John Lyttle on film

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The Independent Culture
It hasn't happened in such a long time that I think I'd actually forgotten that it could occur. But there I was, sitting in my seat, watching Twelve Monkeys and watching the audience, acutely aware that the people around me were concentrating. You know: that hushed, collective stillness that borders on tension.

Or maybe you don't know. The Hollywood blockbuster that does it all for you, every plot point spelt out in neon and then repeated, the relentless pace, action and broad humour demanding surrender, not negotiation, has conditioned the global market to lie back and enjoy it. It demands that you be as empty as its formula, and its formula has been dominant for the better part of two decades - a long time to be cinematically comatose.

So what makes Twelve Monkeys different? I'm none too sure. Many reviews have accused Terry Gilliam's time-travelling black comedy of being needlessly complex in structure, or just plain confusing, which simply isn't true, and may say more about how formula has corrupted even the "professionals", inadvertently exposing a reflex laziness. It could be that reading those reviews has put the punters in a certain frame of mind: better pay close attention. But what's astonishing is that the coverage hasn't turned the public off. Rather the opposite, if that hushed stillness means anything at all; they appear hungry for involvement in narrative, in character, in puzzles, in the unexpected, and in old-fashioned drama. I think it means that the masses aren't brain- dead. Or, at least, not as brain-dead as the men who run the studios.