12 Monkeys Blu-Ray Review

Cover Art and Menus: 8/10
I have always liked the cover image from 12 Monkeys. It’s bold with a little hint of creepiness about it. I don’t usually like images with the stars’ faces plastered all over the, but this one has a bit more thought in it and it gives us almost the right impression of what’s to come when you watch the movie. I mean, the symbol in the eye, the black and white, it’s all a bit melodramatic and almost heavy handed science fiction post apocalyptic. I like it, however, looking at it again and again, it might go too far with the broodiness.
The menu is standard, nothing too fancy, nothing to talk about to be honest.

Features: 10/10

  • BD-Live – Nothing to speak of..blah
  • Feature Commentary With Terry Gilliam & Charles Roven – It’s always a bit iffy when I want to listen to a commentary on a movie I really really like. It can go horribly wrong and turn me off the movie, which is so very wrong. Terry Gilliam can be moody and a bit unwillingly pretentious at times, but it’s a good way to enjoy the movie again if you want to use that as an excuse:)
  • The Hamster Factor & Other Tales Of 12 Monkeys – Yes 10 out of 10 for the extras, and this is the reason why. This is a full length documentary film about the making of the movie. It’s in depth, shows a side of the movie business we don’t always get to see, and it reveals a lot about the man behind the madness, Terry Gilliam. It’s well made, old school style with a bit of narration and a lot of subjectivity when it comes to standing back and watching someone like Gilliam getting a big budget, high profile Hollywood movie made when he wants so desperately not to be that guy who makes big budget, high profile Hollywood movies. This is a must see if you are a fan of this or any of the Gilliam movies.
  • 12 Monkeys Archives – This is a collection of concept and promotion artwork from the movie.

The Movie: /10
“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? We’re consumers, Jim. Yeah. Okay, okay. Buy a lot of stuff, you’re a good citizen. But if you don’t buy a lot of stuff, if you don’t, what are you then, I ask you? What?”

I don’t think I have ever started with a movie quote before, so this is my virgin voyage into potentially pretentious territory. Bare with me. The above quote from 12 Monkeys stuck in my mind the first time I saw it near its original release date, and it still grabs me just the same. It’s one of those ideas that has formed in my own mind through the years, a base for a lot of my own life philosophies, so you can imagine that if only one line captures me this way, the rest of the movie is sure to follow.

From the beginning we see a dark, future world in which men are cramped in a strange, over crowded, highly automated prison. Jim Cole (Willis) is a prisoner being volunteered for some kind of duty and it’s clear that something is amiss. The conversation with fellow prisoner lets us know that being volunteered and removed from your cell means you won’t be coming back. Thus the mystery of who, when, where, why..etc. begins.

Cole is lead through a stringent process, cleaned, briefed, given a highly protective plastic HASMAT type suit, given a brief case and a flashlight and then follows a map through what look like tunnels, sewers, and other underground paths until he opens a hatch to the outside world. He collects specimens, for what we do know, and as he trowels the abandoned city we see decay, wild animals roaming around, and the realization that there are no people living on the surface of the planet.

OK, the tone is set. We are in the distant future in which something devastating has happened and it will be a journey of finding out what, why, and how it can be fixed……but then Jim ends up in Jail, confused, and in the year 1990. A Psychiatrist, Madeline Stowe, arrives to see about his state of mind. She’s brave right from the beginning as she boldly goes into a cell with slobbering, nervous, violent Jim who is rambling about his mission, the future, the past.

OK, new tone, it’s about insanity, what’s real, what’s not real. What we think we know about reality and what happens when we challenge everyone Else’s reality. I get it. Oh, but just when you do get that little safe place for your movie watching foot to grab onto the wall of imagination, things shift again and again. My advice, don’t try to hold on, just be prepared to hang on to whatever comes along. It’s an awesome ride through the possibilities of mental illness, the potential for futuristic time travel and bizarre scientific research, combined with an over all theme that we, humans, have once again screwed things up with our arrogance and bullish ways.

There is a combination of antique and futuristic technology through sections of the story, and then it’s back to the 1990 era of an attempt at gritty (though very Hollywoodish) reality with that grungy, dark, urban decay feel. There is an unrest reflected in the city, lots of homeless people in the streets, a sense of lawlessness, chaos, a society about to fall apart at the seams. This is probably one of the things I liked originally, the dark view of things.

Contrast that darkness with a few scattered scenes in which the more “stable” or respectible characters live or work and they are pristine, clean, tidy, quiet, aloft, above, away from the fear and chaos. I’m not sure if that’s intended, but it jumped out at me right away. That the intellectuals, the scientists, doctors, the wealthy, they are not subjected to the same social ills as the rest of us, they just want us to buy more stuff, be the good consumers we need to be to keep them safe and away from yet another reality.

Jeffry Goines is like the glue that barely holds things together. He’s a mental patient Jim meets. Jeffry (Pitt) is the one who gives us the quote at the beginning of this review. He’s full of revelatory ideas, rebellion, social commentary, sprinkled with his own brand of crazy. He’s the instigator, and the solution, and the wise man, and the problem, all wrapped up into one nutball wonderful character.

Am I rambling? Good, it’s not a movie I want to make sense of completely. I mean, it maks sense to me and I love it. What it does is throws you into a stream of thoughts about life and our choices to partake in the world as it’s been designed around us, or to choose to separate from it, rebel against it, life peacefully within it, or bring it crashing down. How does one cope with conflicting ideas about animal cruelty in our world? How do we draw a line where sanity ends and insanity begins and what do we do to keep both groups under control?

If the human population is wiped out by a virus, would that be such a bad thing? Why would we need to prevent that from happening, aside from the suffering that would happen during the process. What if the world was freed from our presence? Then again, what if we all just go merrily on about our daily routines, live the way we are expected to live, go out and buy more stuff to distract us from a true inevitability, that no matter what we do, who we are, what we think, there is only one true ending to every story.

This Viewer’s Notes: I found it thought provoking, uplifting, entertaining, enjoyable. It is beautifully acted, filmed, acted, and written. Would watch again.

Audio & Video: 8/10
I was very surprised with the picture quality of 12 Monkey’s on Blu-Ray disc. While it’s not an improvement from the HDDVD version, it looks pretty stunning considering it’s age.

This film was made in 1995 when digital film cameras and computer editing systems were prohibitively expensive. This means the movie has a level of murk and grain that some newer movies do not. Add to that the type of movie that 12 Monkey’s is (bleak & grim to say the least) and you get a image that is faithful to the director’s vision. We viewed the movie on a 104 inch screen in 1080P and the image was satisfying the entire time. I read some reviews that say the print looks quite damaged. I did not notice this and I think some of the murky moments are intentional.

Audio was even better than the picture on this release. The DTS HD audio is an upgrade from the DVD version and from the opening scene I noticed how surround heavy it was. It’s a pretty solid mix, not showcase material like Iron Man or The Dark Knight, but impressive for a catalog title.

Value: 9/10
I need to own this movie for so many reasons. I don’t care what the format is, DVD, HD DVD, Blu-Ray, VHS, digital file on my cell phone..don’t care, have to have it, so the price isn’t an issue. That being said, for 20 bucks you can get this awesome movie, along with the very cool documentary extra about how it got made and that’s a bargain in my world:)

If you are curious, or you saw it a long time ago but might want to try it again, rent it and see how it goes. Get a collection of funky flicks and have a weekend film festival for a few bucks. Hey, I might just try that myself.

Overall Score 10/10