12 Monkeys [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (31st August 2009).
The Film

Recently on facebook I was invited by friends to list my top 15 movies that made an impact on me, an impossible task to narrow it down to just 15, it's more like 150... but one film that immediately comes to mind is "12 Monkeys", it's stark and makeshift vision of the future is pure Terry Gilliam, an evolution from his dark sci-fi mind-bending epic "Brazil" (1985), the technology and tone are similarly carried over for "12 Monkeys". With the addition of the story, the incredible performances by both Bruce Willis and especially Brad Pitt (who earned an Oscar nomination for his work on this film) and the impacting ending make this a truly memorable and remarkable vision of the future from one Hollywood's most unique directors.

"12 Monkeys" was inspired by Chris Marker's short film, La Jetée (1962), it tells the story of convict James Cole (Bruce Willis) who volunteers to be sent back in time to 1996. His mission is to gather information about a viral epidemic that spread and killed five billion people, with only 1% of the population managing to survive by 2035 as they are forced to live underground. Cole must find the "Army of the Twelve Monkeys" and locate the virus before it's released. However, Cole is accidentally sent to 1990, and is mistaken for an insane person. While in an asylum he encounters a psychiatrist, Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), and the insane son of a famous scientist, Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) who is much more than he seems. Cole kidnaps Dr. Railly and tries to convince her that he is not crazy and is indeed from the future and must stop a future global disaster, Cole must race against time to ensure his mission is a success and see it through to it's shocking finale.

It's interesting that director Terry Gilliam had not seen the film in which inspired the screenplay to "12 Monkeys" but that's not important, this is not a remake or an expansion on the short film, it's a "Gilliam film" and if you have no idea what I'm talking about then you're not a fan of the director. This film is truly an experience, one which is unique, zany and off-kilter. This is very much Gilliam's style and he delivers it at its absolute best in "12 Monkeys". He creates a non-linear story that skews the lines between dreams and reality, past and present, flashbacks and memories... creating a visceral film that challenges viewers as much as it entertains. With it's undertones of how humans as a society are progressing, animal rights and political themes that are downright Machiavellian, "12 Monkeys" has easily become a sci-fi masterpiece that's looking all too real.

Adding to the film's tone are the pitch perfect performances of a manic Brad Pitt and an incredibly un-Bruce Willis Bruce Willis. Pitt manages to deliver the most memorable performance of the film, his off-center personality type is the source of much humor. He manages to bring an uneasy electricity to every scene and steals quite a few from underneath Willis. But that's not to say that Willis is simply background noise, that's hardly the case, in fact he delivers one of the finest performances of his career (second only to "Unbreakable" (2000) in my opinion). What's interesting is that before the filming Gilliam gave a list of "Willis acting clichés" to his leading man as a point of reference of what not to be used during the film, I guess it worked.

The visual style of the film is another talking point worth exploring, I'm a fan of the "makeshift" future look, with technology that looks as if it's made up of current technology cobbled together to create something futuristic. "12 Monkeys" embraces that style very well, from the dark underground society, with it's steely and wired production design to the out-there costumes and hair styles all lend a level of credibility to an otherwise incredible world. It's only once our hero is sent back to 1990 that we get back to more contemporary look, but even that is slightly skewed through Gilliam's lens with his work alongside cinematographer Roger Pratt (his fourth collaboration with Gilliam). What results is a unique looking film that manages to transport viewers into its story, and if anything Gilliam is a master at that.

This material is perfectly suited for a filmmaker like Terry Gilliam and he creates a nightmarish masterpiece that resonates long after the first viewing... or twelfth viewing for that matter. "12 Monkeys" is a film that must be experienced, it comes highly recommended.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 and mastered in high-definition 1080p 24/fps with VC-1 compression codec. "12 Monkeys" is an interesting film to review in HD, because a large part of the film was shot using diffusion filters that gives the film a hazy, almost dreamlike look. This can sometimes be confused as softness or lack of sharpness to the layman but in reality the image was given that look on purpose to add to the overall aesthetic of the world Gilliam was creating. The result is faithfully reproduced here and offers a substantial improvement over the previous DVD release. The first thing you'll notice is that the image feels a lot more open, depth is clearer and the colors are slightly better off, the muted tones look good here and black levels are solid with some minor noise amid them. There are some specks that pop up, mainly at the start but tend to disappear as the film progresses. Contrast is handled well, considering some scenes (the flashbacks) are well saturated, it doesn't peak and manages to maintain consistency. Overall I was expecting an average to below average image here because of the difficulty in faithfully reproducing the look that Gilliam was after but Universal have done a decent job.

Audio

Five audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as tracks in French Canadian DTS 5.1, Castilian Spanish DTS 5.1, L.A. Spanish DTS 5.1 and Italian DTS 5.1 surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD audio in English, the film presents many complex and rich environments from the future scenes, the flashbacks and the modern day scenes, the film features a lot of unique production design and its this reason why I was looking forward to the watching the film with HD audio. While not as active as I expected the sound was solid enough to offer an immersive experience. Dialogue was clear and distortion free, the film's ambient sounds are nicely developed and make excellent use if the surround space, the more action-driven scenes need a bit more punch but are adequate and the film's score manages to give the soundtrack a further level of depth.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French Canadian, Italian, Castilian Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Greek and Mandarin.

Extras

The Blu-ray disc ports over the extras from the previous DVD release plus adds a couple of Blu-ray exclusive extras (nothing major), this includes an audio commentary, a documentary, an archive gallery, a theatrical trailer, plus BD-Live access and bookmarks. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is the feature-length audio commentary by director Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Roven. Having previously owned the DVD prior to this Blu-ray release, I've now listened to this track for the fifth time and it never gets tired or old. These two provide an excellent listen to a brilliant movie. They don't make audio commentaries like this anymore. These two comment on the film's production and provide some great stories from the set and the challenges faced, Gilliam is a delightful person that despite the problems he's had on films, the attention to detail and perfectionism he manages to chug along and get his vision on film. There's a lot of usual information provided here about the making-of a film, but these two offer up much more than your usual track and is worth listening to, even if it's for the second... or fifth times.

"The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys" is a documentary that runs for 87 minutes 35 seconds and is one of the better making-of features you will come across, opting not to include the standard EPK fluff, Universal wisely produced and included this fascinating and entertaining look at the "12 Monkeys" production process. The terms "The Hamster Factor" comes from a scene in which Gilliam was trying to shoot that included a hamster in a hamster wheel, but the hamster would not budge, what was supposed to be a quick shot ended up taking an entire day to shoot because of Gilliam's insistence on getting the shot and his incredible level of perfectionism. This pretty much sets the tone for this making-of as we get a rare look behind-the-scenes with an incredible all-access pass that takes fans through the challenges faced on this film and how Gilliam persevered through it all. There's some repetition of information from the audio commentary but it's still one of the best documentaries covering the making-of a film that's ever been made.

Next up are the "12 Monkeys Archive" gallery which consist of 237 images of poster art, logo designs, conceptual art, storyboards and production photos. You can use your remote to skip through the various images in this section, which provides a cool resource to the film.

Also included is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 25 seconds.

A couple of Blu-ray exclusive extras are included in the form of "MyScenes" bookmarks which allows you to mark your favorite scenes for quick playback and BD-Live access for profile 2.0 players only allows you to log onto Universal online portal for more downloadable content.

Overall

The Film: A+ Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A

 


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