12 Monkeys (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: May 11, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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12 Monkeys (4K UHD Review)


Terry Gilliam

Release Date(s)

1995 (April 26, 2022)


Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B-

12 Monkeys (4K UHD)



[Editor’s Note: We’re aware of the issue in the master used for this release and address it in the review. Once we know more, we’ll update.]

When 12 Monkeys was released in 1995, it felt like the antitheses of every Hollywood blockbuster that was being released at the time. Terry Gilliam, regaining some of his directorial strength after The Fisher King received higher critical appraisal, delivered the biggest box office hit of his career with a story about a time-traveling man who hopes to find the key to humanity’s survival. Featuring traces of Brazil, Time Bandits, and even his disastrous but underappreciated The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 12 Monkeys was an amalgam of everything Gilliam had learned as a director up to that point, and with the star power of Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, and Brad Pitt, it was all but assured some kind of success.

In the year 2035, it seems that a lethal virus has wiped out many of Earth’s inhabitants, forcing the unaffected underground. Prisoner James Cole (Bruce Willis) is chosen by a group of scientists to be sent back in time to find the source of the virus, which was released in 1996, in the hope of developing a cure for it. Upon arriving in 1990, Cole finds himself at odds with nearly everyone he comes into contact with. He’s initially locked away in a mental hospital, where he meets Dr. Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and a fellow patient (Brad Pitt), both of whom are tied to his recurring childhood memories. Soon, they all become entangled in a race to stop a group called the Army of the Twelve Monkeys from devastating the world.

Looking back at the film almost 23 years after its original release (alongside Waiting to Exhale and Dead Man Walking), 12 Monkeys is a brash, bold vision—one that, unusually, wasn’t solely born out of Terry Gilliam’s imagination. Although he more than put his directorial stamp on the material, it was birthed from the pens of David and Janet Peoples. Yet one could argue that this is Gilliam’s most emotionally honest film (outside of Tideland, that is). His work tends to generate a range of feelings in its viewers, but 12 Monkeys offers a more emotional narrative for its lead character, due in no small part to Bruce Willis, who gives an amazing performance.

12 Monkeys was shot by cinematographer Roger Pratt on 35 mm film using Moviecam Compact and Arriflex cameras (the latter confirmed by documentary footage shot during the making of the film) with Cooke Series 3 lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Arrow Video brings the film to Ultra HD for the first time utilizing their previous 16-bit 4K scan and restoration of the original camera negative, with a new HDR color grade (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are both available) based upon the SDR grade for their 2018 Blu-ray release (which was supervised and approved by Gilliam). Aside from an error in the master (more on that in a minute), this presentation improves upon its Blu-ray counterpart with tighter grain. 12 Monkeys is a highly-stylized film, employing diffusion and other filters in many scenes, as well as variances in detail. All of these are a part of the film’s intended look, which is recreated to near perfection here. The lower resolution visual effects stick out more than ever, but the new grade enhances the color palette, particularly the blacks, which are deeper and richer in detail than was apparent in 1080p. Flesh tones appear natural, and the overall presentation is stable and clean. This film is never going to look pristine, but the Ultra HD represents its source with near flying colors.

The aforementioned error in this master comes at the 40:52 mark, when a small amount of footage is repeated, but the soundtrack doesn’t change. It’s apparently an issue that also plagued Arrow Video’s previous Blu-ray (which I failed to catch at the time when I did my review of it). But unlike that release, Arrow has publicly acknowledged the issue and they’re working to correct it. So if you’ve already purchased this disc, hold tight for a possible replacement. (Let’s hope they also correct their 2018 Blu-ray, though it’s unlikely at this point.)

Audio options include English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional subtitles in English SDH. The stereo track gives more appreciable focus to the dialogue, while the 5.1 mix opens the rear speakers up for more aggressive sound effects, including those aided by low frequency activity. The film’s score is also perfectly clear on both tracks. Needless to say, both options offer different experiences.

The 4K disc for 12 Monkeys sits inside a black amaray case with double-sided artwork, featuring new art by Gary Pullin on the front and the original theatrical poster artwork on the reverse. Also included is a 44-page insert booklet featuring the essay The Audacity of Hopelessness: Twelve Monkeys’ Grim Vision of the Future and the Present by Nathan Rabin, the text interview Gilliam on Gilliam: Twelve Monkeys by Ian Christie, and restoration details. The following extras are included on the disc:

  • Audio Commentary with Terry Gilliam and Charles Roven
  • The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys (Upscaled HD – 87:34)
  • The Film Exchange with Terry Gilliam (Upscaled HD – 23:51)
  • 12 Monkeys Appreciation by Ian Christie (HD – 16:10)
  • Twelve Monkeys Archive (Upscaled SD – 237 in all)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:23)

The commentary with Gilliam and producer Charles Roven has been slightly edited from the LaserDisc version due to the changeover from one side to the other (the two actually talked past the end of Side A, which couldn’t be replicated here, unfortunately). As per usual, Gilliam is an excellent commentator of his own work, providing a wealth of background detail on the film and how it was shot, but most importantly why it was shot. He and Roven are eager to spill the beans on everything they can within their limited window, and do so quite well without ever taking a break or lapsing into complete silence. It’s a great track, to say the least. The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys is an excellent feature-length documentary on the making of the film, which was directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. It features a plethora of fly-on-the-wall footage from the making of the film and beyond. The Film Exchange with Terry Gilliam is an interview conducted on stage by Jonathan Romney at the London Film Festival in 1996. In his video appreciation, author Ian Christie discusses the ins and outs of the film, but also offers his analysis on Gilliam’s work and the ideas it puts forth. Twelve Monkeys Archive is a still gallery containing 237 storyboards, design sketches, on-set photos, behind-the-scenes photos, continuity photos, and posters. Last is the original theatrical trailer. Note that a Japanese DVD release of the film included an interactive timeline feature, as well as a short making-of featurette, while the original DVD release contained a set of production notes, none of which is here. Other than those minor extras, everything from previous releases of the film is accounted for.

12 Monkeys is another of Terry Gilliam’s masterworks, but it’s also his most accessible film. Arrow Video’s second time out with the title adds nothing new in the extras department, but provides a fine upgrade to 4K Ultra HD (the error notwithstanding). In any case, this release comes highly recommended.

- Tim Salmons

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