The Future is History.
Following the commercial and critical success of The Fisher King, Terry Gilliam next feature would turn to science fiction and a screenplay by Janet and David Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven) inspired by Chris Marker’s classic short film La Jetée.
In 1996, a deadly virus is unleashed by a group calling themselves the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, destroying much of the world’s population and forcing survivors underground. In 2035, prisoner James Cole (Bruce Willis, Die Hard) is chosen to go back in time and help scientists in their search for a cure.
Featuring an Oscar-nominated turn by Brad Pitt (Fight Club) as mental patient Jeffrey Goines, Twelve Monkeys would become Gilliam’s most successful film and is now widely regarded as a sci-fi classic. Arrow Films are proud to present the film in a stunning new restoration.
Arrow Video upgrades their Blu-ray edition for Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys to 4K UHD, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a triple-layer disc. Arrow appears to be using the same 4K restoration that was the source for their Blu-ray edition, and it’s encoded here at 2160p/24hz with Dolby Vision.
Even if this ends up not offering as significant an upgrade when compared to what Arrow’s Blu-ray offered over Universal’s own, this 4K edition does put a wonderful finish on what was an already impressive presentation. The base presentation looks notably cleaner when compared to the previous high-definition one, grain coming out finer and further improving that natural film look that the Blu-ray still has. Finer details come out sharper, the textures of the busy futuristic setting looking a bit more lifelike, and some of the fuzzier, dream-like shots seem to also show more definition. These improvements carry on through to other areas of the film, like the eclectic outfits that Bruce Willis’ character finds himself in.
Dolby Vision and HDR has been modestly, yet effectively, applied. The film has a lot of dark sequences that now show better depth thanks to improved range in the shadows, the sequence in the abandoned theater (or what I always assumed was an abandoned theater) receiving the biggest boost out of such scenes; the sequence no longer looking crushed out with film grain that looks cleaner. The most impressive improvement, though, comes with the “dream sequences” that pop up throughout the film. These scenes, taking place in a bright, white setting, are blown-out and have always looked severe on video, details getting wiped out. The highlights in this presentation are better handled during these sequences and while there is still a sort of soft, dreamy look to the scenes, there is an improved level of detail and more range present. Impressively, the grading doesn’t make these scenes blindingly bright, and that aspect is toned down throughout the film as a whole. Lights off of reflective services also come out a bit sharper.
The restoration itself still looks solid, damage never an issue. If there is one slight “fault” (that isn’t fair to call a fault) it’s that the obvious optical effects are now just a little more obvious, those seams showing a little clearer, but this is easy to overlook. Colours also look better, reds especially, and black levels look absolutely wonderful.
Again, it’s not as significant an upgrade as Arrow’s previous Blu-ray was, but there is a wonderful polish to this presentation that leads to a far cleaner, more film-like end presentation that still makes this a worthwhile upgrade.
[SDR screen grabs have been taken from the source disc converted to JPG files. They are presented in full resolution and may not properly fit some monitors. While the screen grabs should offer a general idea of quality, they should not be used for reference purposes. An issue has also been identified where the same shot is duplicated during one of the briefing sequences about 40-minutes in. It was discovered this was also the case with Arrow's Blu-ray released in 2018. Arrow is looking into it, but it should be noted that it does not stick out, evidenced by the fact the problem wasn't reported back in 2018.]
Arrow includes two audio tracks: a 5.1 DTS-HD MA presentation, and a lossless PCM stereo surround track. I only listened to the 5.1 presentation. It’s a clean and clear track, something I find to be a bit rare for Gilliam’s films. Dialogue is crisp and easy to hear, with nice depth and fidelity. The score and sound effects are also clear, and this all does work its way back to the surrounds, filling out the sound field decently enough. Audio levels are also mixed nicely where louder moments don’t drown out anything important. Still, somewhat surprisingly, it’s not as active or as engaging a mix as I would have expected, but it’s at least dynamic and clean.
Arrow ports over all of their supplements from the previous Blu-ray, though they can still feel a little bit underwhelming. Things start off again with the entertaining audio commentary recorded by Gilliam and producer Charles Roven. Gilliam is always an energetic presence and it’s no different here. Gilliam (and Roven when he can) talk about the film’s production in an impressive level of detail, and despite the frantic pace it manages to flow out in a coherent manner. It’s fun and engaging, probably one of my favourite audio commentaries. Chances are fans have already listened to it (it’s been around since the LaserDisc) but if you haven’t done so yet, do yourself a favour and give it a go.
Also carried over is the in-depth 90-minute making-of documentary The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys, the title referring to Gilliam’s sense of detail and how he can get distracted by these little things regarding the bigger picture. To provide an example of this there is one point during production where Gilliam became obsessed with filling the background of a scene with a lot of hamsters running on wheels, seeming to forget every other aspect of the scene. This is probably one of the better making-ofs I’ve seen and is really its own little film. The feature follows every aspect of the production, with several interviews thrown in, covering early production through to the film’s eventual release and reception. It’s a well edited, trimming the fat, though this leads to focusing on Gilliam’s many eccentricities.
New here is footage from an interview with Gilliam from the 1996 London Film Festival, conducted by Jonathan Romney. Some of the material here is in the commentary but Gilliam expands on subjects as he talks about Marker’s Le jetée, working with big name stars like Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, and goes on a bit about how films can go over budget, referring to Munchausen. In an interesting turn, 12 Monkeys didn’t go over budget, but Waterworld, another Universal film, did, and this did interfere a little with Gilliam’s film. Still a addition on Arrow’s part. It runs 24-minutes.
Created for the previous Blu-ray and appearing here again is an appreciation by Ian Christie for the film and how it fits into Gilliam’s filmography, explaining why the director was doing these direct-for-hire projects that also includes The Fisher King. He also talks about the performances in the film by Willis, Pitt, and Madeline Stowe, while also pointing out the impact the film has had since. It’s only 16-minutes but manages to be a great little academic contribution to this release.
The disc then closes with more items from the Universal disc: the film’s original trailer and then the Twelve Monkeys Archive. The latter is a 39-minute auto-play gallery featuring various designs for sets and costumes, as well as storyboards, continuity photos, production and publicity photos, and advertising material. There are over 200 items to be found in here and you can skip through using the navigation buttons on your remote.
Arrow then ports over their book, limited to first printing, starting off again with an excellent essay on the film by Nathan Rabin, followed by an excerpt from Christie’s book Gilliam on Gilliam where the two discuss 12 Monkeys. The release also comes with a slipcover (probably also limited to first pressings) and reversible cover art.
For a big title I still find the features to be a little slim, but they’re all well made and all worth going through.
No new features but the full 4K presentation offers a wonderful boost to Arrow’s already sharp looking restoration.