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.