In the 1995 film “12 Monkeys,” Bruce Willis played a convict sent back in time to find out the origins of a man-made virus that wiped out most of the population. Director Terry Gilliam’s film is about second chances.
The plot line is getting a second chance: The movie is serving as the basis for the new Syfy series that launches Friday, Jan. 16.
In the series, Aaron Stanford plays the time-hopping hero who uses a dangerous and untested method of time travel to journey from 2043 to the present. He also is looking for the source of a deadly plague that has almost wiped out most of the human race.
Terry Matalas, “12 Monkeys” executive producer, describes the cable series as a re-imagining of the film.
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“We were all very, very big fans of the original film and had a deep love and respect for that material. So when we talked about this, we didn’t want to just redo what the movie does. We changed the rules in the movie. Can’t actually change time, and here you can,” Matalas says. “So everything from the top down changed, from Cole’s character to Dr. Railly’s character to some new characters. So the story, while it has a lot of the same themes, it’s very different.”
One of the big themes in the film was whether the character played by Willis was actually a time traveler or just insane. The makers of the TV series stress their guy is a time traveler, but that doesn’t preclude him from being insane, too.
An early episode of the series will have the TV character facing the same kind of mental institution confinement as happened in the film.
Keeping the audience guessing about Cole’s mental state will be Stanford’s chief job. He comes to the series after playing complicated characters in the TV series “Nikita” and in the feature film “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
“That is one reason why I’m such a TV junkie,” Stanford says. “I love the idea you get to know these characters over a period of weeks and months and years. I love film, but the attachment you have to these characters in TV is like nothing else.”
The key to keeping audiences intrigued by Cole is to find that line between him being humanity’s last great hope and being a mental and emotional mess. Stanford expects the audience to relate with how Cole feels — the weight of the world is on his shoulders and he’s a fish out of water.
“12 Monkeys” joins a growing list of recent TV series looking at apocalyptic events, such as “The Walking Dead,” “Z Nation,” “Revolution.” Stanford says examining the end of the world has always been a popular theme.
“I read an article that said the first apocalypse film was made in 1915,” Stanford says. “I think it’s always been there, but now we are aware of a lot of things that could wipe us off the face of the Earth at any moment.
“But, in a way, we’ve been dealing with it like living through the Cuban Missile Crisis. People are always in the mind-set that the time they are living in is the most tumultuous and the most difficult. The truth is the world has always been a very scary place.”
Stanford is enjoying working on “12 Monkeys” so much, he’s not thinking about other jobs. He does admit that if he got a call to be in another “X-Men” movie, he would do anything — short of traveling through time — to be part of the project.
“12 Monkeys” also stars Amanda Schull (Dr. Cassandra Railly), Kirk Acevedo (Ramse), Barbara Sukowa (Jones) and Noah Bean (Aaron Marker).