In 1995, Terry Gilliam released a science fiction movie like none other with 12 Monkeys. It starred Bruce Willis as a man from the future who was sent to the past to save the world from a toxic epidemic that would kill a majority of the Earth's population. It also starred Madeleine Stowe as the psychiatrist who has to treat Willis' Cole for mental problems while he's in the past. The film also starred a young Brad Pitt as a millionaire psych ward patient who mistakes Cole's looney rants as gospel and a glimpse into the future.
While 12 Monkeys has a lot of science fiction elements that might confuse the average viewer, Terry Gilliam unfolds the story that makes it simple to follow, while giving its characters pathos and charm. Cut to 2014 and the SyFy Channel adapted 12 Monkeys into a top-notch TV pilot that will leave you wanting more and more. I can definitely say that the TV pilot is worth your time!
While I was skeptical that a TV series based on 12 Monkeys would be any good, I can confirm that there's some interest in the pilot episode. There's a lot to like here. The TV series has the same mechanics, a man from the future is sent to the past to end a global plague, but where it differs is interesting. While the movie wanted to explore human existentialism in science fiction, the TV series is more plot heavy than anything else, which serves the TV format for the better.
The TV series starts off with James Cole (Aaron Stanford) living in a future wasteland. He's part of a group of people trying to figure out what went wrong when a global outbreak started. It then moves to Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull) in the past, as she's giving a speech about what could happen if a disease could wipe out humanity. As soon as Dr. Railly goes back home, James Cole mugs her and demands that she bring him to a mysterious figure named Leland Frost (Zeljko Ivanek), the man responsible for the plague. Railly has no idea who Frost is, while Cole concludes that he was sent back in time to early before the events of the global epidemic begins. While caught in a police standoff, Cole tells Railly to meet him at a hotel in two years, as he is shot and disappears, assumed to have traveled through time. We then cut to two years later where the story unfolds with Dr. Railly now uncredited and marked as a mentally unstable person, while Cole is bleeding to death.
The 12 Monkeys TV pilot does two really good things that all TV pilots should; establish its story, characters, rules, and world, while at the same time, making you want to watch the next episode. While the TV version of 12 Monkeys doesn't have that same existential angle as its movie counterpart, it's more focused on the plot points to try to stop the end of the world. In the movie, the Army of the 12 Monkeys was thought to be responsible for the virus that wipes out humanity, while it seems that the TV series is committing to that conceit and not just a MacGuffin or misnomer.
Practically every scene in the 12 Monkeys TV pilot is full of information about the series itself, as it sets up character relationships and dynamics, and plot points. It's not say that it's dense, but it rather moves at a good pace that will have viewers engaged. While I'm sure some plucky TV geek will nitpick the series' time travel paradoxes, it's logic is as sound as any good piece of science fiction and works well within its own world.
The way the pilot ends also deviates (in a good way) from the source material and it seems that the producers and writers are telling viewers and fans of the movie that this is a very different beast and should be viewed and enjoyed as such. The ending also suggest that it's as close to 12 Monkeys the movie as the film is close to the French short film La Jetée (by Chris Marker), on which its based. All three things (short film, feature film, and TV series) are all very different, while all trying to explore the same things, namely how time travel affects human relationships.
12 Monkeys premieres on the SyFy Channel in January 2015.