The world of time travel in movies can be complicated and confusing, forcing the viewer to pay attention to every minute detail, in case it proves important down the line. This is especially true of 1995’s sci fi film, 12 Monkeys. Set in a post-apocalyptic Philadelphia in the year 2035, James Cole a convicted criminal (played by Bruce Willis), allows himself to be sent back in time to obtain a sample of a virus that caused a worldwide plague. The process of sending him back in time proves inexact and Cole finds himself sent to both an asylum in 1990 and shot in the trenches of WWI before landing in 1996 where he was intended to end up. The suspected origin of the virus is a radical group called the Army of the 12 Monkeys which is led by Jeffrey Goines (wonderfully played by a crazy eyed Brad Pitt) a fanatical animal rights activist and fellow patient of Cole’s the asylum. With the help of Dr. Kathryn Railly, a psychiatrist at the asylum, Cole discovers that the bad guys aren’t who they originally thought. In reality, the virus did not originate with the Army of the 12 Monkeys, but with Goines’ father’s virology lab. Cole and Railly attempt to stop the traveling of Dr. Peters, Goines’ father’s assistant, but are detained. The movie ends in a way that doesn’t quite resolve the plot.
If you’re left feeling perplexed by such a complicated plot, you’re not alone. Such a complicated storyline is difficult to flesh out with the rather limited time run of most movies. Television however, allows for a more complete examination of such a complex plot in a much more digestible format. That’s where SyFy stepped in a created a television adaptation of the film, also titled 12 Monkeys (which you can catch up on through the SyFy website). The series adopts the fractured time travel theme of the original movie, but distinguishes itself from it’s first episode. The main character is still Cole who, again, is sent back in time to stop a viral plague, and is still assisted by a beautiful doctor, this time named Cassandra Railly, but some major plot points have been adapted for the series.
The importance of time travel is still untested, giving the series the complex effect of Cole being sent to seemingly random times and places. The main plot, however, is split between Cole’s struggles to find the Army of the 12 Monkeys, and the conspiring of different in the future in an attempt to control the time travel process. A significant difference is that the major red herring in the film, the Army of the 12 Monkeys, will play a considerably more important role in the series. What exactly that important role is has yet to be revealed to the audience outside of allusions. The supporting characters as well have been changed a bit; namely the insane Jeffrey Goines is now a female math prodigy named Jennifer. True to the film, she is the mysterious leader of the Army of the 12 Monkeys and the main suspect for having released the virus and caused the pandemic.
While the bones of the show are taken from the movie, the series itself stands alone. SyFy is delving into the complicated world of fractured time and very complex storylines. They have however, created a unique cast of interesting characters who are independent of their film counterparts and are sure to draw in new fans as well as fans of the original movie. Whether this series has staying power remains to be seen, but it certainly does not lack potential plotlines. 12 Monkeys will either be gone by next season, or it will become a cult classic. Either way, hopefully, the television version of James Cole has more luck saving the world than his big screen counterpart.