In the future as envisioned by director Terry Gilliam (Brazil) and set designer Jeffrey Beecroft (Dances With Wolves), things are so bad that even Brad Pitt looks cross-eyed. It’s enough to make you wish for an apocalypse.
In the sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys, opening Dec. 27, that’s what you get. At a time when just 1 percent of the population has survived a virus, prisoner Bruce Willis must travel back 39 years — to the 1990s — to find out, with the help of psychiatrist Madeleine Stowe, what went wrong. Truth be told, Gilliam’s version of the present doesn’t seem so hot either. ”We went to Philadelphia to look for rotting America,” says the director, who, with Beecroft, ransacked a nuclear shelter and an abandoned hospital for props. ”It turned out to be the perfect place.”
Perfect to create Monkeys‘ gloomy underworld, perhaps, but less than ideal for the cast and crew, who inhabited sets built in the caverns of Philadelphia’s (and Baltimore’s) abandoned power stations. ”We were all freezing to death,” says Gilliam, whose misery wasn’t limited to the weather. ”You had to watch the ceiling because it was on its way down. We wore hard hats, and a lot of health people made sure we didn’t die from asbestos.”
”[Cinematographer] Roger Pratt had a T-shirt that said, ‘It’s hard, that’s the deal,”’ Beecroft says. ”And that’s really what the movie was about.”