12 Monkeys Blu-ray Review
'12 Monkeys' is presented in widescreen 1.85:1 with AVC 1080p coding.
I wasn't expecting any revelations with this release as intentional softness and oversaturation are inherent to the print. What did strike me right from the outset was the clarity of this transfer. There really is a lot more on show here when compared to the previous DVD release. For example, the tattooed number on Cole's head is clearly visible, as are the “mentally divergent” murals on the asylum's walls. Shadow detail has gotten an overhaul and now every aspect of the post-apocalyptic world of 2035 shines through the gloom. Primary colouring has also gotten a boost, which is especially evident during the “future” 1996 segments, even if the palette is washed out for the majority of the presentation. For example, check out the deep red of the blood in the closing scenes. Facial close ups exhibit impressive detail and there are a couple of instances of good depth and three-dimensionality. The contrast ratio is above average and boasts some solid blacks, even if they never reach the cavernous depths which BD is capable of.
For the most part the picture is solid and shows the benefits of the high definition transfer. However, on many occasions the picture assumes a grainy haze which, when coupled with the unusual lighting choices, reduces clarity and introduces softness. As is the case with highly stylised presentations such as this and 'The Big Lebowski', there will never be a point where they attain the stunning picture quality of 'The Dark Knight' and other HD reference discs. With a visionary and pioneering director such as Gilliam, every possible facet of the film-making process is explored and used, including various filters and high contrast/oversaturation, which are utilised to achieve the dream-like segments in the movie. Grain (for those of you opposed to it) is also plentiful and the print has suffered some wear and tear over the years, with speckles of dirt and damage noted. There were also a few whiffs of edge enhancement but I did have to move closer to the screen to notice this. For those of you looking for high definition reference material which demonstrates the full capabilities of BD, look elsewhere. For those of you who appreciate 'Monkeys' as an artistically presented, magnificent piece of film-making, then this it has never looked better than on this BD release.
Note - I've read that this release is supposed to be a direct port from the previous HD-DVD release. As I have not seen the '12 Monkeys' HD-DVD I cannot comment on how the two transfers compare. If you have the luxury of carrying out a comparison then please post your results in the comments section.
'12 Monkeys' comes packed with a dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track.
The opening scenes, as the chaotic score comes pounding forth, really makes use of the uncompressed track. As we move into the opening scenes the soundstage becomes more subdued but is still filled with almost constant aural activity, which is maintained for the entire presentation. During the 2035 scenes the whirrs, pops and clicks of the many “retro-technology” gadgets, which spawned from the over-active imagination of Gilliam, seep from all speakers. In the secret headquarters of the army, squawks, roars and bleats can be heard echoing around the room from various animals, an effect which is mirrored in the Zoological Society scene. Masterful directionality is demonstrated during the segments where the scientists' spy's voice moves effortlessly from speaker to speakers. During the moments where the dialogue, which is always clear and audible, takes center stage, the score (which is filled with a myriad of orchestral instruments) comes into play at a more subdued level. Really deep LFE is somewhat lacking, although there are some cracking explosions during the WWI scene, wherein bullets ricochet around the listening position (as does the massive gunshot during the flashback scenes). The heat beat thumping effect (following the failed asylum escape segment) also offers some nice bass tonality, which is concluded with the satisfying thud of the isolation cell closing. All of the “action effects”, such as the sickening thuds and cracks during the fistfights, are accurately represented. Stereo separation is very impressive and creates a wide and engaging soundstage. It's evident that great care and attention has been invested in engineering on this track. For example, when Cole meets Goines for the first time, there's an accompanying cartoonish “boing!” from the television (playing in the background) as he pops his head from his sweater!
Overall this is an impressive mix which really brings Gilliam's vision to life with an engrossing and cleverly engineered surround track. This is the best that 'Monkeys' has ever sounded.
As this is a Universal Studios release the extras are a direct port from the 1996 Collecter's Edition DVD release (which were also included in the now defunct HD-DVD edition). This BD also features an instructional video which spouts on about the amazing advantages that Blu-ray has to offer and is pretty much useless. Ironically when I tried to access the BD-Live section a dialogue box popped up stating “Coming Soon”! The extras package, when you discard the BD fluff (such “My Scenes”), is somewhat lacking in the quantity department. However, the inclusion of an excellent commentary track (featuring Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Roven) adds significantly to the quality factor. In this track both men impart a huge wealth of information on every aspect of 'Monkeys'. Gilliam provides explanation on the creation process for all of the scenes, character development (including working with Willis/Pitt/Stowe) and also includes plenty of amusing anecdotes. Roven expands on the production aspects involved in making Gilliam's vision a possibility and also gives his thoughts on the plot and characters. Both men seem to be subtly proud of the finished product and rightly so. There aren't many lulls in conversation with Gilliam almost continually spilling forth reams of information on the project. Well worth a listen. Although this commentary track and the documentary are the only worthwhile extras on the disc they are more two of the most informative features I have ever come across.
”The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of The Twelve Monkeys” (4:3 SD 1hr 27mins) - This extensive and in depth documentary charts the entire creation process for 'Monkeys', focusing on Gilliam's vision for the movie and his almost constant struggle to avoid becoming a “Hollywood Director”, while still maintaining his sizable budget. Interviews with Gilliam, the cast and crew and the production team, as well as tons of backstage and test footage are all included (as are the test audience screenings). Gilliam provides an intimate glimpse into his over-active mind and the fantastical worlds which he can create. There's even some pythonesque animation to keep you entertained. The passion (bordering on obsession) which Gilliam displays when speaking about the movie is blatantly evident. In what is best described as a video diary, this feature really boasts some very interesting content and covers production, post production, marketing, editing and directing the movie!. A must watch for fans of the movie
Trailer - A paltry SD trailer for the movie.
Twelve Monkeys Archives - A massive collection comprising 238 concept drawings, photographs and other artwork from the movie.
Released in 1995, '12 Monkeys' was spawned from the over-active mind of acclaimed director (and ex-Python) Terry Gilliam. The movie charts the progression of a lone hero (Bruce Willis) as he travels back in time to try and locate a cure for a deadly virus which has all but eradicated the human race. Along the way he meets with an insane schizophrenic (Brad Pitt) and a kind hearted psychiatrist (Madeline Stowe). Both Willis and Pitt deliver career defining performances and this movie is an example of some of their finest work. Gilliam too really has created something very close to cinematic perfection with this production. The attention to detail is stunning and has the effect of wholly and realistically creating an alternate universe where mankind has been wiped from the face of the planet by their own delusions of grandeur. Although I got the feeling that the entire complex plot could derail at any moment it somehow remains coherent and engaging for the duration. Carrying many messages (such as mankind's mortality and destiny) and with many tones (romance, action, sc-fi, comedy), this movie is about as multi-layered as they come and is wonderfully executed. A fine example of a pioneering director's inventiveness and visual imagination and destined to become a classic, 'Monkeys' comes highly recommended.
Although always prone to slating due to the artistic intentions of Gilliam, I was impressed with the video transfer on this release. The increase in clarity and detail (especially shadow detail) is very noticeable. Primary colouring is strong (albeit slightly restricted in parts by the washed out palette) as is the contrast ratio. The uncompressed surround track sounds even more immersive than previous DVD releases, which were always highly regarded. The soundstage is wide and engaging with some nice surround activity. The extras (a direct port from the Collecters Edition DVD release) include the highly informative commentary featuring Gilliam and “The Hamster Factor” documentary, which are a must for fans of the movie. The video and audio presentations on this BD release expose more facets of this unique and engaging movie, making it well worth the upgrade from DVD.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £18.59
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