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 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.
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