychotic time-travelling prisoner in the film, has his head clean-shaven and adorned with elaborate tattoos. His shaved head made quite an impression on Terry Gilliam. "He's got one of the finest bald heads I've ever seen," Gilliam said. "It's a monument to cranial architecture." Willis's shaved head made it necessary for him to wear a wig when he went back to reshoot some footage for the action-hit "Die Hard with a Vengeance" which overlapped somewhat with the production of "Twelve Monkeys." Interestingly, Bruce Willis's stunt-double also had to don a wig for some of the "Die Hard..." scenes because he, too, had a bald head for the production of "Twelve Monkeys!"

"Twelve Monkeys" co-star Brad Pitt plays a frenzied and wealthy animal rights activist, with a cheap haircut and white contact lenses that hide his baby blues. Pitt, worn out by the recent publicity and attention he has received with his roles in "Legends of the Fall" and "Interview With the Vampire," actually lobbied heavily to get the part in Gilliam's film. He met with the former-Python/director several times, before getting the role. Says Pitt, "And that was very cool of him, because he isn't into the name game... He [Gilliam] wants what's best. So he took a chance with me, and I appreciate that." So Pitt will look very much unlike the teenage-heartthrob that he is. He actually took scissors in hand to give himself the eccentric haircut for "Twelve Monkeys." "It was very funny," says Terry Gilliam, "He was determined that he wouldn't appear to be the sexiest guy. He worked hard at making himself as unattractive as possible...."

Apparently, both Willis and Pitt took salary cuts to star in the $30 million project. With all of the hair trimming and make-up sessions, it seems that both will be defying their sexy action-Jackson images this Christmas. Says Gilliam: "They both are showing sides that I don't think anybody has seen." Still, Willis chuckles at Brad Pitt's discomfort with his recently-acquired sex symbol status, "Poor Brad. Poor Brad. He has a great sense of humor about it. This is just his cross to bear for a while." Whether Willis and Pitt will succeed in avoiding their sex-symbol images is hard to tell - both of them appear partially naked in the film anyway.

Filmed in both Philadelphia and Baltimore earlier this year, the film is in its finishing stages. What remains is some editing to cut the film to a manageable viewing length (its currently more than 2 hours long!). Also of note is the ending. Currently, the film has an open-ended outcome which leaves more to the viewer's imagination than what some studio executives would be comfortable with. A more pleasant, "definitive," ending would probably involve the filming of some additional footage. Terry Gilliam's problems with the release of "Brazil" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" are grim reminders that this is a dangerous position to be in, especially for Gilliam. The last time he disagreed with the studio about the length and ending of one his films ("Brazil"), it took more than a year to finally release it.

One amusing behind-the-scenes tale involves Terry Gilliam, Brad Pitt, and an April fools gag they pulled on the cast and crew of the film. After a long tiring week of filming, Gilliam and Pitt decided to liven things up by staging a fake brawl - complete with pushing and shoving. Says Pitt, "I was surprised how much Terry got into it. [Laughs] Kinda scared me for a second. We started going at it, and you could just see everyone creep off. The circle surrounding us was getting wider and wider. And then this grizzly old man, the focus puller, jumped in and tried to break us up. It was like 'Fuck you!' ' Well, fuck you!' 'April Fooools', suckers!'"

So, Python fans, mark you calendars for another imagery-laden tale from master-director Terry Gilliam. But Monkeys has a soft side, despite its themes of madness, death, and world destruction. "This is a film that has at its heart a tragic romance," says Willis. "As crazy as it sounds, I think people are going to find it sentimental."

Check out the "Twelve Monkeys" web site as well [Link has expired -- 6 Sept. 1998]. They have a great animated teaser there, a must see!