Release Date(s)1995 (October 30, 2018)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
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 had given him some higher critical appraisal, got a box office hit, the biggest of his career in fact, with a story about a time-traveling man who hopes to find the key to humanity’s survival. Looking at it today, you can see traces of Brazil, Time Bandits, and even his disastrous but underappreciated The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, within the fine print. It seemed to be an amalgam of everything he 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 1996, a lethal virus wipes out many of Earth’s inhabitants, big and small, which forces the unaffected underground. Prisoner James Cole (Bruce Willis) is chosen by a group of scientists to be sent back in time to try and find the source of the virus in order to study it and develop a cure for it. Finding himself at odds with nearly everyone he comes into contact with, he is initially locked away in a mental hospital, where he meets Dr. Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and a fellow patient (Brad Pitt), both of whom will be tied to his recurring childhood memories and the race to stop the Army of the Twelve Monkeys from damaging the world.
Looking at the film almost 23 years after its original release (in late December with Waiting to Exhale from two weeks before and the newly-released Dead Man Walking as its main competition), 12 Monkeys is a brash, bold vision – one that, unusually, wasn’t born out of Terry Gilliam’s mind. Although he more than put his directorial stamp on the material, it was birthed from the pens of David and Janet Peoples. One could argue that it’s Gilliam’s most emotionally honest film as well (outside of Tideland, that is). His work tends to give you a range of feelings at any given time, but in 12 Monkeys, it’s more of an emotional narrative for its lead character, which is also due in no small part to Bruce Willis, who gives an amazing performance.
Arrow Video’s presentation of the film comes sourced from a brand new 4K transfer from the original 35mm camera negative, with color grading supervised and approved by Terry Gilliam. It’s absolutely gorgeous with solid and refined grain, as well as enormous levels of fine detail, dare I say more than any I’ve ever seen in the film before. Everything down to skin textures, the murky corridors of the future underground dwelling, and the paint-peeling walls of the asylum are loaded with sharper visual information. The color palette is also tremendously varied with bright, bold colors and deep, inky blacks. Flesh tones appear natural and overall contrast is perfect. It’s also stable with no leftover damage or debris to be seen. Some of the film’s opticals don’t hold up under close scrutiny, but it doesn’t matter because of how natural the presentation appears. The audio comes in two options: English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD, with optional subtitles in English SDH. The stereo track is the more appealing mix of the two, which seems to give more appreciable focus to the dialogue. The 5.1 mix is no slouch as it opens the rear speakers up for more aggressive sound effects, including those aided by LFE. The film’s score is also perfectly clear on both tracks. Needless to say, both options offer different experiences, as opposed to a lot of 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, which basically feel the same, just spread out a little more.
There aren’t an enormous amount of extras, and most of them are what’s been available on disc for a number of years. They include an audio commentary by Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Roven, which is slightly edited from the Laserdisc version because of the changeover from one side to the other; The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys, an excellent vintage 88-minute documentary on the making of the film, which was directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe; The Film Exchange with Terry Gilliam, a 24-minute interview conducted by Jonathan Romney at the 1996 London Film Festival; a 16-minute video appreciation of the film by author Ian Christie; Twelve Monkeys Archive, a vintage still gallery containing 237 storyboards, design sketches, on-set photos, behind-the-scenes photos, continuity photos, and posters; the original theatrical trailer; and a 44-page insert booklet with the essay The Audacity of Hopelessness: Twelve Monkeys’ Grim Vision of the Future, and the Present by Nathan Rabin, a text interview Gilliam on Gilliam: Twelve Monkeys by Ian Christie, and restoration details.
12 Monkeys is another of Terry Gilliam’s masterworks, but it’s also his most accessible film when it comes to audiences. Arrow Video’s treatment of the title proves that even though the film has had multiple releases, a really good one was always around the corner. Highly recommended.
– Tim Salmons