I remember seeing 12 Monkeys in February 1996 at the old Guildford Odeon. The cinema was in an Art Deco building at the top of the High Street (the Upper High Street to give it its actual name). The old Guildford Odeon had originally opened to the public in 1935.
When I was there in 1996, for 12 Monkeys, I noticed that the cinema looked shabby. It was a time when people could still smoke in a cinema (the ban on smoking in public places became law in 2007). I didn’t know it at the time, but the cinema had been slated for closure, which it did on the 8th December 1996. The building was demolished in 2002.
I was really looking forward to seeing the film. The film’s promotional campaign had struck me as being remarkable, the surreal images of wild animals walking through an empty cityscape, and the strange time travelling theme — it seemed pretty fascinating.
When the credits rolled at the. End of the film, I left feeling underwhelmed. The film didn’t quite work for me. Where all the ingredients had magically come together in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), the same thing hadn’t happened with 12 Monkeys. It was lost somewhere in-between an art house production and a genre action flick. It had a screenplay by David Peoples (who wrote Blade Runner and Unforgiven) but it was delivered by Bruce Wills (who does comic nonchalant) being asked to do fraught emotional (which he doesn’t do). If only they’d just asked him to do his usual Bruce Willis thing. The underground world (a future dystopia) had the kooky retro-futuristic aesthetic of Brazil (which added so much to that film’s darkly comic tone), but here, it felt out of place.
Rewatching 12 Monkeys has left me with exactly the same feeling of disappointment. James Cole’s exploration of the post-apocalyptic surface was full of great imagery (which had been used to great effect to promote the film) but the rest of it was slow, unconvincing, and didn’t gel.