Twelve Monkeys Blu-ray Review
Monkey... Mon... Key.
12 Monkeys Film Review
Terry Gilliam's 1995 classic time-travel sci-fi flick, Twelve Monkeys, boasts a career high Bruce Willis and scene-stealing insanity from Brad Pitt.Based on the 1962 short film, La Jetee, Terry Gilliam's 1995 hit took the core premise and key events of Chris Marker's French experimental film and expanded it into a fully-fleshed out sci-fi feature, enriching the Twilight Zone-esque backbone and giving it a wonderful complexity. It remains amongst the best time-travel films ever made, at once nodding towards Gilliam's earlier classic, Brazil, whilst also carrying a grim future vibe a la Blade Runner, and a present/past which feels like Gilliam's answer to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
The story posits a ruined future where a plague unleashed in 1996 has left the last of the human race hiding underground, turning to time travel technology to try and rectify the events of the past and sending Bruce Willis's Cole back to gather evidence on the 'Army of the 12 Monkeys'; the individuals rumoured to have released the virus. Arrested, banged up in a mental institution, and befriending both Madeleine Stowe's doctor and Brad Pitt's wacky inmate, Cole flits back and forth in time trying to piece together the puzzle that may just save the world.
Amongst the best time travel films ever made.
Twelve Monkeys is that relatively rare animal - a Terry Gilliam thriller. It posits Willis, who was at the top of his game back then in a rare, fractious, oftentimes vulnerable, role where he is called upon to drool, frequently get beaten down and seldom escape the visible desperation that pervades the piece. Whilst Pitt would be better recognised for his insanity as one of the supposed asylum guests, it's pretty standard fare from him. Madeleine Stowe does her best to pick up the pieces along the way, but it's Gilliam and Willis' baby, as the director puts his protagonist through the wringer.
Indeed Willis' more recent brief return to form also came courtesy of another rare sci-fi time travel role in Looper, whilst Gilliam would attempt to reclaim his former glory in rounding out a very loose trilogy which started with Brazil, followed in 12 Monkeys, and supposedly ended in his disappointing The Zero Theorem.
The two both enjoy respective career highs here, delivering a surprisingly dark, but still comically whimsical, voyage through the dirty depths of a paranoid, totalitarian future and through the claustrophobic confines of a disbelieving past. With Gilliam's eye for set-design and a curiously effective concertina dominated score, as well as a subtle commentary on the madness of modern life, there's plenty to enjoy here.
12 Monkeys Blu-ray PictureTwelve Monkeys has always suffered on home formats, largely due to its source style which is unforgivingly soft; a style which helps cover up the budgetary limitations and enthusiastic but nonetheless grungy production design. Unsurprisingly, this has left it a poor candidate for HD presentations.
Thankfully, Arrow's newly remastered (4K no less, making you wonder how long it will be before the title gets a full fat 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release) 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition presentation of the movie, framed in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, shows just what wonders modern technology can work. It affords a faithful and natural rendition of the material, but also an impressively detailed one and is easily the best the film has ever looked.
A fine upgrade that balances maintaining the inherently soft original look whilst also drawing every molecule of detail out of its pores.
Details break through from the softer sheen to provide healthy skin textures and rich background nuances, whilst the fine but nonetheless pervasive layer of grain remains intact, for the most part giving the feature that suitably filmic look but understandably not completely stable throughout. The colour scheme is rich and natural too, particularly with respect to skin tones, with plenty of room for the golden brown future tones, whilst the asylum is teeming with off-whites and strong black levels, though these are not faultless. Still, this is the best the film has ever looked and is a fine upgrade that impressively balances maintaining the inherently soft, original look of the piece whilst also drawing every molecule of detail out of its pores.
12 Monkeys Blu-ray SoundThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also a very good effort, delivering the key elements of the quirky original score, the rich narrative and commensurate dialogue, and the myriad effects with equal import.
A very good effort.
Dialogue remains firmly prioritised across the frontal array (but for the voices Cole hears that bounce around the soundscape) and is afforded room to breathe above the other elements. Effects enjoy the unique futurescape replete with trademark Gilliam subtleties, which feel wonderfully analogue in nature, popping with steam-powered pistons rather than electronic hums. There's also a brief but punishing WWI segment that blows your living room to pieces. The score, a playful tango-esque concertina affair, is the last thing you would expect to work for a sci-fi thriller, but is nonetheless perfectly suited to the proceedings, given room to breathe on the array and rounding out a very good track indeed.
12 Monkeys Blu-ray ExtrasThe prior Blu-ray release provides already comprehensive extras courtesy of a great little Director's Commentary and a substantial feature-length 90 minute Making-of Documentary, both of which are included here and come highly recommended. Nonetheless, Arrow delivers an even better package.
Arrow deliver an even better package.
Added here is a substantial 1996 interview from Gilliam, done after the film was released, as well as a quarter-hour appreciation of the film, along with an archive of pre-production material which fans are sure to enjoy dipping into. The only missed beat here is the failure to include the original short, La Jetee.
12 Monkeys Blu-ray VerdictThere's plenty to enjoy here.
Arrow's release of the classic Terry Gilliam/Bruce Willis gem Twelve Monkeys finally gives the film the presentation it deserves, with great video and audio and an impressive roster of extra features. Fans should consider it easily the definitive release, at least until somebody licences the 4K remaster used here to be used for an actual 4K release.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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