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Terry Gilliam
Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe, David Morse, Christopher Plummer
Writing Credits:
David Webb Peoples & Janet Peoples

The Future Is History.

In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet.

Box Office:
$29 million.
Opening Weekend
Domestic Gross

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Latin American Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Italian DTS 5.1
Castillian DTS 5.1
Latin American Spanish
Supplements Subtitles:
Latin American Spanish

Runtime: 129 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 7/28/2009

• Audio Commentary by Director Terry Gilliam and Producer Charles Roven
• “The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys” Documentary
• Trailer
12 Monkeys Archives


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


12 Monkeys [Blu-Ray] (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 1, 2014)

For roughly the first 15 years of his filmmaking career, Terry Gilliam directed films based on scripts that he wrote. That changed with 1991’s The Fisher King, a movie that became one of Gilliam’s biggest hits.

Perhaps spurred on by his success as “director for hire”, Gilliam again worked from someone else’s script with 1995’s 12 Monkeys, a movie that did even better. While its $57 million gross rewrote no records, that remains the most any Gilliam film has earned.

Based on Chris Marker’s La Jetée, Monkeys starts in a future society decimated by a deadly virus. This kills billions and leaves the survivors in underground domains while animals rule the world. Prisoner James Cole (Bruce Willis) “volunteers” for an assignment to go back in time so authorities can obtain info about the disease.

Unfortunately, attempts to send Cole to 1996 – at the start of the pandemic – go awry and he winds up in Baltimore circa 1990 instead. There he becomes seen as a raving lunatic and he gets stuck in jail.

In those circumstances, Cole meets psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and he ends up in a mental hospital. There he encounters a wild-eyed fellow resident named Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) and the pair bond in a kooky manner.

Eventually Cole winds up back in the future and he tells the authorities about their time-based goof. After another screw-up, Cole finally finds himself in 1996, where he pursues his goals with additional interaction from Dr. Railly and Goines.

As I mentioned at the start, Monkeys provided a rare example of a Gilliam movie the director didn’t write. Though that makes it theoretically less personal, Monkeys nonetheless plays much like a Gilliam film, especially in terms of themes and tone.

Actually, Gilliam tones down some of his usual motifs, but they continue to play a part. Gilliam makes Monkeys a vivid little experience, even if he relies on Dutch angles too much of the time; if I knocked down a drink every time the camera went all slanty, I’d get trashed within an hour or so.

Although he plays something of an action hero in 12 Monkeys, Cole counts as a departure from stereotypical image Willis boasted in the mid—90s. Pitt also goes off in a different way as nutbag Jeffrey Goines, and 12 Monkeys provides one of his showiest parts. It was the first for which he received an Oscar nomination.

Unfortunately, I don't think Pitt delivers an especially strong performance. He goes way over the top and becomes a mass of mannerisms; it's an act, but it’s not really “acting”.

Even with some inconsistencies, Monkeys delivers a pretty interesting experience. It goes down a mix of interesting paths and remains a solid sci-fi piece.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

12 Monkeys appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Expect an inconsistent presentation.

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. Some of this stemmed from the blown-out photographic choices, but those factors didn’t seem to explain all the softness; those issues cropped up in an unpredictable manner.

No signs of jagged edges or shimmering appeared, and I noticed no obvious edge haloes. With plenty of grain, I didn’t sense overuse of digital noise reduction, and the movie lacked concerns with print flaws. The movie may have demonstrated a few specks but nothing problematic materialized.

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. Still, as with the sharpness, I couldn’t help but feel that the transfer caused some of the lackluster hues as well. Blacks were reasonably dark, and shadows showed decent clarity. This wasn’t a terrible presentation, but it seemed awfully lackluster.

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; 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 Blu-Ray compare with the original DVD? Audio was similar. The lossless DTS-HD MA option showed better punch and breadth, though.

Visuals also demonstrated improvements, but they weren’t as large as I’d like. The Blu-ray looked better-defined and smoother but still had too many problems to become a tremendous step up in quality.

The Blu-ray duplicates most of the DVD’s extras, and 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, 30-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.

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 mediocre visuals as well as mostly positive audio and some informative bonus materials. I’d like to see a new transfer but otherwise the Blu-ray satisfies.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4 Stars Number of Votes: 35
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