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12 Monkeys (1995) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Image"12 Monkeys" is a long forgotten film, but certainly deserves some attention.  The film is based on the 1962 Chris Marker black and white film, "La Jetée."  The film is composed of primarily still photographs and tells the story of time travel during a post-war scenario.  "12 Monkeys" has taken great liberties with the short film, making it loosely based on the original.  I remember watching this film in a cinema class in college, having to compare it to "12 Monkeys."

Terry Gilliam, director of "12 Monkeys" basically takes the concept of time travel and applies it to a blockbuster template in order to get studio approval.  In 1995 the film was rather remarkable.  Plot twists were unique and the story was interesting.  However, the film doesn't exactly hold up well over time.  Nearly 15 years later the same premises and actions have been used over and over again in films.  Sure they are not exactly the same, but they are close enough.  That is not meant to impugn the work of "12 Monkeys."

Terry Gilliam, best known for his directorial work on "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," takes the audience back and forth between two realities.  James Cole (Bruce Willis) lives underground far into the future after a deadly virus has wiped out over five billion people on the planet.  A group of scientists in the future use hostiles leaving underground to run "volunteer" missions above ground.  They are assigned to collect specimens.  The group of scientists is trying to find a way to discover the origins of the virus and create an anecdote to release humankind back to the surface of the planet, not to try and prevent the disaster all together.

The scientists ask Cole to go back in time to gather information in exchange for a pardon.  Unfortunately, the scientists have not perfected time travel and Cole ends up in 1990, not 1996.  Immediately getting into trouble he is taken to a mental institution.  It is there that he meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), a true whacko.  While in the institution, Cole intrigues the interest of his psychiatrist, Dr. Railly (Madeline Stowe).  Eventually the scientists bring Cole back to their time.

Realizing that he was sent to the wrong time they try again.  This time Cole is sent to the trenches in World War I.  Three times is the charm.  He finally gets to 1996 where he rejoins with Dr. Railly by kidnapping her.  Cole is out to find the army of the 12 Monkeys, which they find is led by Jeffrey Goines.  Just as Cole is about to be taken by police he is transported back to his own time.  By this time he longs to stay with Dr. Railly in the past.  Of course, Cole, having traveled back and forth through time no longer distinguishes which time is real. Cole's dream from an event that he saw as a kid remains haunting him.  As the audience it is easy to see where this is leading.  In fact, it isn't difficult to figure out how the film is going to end.  Perhaps I have seen too many of these films or perhaps the film is not as good at keeping the major events in the story minor and mysterious.  For some the ending may be a let down.  I won't go any further so as not to spoil how it all unfolds.  Whether you are the type of person that will be disappointed or not, I recommend taking a look at this picture.  While humankind may be the cause of extinction, the film still offers some hope for humanity in this film.

"12 Monkeys" had a relatively low budget of less than $30 million.  For that reason, I was not expecting much in the way of video quality for this film.  Sure enough, the quality is a bit average.  Mainly, the image is plagued by softness.  Details are apparent, but not sharp at all.  Textures lose pretty much all definition.  The black levels start out quite impressive, but begin to waver over the course of the film.  The same thing applies to shadow delineation.  The style of the film does not lend itself to dramatic colors, but the film is basically bland.  The colors never break through.  The image remains flat for the entirety of the film.  Film grain has been minimized.  Larger screens will show the grain and it may become distracting.  For normal sized screens, the grain only really becomes apparent during a few of the night sequences.  Contrast levels leave the film also looking flat.  It is no surprise that edge enhancement has been applied to the image.  It will become annoying after a while.  Nevertheless, this Blu-ray release is a major upgrade from the original standard DVD release.

The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  The track is solid.  There is not much in the way of dynamics, and frequency response could be improved slightly, especially in the high-mids.  The dialogue is clear and present, only occasionally wavering in strength.  The surround channels are used sparingly.  Primarily, the voice in Cole's head gets nice panning around the soundfield.  Discrete effects in the surrounds pop up here and there.  Music is somewhat bled into the rears.  Ambience is lacking a bit from the rear channels.  The LFE channel has received an upgrade from the previous Dolby Digital track, but is still weaker than where it should be.  Overall, this audio track is solid and probably the best the film with sound.

The Blu-ray edition of "12 Monkeys" contains just a handful of special features.  However, the quality of the few bonus materials is of high caliber.  First there is an audio commentary with Director Terry Gilliam and Producer Charles Roven.  This commentary is always engaging and full of a wealth of information.  Fans of the film will undoubtedly love this commentary.  The second feature is a full-length documentary, "The Hamster Factor & Other Tales of '12 Monkeys.'"  This documentary has it all.  There is not one bit of information missing from the documentary.  Again, fans will certainly love this feature.  The last feature on the disc is a "'12 Monkeys' Archives."  This section simply contains some still images.  The disc is also BD-Live enabled.  The only special feature that I would have loved to see on this disc is a copy of the original short film, "La Jetée."

"12 Monkeys" is a great sci-fi mystery.  Even if the film is seemingly predictable, it has enough underlying messages to keep you interested.  The video quality is only average but still worthy.  The audio quality fairs slightly better but still lacks the crispness and full-range spectrum.  I would have to recommend this title.

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