Released in cinemas on February 28, 1996, Army of the 12 Monkeys is one of the most notable sci-fi films of the 1990s! It will be released in a restored 4K version on November 8 under the leadership of L’Atelier Distribution. Directed by mad scientist Terry Gilliam, the story transports us to 2035.
The majority of the world’s population has been wiped out by a mysterious virus. The survivors hope that a trip back in time will allow them to discover the causes of the catastrophe and then prevent it.
James Cole (Bruce Willis), a prisoner sentenced to life, is designated for this mission: sent in 1996, he must collect information on the Army of the 12 Monkeys, suspected of being the organization at the origin of the pandemic .
A French film as a starting point
The initial idea that gave birth to Army of the 12 Monkeys germinated in the mind of executive producer Robert Kosberg. The latter was a great admirer of the experimental short film La Jetée, directed by French filmmaker Chris Marker. He persuaded Universal to buy the rights to make a remake.
Then, producer Charles Roven sought out Terry Gilliam to direct the film. He felt that the British director’s baroque and zany style was perfect for this complex story involving time travel.
Small budget, big ideas
Terry Gilliam accepted the producer’s offer, finding the script intelligent and intriguing. “The story is disconcerting. It deals with time, madness and our perception of the world. It is a study of madness and dreams, death and rebirth, set in a world that is disintegrates”he confided.
However, the Universal studio, which has just suffered a resounding failure with Waterworld, is in no hurry to start filming Army of the 12 Monkeys. Finally, the production was validated with a reduced budget of 30 million dollars. However, for filming to finally begin, Terry Gilliam himself had to persuade Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt to lower their salaries. The first was paid as a percentage of revenue and the second received $500,000, three times less than his usual salary at the time.
Note that the two stars were not Gilliam’s first choices for James Cole and Jeffrey Goines. The filmmaker wanted Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges. Universal opposed these choices, preferring two leading actors, Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt.
Moreover, Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro were cast for the roles of James Cole, while Johnny Depp was approached to play Jeffrey Goines. For his performance, Brad Pitt was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1996. If he does not obtain the precious statuette, he will console himself with a Golden Globe in the same category.
Furthermore, the filmmaker having had problems with Universal on Brazil, this time he demanded to have the final cut. The studio accepts on two conditions: the film must not be prohibited for those under 18 and must not exceed a duration of 2 hours 15 minutes.
Amidst the rust
Terry Gilliam chose the dilapidated post-industrial landscapes of Philadelphia and Baltimore as his filming locations. A former penitentiary was selected to film the psychiatric hospital scenes because the director found the modern facilities to resemble offices.
“It fascinated me in advance to film in Philadelphia because its architecture emanates an incredible scent of decadence and rot. But I immediately felt Army of the Twelve Monkeys as a film about failure, decomposition, nostalgia.”
The end by a clever Gilliam
Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Roven had several conflicts regarding the ending of Army of the 12 Monkeys. The director tried to dissuade Roven by proposing a complex installation requiring two overlapping cranes and a significant number of cars.
By doing this, Gilliam hoped that the producer would find the scene too expensive to film and would end up canceling it. To his surprise, Roven agreed; Gilliam ultimately loved the result and decided to save the sequence for the feature film’s denouement.
“I had decided that the film should end at the airport, when the guy who released the virus meets the scientist from the future. But the producer didn’t agree, he wanted it to end on the face boy. So I came up with a plan that would be too expensive to carry out. I asked for a crane to come down to the boy’s face. I was sure he was going to say no, that it would be too expensive . But he said yes. And he was right. It was the good ending.”explained Gilliam on the microphone of.
Army of the 12 Monkeys was a great critical and commercial success, the biggest of Terry Gilliam’s career. It notably grossed a little over $168,000,000 at the worldwide box office for a budget of $30 million. In France, the work has totaled 2,270,947 entries.