12 Monkeys appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This appeared to become an accurate presentation for a less than attractive film.
Sharpness became one of the erratic elements. At times the movie showed positive clarity and delineation, but it also could be rather soft and indistinct.
Most of this stemmed from the blown-out photographic choices. Director Terry Gilliam clearly wanted the movie to look less than concise, and that meant this occasionally soft presentation.
No signs of jagged edges or shimmering appeared, and I noticed no edge haloes. With plenty of grain, I didn’t sense overuse of digital noise reduction, and the movie lacked any print flaws.
With its intentionally diffuse, overexposed look, Monkeys went with a heavy sense of white and a subdued palette. Colors tended to seem flat, but that was largely a result of the photographic techniques. A few brighter hues managed some dimensionality, though.
Blacks were reasonably dark, and shadows showed acceptable clarity. No one will watch this to show off their TVs, but the end result seemed to reproduce the source.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack provided a strong forward soundstage. The front channels offered nice stereo separation and seemed appropriately broad and localized. Not a lot of panning occurred between the speakers, but when it did, it fared well.
The rear channels tended to provide more ambient audio and didn't usually feature a lot of action, though there were some instances when important information - even some dialogue - came from the rears. A smattering of action scenes – such as a World War I flashback – gave us a good array of elements in the side and rear channels that brought the mix to life.
Audio quality was mostly good but not great. Speech remained intelligible but could become edgy at times.
Effects also showed some distortion, so while they display good range and power, they displayed a bit more roughness than I’d like. Music was peppy and full. Though more consistent than the visuals, the soundtrack still had too many issues to earn a grade above a “B-“.
How did the Arrow Blu-Ray compare with the original Universal BD? Audio felt identical, as both came with the same DTS-HD MA mix.
As for visuals, the Arrow version felt a bit smoother, better defined and cleaner. However, the limitations of the source restricted the improvements – indeed, a viewing of the Arrow BD made me wonder if I was too hard on the Universal. This is probably about as good as this difficult image will look on Blu-ray, though.
The Arrow release duplicates the Universal’s extras and brings exclusives as well. These open with an audio commentary from director Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Roven.
Both sit together for a running, screen-specific look at the source material and its adaptation, cast and performances, sets and locations, music, costume and production design, story/character subjects, and related areas.
While perhaps a little less uninhibited than usual, Gilliam provides an honest, interesting perspective through this track. Roven adds good notes as well, and the pair combine in a satisfactory way. This ends up as a solid look at the film.
Next we find a documentary called The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys. In this one-hour, 27-minute, 34-second show, we hear from Gilliam, Roven, co-producer Lloyd Phillips, production designer Jeffrey Beecroft, set decorator Crispian Sallis, unit publicist Ernie Malik, screenwriter Janet and David Peoples, first AD Mark Egerton and editor Mick Audsley.
“Hamster” covers Gilliam’s interactions with the studio system, coming to Monkeys and aspects of story/characters, budget issues, sets and production design, cast and performances, problems during the shoot, editing, post-production, test screenings and publicity.
As was the case with the commentary, a sense of honesty pervades “Hamster” and helps make it a strong documentary. It comes with ample footage from the shoot and doesn’t shy away from potential controversies. This turns into a brisk, engaging program.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we locate the 12 Monkeys Archive, we get a stillframe collection with 235 images.
We find logo designs, costume drawings, production photos, continuity photos, storyboards, posters, and location scouting snapshots. It's a little awkwardly presented and can be somewhat difficult to access at times, but the wealth of information is quite comprehensive and interesting.
Now we go to the Arrow release’s exclusives, and these begin with The Film Exchange. Conducted by Jonathan Romney, it offers a 19996 London Film Festival interview with Gilliam.
In this 23-minute, 50-second chat, Gilliam covers aspects of his career, with some minor emphasis on Monkeys. Gilliam remains entertaining as always.
Gilliam biographer Ian Christie provides a 16-minute, 11-second Appreciation. He discusses aspects of the Monkeys production. Inevitably, some of the info repeats from elsewhere, but Christie makes this a good little overview.
A booklet provides credits, photos, an essays by film historian Nathan Rabin and a Christie-conducted interview with Gilliam. It becomes a solid addition.
This version also provides a steelbook case. It presents unique art from Matt Griffin.
Although I wouldn’t call 12 Monkeys Terry Gilliam’s best film, it works well as an odd science-fiction tale. The movie shows many of the director’s trademarks but still stands on its own as a dark vision of the future. The Blu-ray comes with erratic but accurate visuals as well as mostly positive audio and some informative bonus materials. This becomes a fairly satisfying version of the film.
Note that though this review covers the 2021 release, it appears that the steelbook case becomes the only difference between it and Arrow’s 2018 Blu-ray. If the steelbook doesn’t matter to you, there’s no reason to get this one instead of the 2018 issue, as both offer the same booklet and the same disc.
To rate this film, visit the prior review of 12 MONKEYS