12 MONKEYS - Blu-ray review

...not for those wanting to witness something simply pedestrian.


"There´s the television. It´s all right there – all right there. Look, listen, kneel, pray. Commercials! We´re not productive anymore. We don´t make things anymore. It´s all automated. What are we *for* then?"

Brad Pitt mutters these words as the insane Jeffrey Goines. They may seem like crazed ramblings of a man deeply disturbed, but considering modern times, they seem almost prophetic. Television has become the new alter for many of today´s citizens. Instead of going to the park for entertainment or simply going for a walk, we turn on the picture tube. Sadly, today´s families have become more intimate with the character´s on "Grey´s Anatomy" than with their own family members. Our society, especially those of us in America, are becoming fatter and lazier. Much of this is due to the holy television. Expanding on lazy, as Goines´ words state, we don´t make things anymore. It´s all automated. Yes it is. Assembly lines have replaced countless workers and for those products that are cheaper to be made with human hands, work is sent overseas or south of the border, where cheaper labor and sweatshops have replaced the American worker. As the future approaches and gets closer which each and every passing day, what are we *for* then?

Stepping off my short soapbox and looking more at the film which allowed Goines the ability to speak said words, "12 Monkeys" is a film that explores many political and social issues. Mental illness, the concepts of "Big Brother" and the deadly nature of out of control technological advances are topics covered by Terry Gilliam´s incredibly poignant film "12 Monkeys." Gilliam´s film provides a dark and gloomy image of our future. The world has been wiped clean of a super killer virus and the scant one percent that has survived is forced to live underground. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is a convict and is forced into traveling forty years back in time to 1996 and discover the origins and more information on the epidemic. He is told it was started by a cult called the "Army of the 12 Monkeys." Time travel is not a precise technology and Coles is sent back in time six years earlier than planned. Cole ends up in 1990 and when he begins to speak of time travel and the impending Armageddon, he is locked up in a mental institute.

He is treated by the lovely Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and meets up with Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), who coincidentally is the son of a scientist who specializes in viruses. Cole spends six years in the institute and finds romantic feelings for Dr. Railly. Faced with the deadline of the virus being launched into the wild and the beginning of the Armageddon, Cole kidnaps Railly and escapes from the mental institute. He tracks down the Army of the 12 Monkeys and learns that Goines is part of the self proclaimed revolutionaries and has decided to release a deadly virus created by his father. Cole is not fully successful in the mission he is sent back in time to complete and refuses to return to the future. With the police looking to detain him for the kidnapping of Dr. Railly and those from the future wanting Cole to return, he finds himself in a bad situation, though the impending plague that will wipe out nearly all of civilization gives him pause as to what actions to take.

"12 Monkeys" is a marvelous science fiction film that rivals Gilliam´s own "Brazil" in providing a bleak look at the future and intertwining his frightening visions with stark political and technological statements. There is a lot of plot involved with "12 Monkeys" and many will need repeated viewings to completely get a handle on everything that is going on. Others may never completely understand the complicated layers surrounding the going-ons in "12 Monkeys." "Brazil" was a deeper and more complicated film, whereas "12 Monkeys" speaks more to a mass audience, especially considering a starring duo that was quite popular at the time the film was released. Bruce Willis is cast in a role that suits his demeanor and resume nicely and Brad Pitt shows off the reasons why he has continued to be regarded as a great young actor. Under Gilliam´s direction and Willis´ and Pitt´s performances, "12 Monkeys" is a powerfully done character-driven science fiction tale that discusses how technology can be deadly, how civil and personal liberties may be tightly constrained in the future and misconceptions towards mental illness. I could return to my soapbox and discuss many of the issues covered in the film, but that is slightly beyond the scope of a review. Instead of digging deep into the issues, let's just say that Gilliam perfectly mixes sci-fi with his own opinions on technology and social issues and succeeds in creating brilliant entertainment. For hardcore Gilliam fans, this is the sequel to "Brazil" that we´ve desperately wanted.


While I love "12 Monkeys" as a film, I have yet to be impressed with any of its visual incarnations on home video. The 2.35:1 transfer is the identical VC-1 mix from the HD-DVD and is still as inconsistent and underwhelming as it was a couple years ago when the film first arrived in high definition. The general image quality is soft and barely an upgrade over the DVD release. There are moments when the high definition mastering of "12 Monkeys" does show off some striking details, but the film looks bland and is populated with minimal detail and washed out colors. Part of the problem with the transfer is Gilliam´s artistic styling. He works to provide a bleak, yet dreamy look in many scenes and this results in a picture that doesn´t translate to the high definition world. There are no physical flaws in the film and the print is clean. The problem is simply that the picture looks overblown and soft throughout much of its running time and barely bests the standard definition title.


I had given the HD-DVD release of "12 Monkeys" a strong score of 9. "12 Monkeys" is a very striking sounding film and the atmosphere created by Gilliam is driven home by the audio. The new English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is actually slightly better than what was on the HD-DVD as it is slightly deeper in detail and more bombastic in the .1 LFE channel. This is a very aggressive sounding film and I love the use of the rear channels throughout the film. The escaped animals that run rampant through one sequence in the film sound spectacular. Bass is strong and dialogue is clear. Sound moves very fluidly through channels and directional effects are excellent. This has always been a great sounding film and continues to be so on Blu-ray as this is the best this film has ever sounded. French Canadian, Castillian Spanish, L.A. Spanish and Italian mixes are included in DTS 5.1 as well as subtitles in a number of languages.


The new Blu-ray release is essentially identical to the previous HD-DVD release of the film. Universal has included access to the BD-Live Center via Profile 2.0 BD-Live connectivity and this provides access to some Universal promotional trailers for other products from the studio. My Scenes bookmarking is included for good measure. Four other supplements are included that have been previously available. The most notable is the Feature Commentary with Director Terry Gilliam and Producer Charles Roven. Much of what is covered in the commentary is repetitive if you have watched the documentary, but sometimes covered in further detail here. Not only does Gilliam cover his disdain for some of the standard practices that drain a director´s vision, but he goes into great detail about the film´s story, the actors´ performances and the artistic decisions he made while making the film. For being a former member of Monty Python, Gilliam is a very intelligent and straight-laced person and takes his trade extremely seriously. You won´t find a laugh fest in his commentary, but you will find a very intelligent and informative experience from one of the more passionate directors in the business.

The remaining items are worth taking a gander at as well. These and the previously mentioned commentary were included on every notable release of the film on formats ranging from LaserDisc to DVD to HD-DVD> The long documentary The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys (1:27:35) has Gilliam on the assault and he holds no punches in what footage is shown here. Part of the brilliance of this documentary is the riveting look at how a film is made and the sometimes tumultuous relationship a director has with the suits of the studio. Terry Gilliam is known for butting heads with studios and his film "Brazil" is one of the more notorious stories about a director and his vision of his film and how it differs from what is desired by a studio. This is easily one of the best making-of documentaries ever created and always worth a watch. The Theatrical Trailer and a still gallery entitled 12 Monkeys Archives complete the extras.


This is the second time and second format I've had the pleasure of watching "12 Monkeys" in high definition. It is about as well-written a film as you will find in Hollywood. Part of this is because the film is directed by Terry Gilliam, one of Hollywood´s last rebels. He is a director who is not afraid to create a canvas that is abstract, deep and not what is expected. This film is perhaps Gilliam´s most successful box office film and with big names like Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis headlining the film, one of the more accessible pictures the director has made. The new Blu-ray transfer looks just as drab as it did on HD-DVD and the sound is a minimal improvement over the already impressive mix found previously. The documentary and commentary included on this disc are incredible and should not be missed if you enjoy this film. This is a deep film that takes a lot of thought and repeated viewings to fully digest and appreciate. It is not for the weak and not for those wanting to witness something simply pedestrian.
This is one serious movie.


Film Value