12 Monkeys, 1995.
Directed by Terry Gilliam.
Starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, and Christopher Plummer.
Arrow has issued 12 Monkeys on disc again. This time it’s a 4K Ultra HD release that ups the image quality from their 2018 Blu-ray, albeit in ways that are likely only noticeable to people watching on a high-end setup. Arrow also ported over all the extras from that high-def edition, along with a booklet containing a couple written pieces about the film.
When Arrow Video released Terry Gilliam’s classic film 12 Monkeys on Blu-ray in 2018, the print of the film featured on the disc was based on a 4K scan, making a 4K Ultra HD release a near certainty. Arrow has now made good on that promise with a new 4K platter that lets the new 4K scan shine, albeit not as much as you might think.
Before I get into that, though, I should note that Arrow has acknowledged a small error in the film: around the 40-minute mark, the movie repeats a little bit of footage, without an accompanying soundtrack change. Arrow has said they’re working on a replacement program, so you might want to hold off on your purchase until they confirm that new discs are being shipped. The same error is found on the 2018 Blu-ray, but Arrow never addressed that issue, so it’s unlikely they’ll put out a replacement for that one.
Now about that transfer: 12 Monkeys looked really good on Blu-ray, and Gilliam fans could be happy with that platter for the rest of their lives, to be honest. Given the film’s vintage, the improvements on the 4K disc are pretty marginal, especially for viewers without a high-end setup. The overall image quality is better, but given the fact that no new bonus features were commissioned for this edition, whether or not to upgrade comes down to how important the 4K version is to you.
That said, the film does look beautiful on 4K, albeit with the side effect of making the lower grade special effects stand out a bit more. That’s to be expected with a movie that’s nearly 30 years old, however; 4K isn’t going to magically upgrade the quality of the optical effects as they were captured by cameras back then. The 4K upgrade also enhances the amount of grain you’ll see in the image, but that’s another thing that’s to be expected of a movie like this. It looks the way Gilliam wants it to look, and I for one am glad that 4K releases, as well as newer Blu-rays, are moving away from the digital scrubbing that plagued early high-def discs and gave the images a plastic quality.
I won’t rehash the movie’s plot here, since you can read my review of the 2018 disc to learn about that, but suffice it to say that Gilliam remains one of my favorite directors, someone who was always a visionary marching to the beat of his own drummer, which often led to clashes with the powers-that-be at film studios. He may not be as relevant to younger generations, but many of us Gen Xers will always have a soft spot in our hearts for him.
This release only includes the 4K disc, so you may want to hang onto the Blu-ray if it’s important to you to have favorite movies available in various formats. As I mentioned earlier, the bonus features were ported over from the earlier release, which included a few extras that have been hanging around going back to the laserdisc days.
The best of the bunch is the commentary track with Gilliam and producer Charles Roven. It’s a holdover from the laserdisc release, and back then they actually talked past the end of the first side of the disc, but since modern discs don’t work that way, this track has been edited accordingly. I never heard the laserdisc version, so I don’t know how much was lost, but I imagine ti was pretty minimal.
Gilliam is the kind of director who doesn’t need much prodding to hold court on a wide array of subjects, from his battles with studios to how and why he shot a particular movie. He addresses all of that here and more, with Roven filling in the blanks wherever he can. It’s a delightful track that almost never falls into the two big cardinal sins of commentaries: lapsing into silence and describing what’s onscreen without adding any interesting details.
The other bonus item that’s a must for fans is the 87-minute making-of documentary The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys, which digs deep into the film from its earliest moments of development through to its release and beyond. Gilliam shows up, along with members of the cast and crew, and there’s also plenty of excellent fly-on-the-wall onset footage.
Moving on, there’s an archive that zips through a large collection of location photos, logo designs, production photos, costume and production designs, and more in about four minutes without a way to slow it down, except for hitting pause. It would have been nice if the viewer could move through the images at their own pace.
Finally, there are a pair of extras that were added to the 2018 Blu-ray, a 1996 interview with Gilliam that runs 23 minutes and is a must-watch, and a 16-minute appreciation of the director by Ian Christie, author of Gilliam on Gilliam.
This 4K release also includes something that I managed to miss in the Blu-ray release: a 43-page booklet that’s similar to the physical materials Criterion tosses in with many of their discs. I must have missed the booklet the first time because it was tucked behind a sheet touting Arrow’s other releases, and I didn’t think to check to see if anything else was there.
The booklet features information about the 4K restoration, copious amounts of photos, an essay about the film by Nathan Rabin (titled “The Audacity of Hopelessness: Twelve Monkeys’ Grim Vision of the Future and the Present”), and a Q&A with Gilliam by the aforementioned Christie.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★