4K UHD Review: 12 Monkeys

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Terry Gilliam’s filmmaking been rather tempestuous. After his time in Monty Python‘s Flying Circus that included co-directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, he struck solo comic gold with Time Bandits produced by ex-Beatles’ George Harrison’s Handmade films. His next film was Brazil had him clash with Universal over the US release. Things got worse when the budget went out of control on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Gilliam’s reputation was in tatters and the money didn’t want to trust him with his dream projects. Gilliam had to play nice and be a director for hire for producers that wanted a Terry Gilliam director. He made a comeback with The Fisher King. The Universal rewarded him by backing 12 Monkeys which featured two of the biggest stars of the ’90s in Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt.

12 Monkeys is based on Chris Marker’s amazing short film La Jetée. The original is basically a batch of still photographs with a few seconds of motion so this isn’t a straight adaptation. It’s all motion here. Gilliam gets to bring his visual flare to a tale of time travel from a future that’s uninhabitable. Scientists of tomorrow have created a time travelling machine with the sole purpose of going back and stopping the virus that destroyed humanity. But in order to make it work, they have to find a person who has a strong memory of that time. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is a prisoner who remember a woman’s face during a visit to the airport in 1996. Cole is sent back in time except he ends up in 1990 and locked up inside an mental asylum. Dr. Kathryn Railly (The Last of the Mohicans’ Madeleine Stowe) thinks Cole isn’t the usual babbling person with tales of how he has to stop the apocalypse. He has to stop the Army of the 12 Monkeys from freeing the virus. But of course nobody knows what the 12 Monkeys are. While locked inside, he meets Jeffrey Goines (Fight Club‘s Brad Pitt) who wants to help him break out. Goines has radical views about things, but doesn’t seem like a threat. Cole breaks out, but his escape is hampered by getting sucked back into the future. He has to go back for so many reasons.

12 Monkeys holds up as a sci-fi flick with Gilliam’s touches adding to the unstable elements of a world that doesn’t know it needs to be saved. Bruce Willis doesn’t overwhelm the role. Brad Pitt pulls off the twitchy madness what seemed like an outsider character at the start. Stowe keeps dealing with the reality that maybe the insane sounding guy is real. Plus there’s a killer part from Frank Gorshin (The Riddler on Batman). Gilliam was able to make his own impact on the film instead of just recycling Marker’s La Jetée. The 4K UHD resolution lets you see the little details that used to get trapped in the shadows. The film was a success at the box office and Brad Pitt was nominated for an Oscar. The reward for Gilliam was getting to take over Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas based on the Hunter S. Thompson book which also felt like a time traveling film.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The 4K UHD transfer makes this upgrade worthy. The audio for both is 5.1 and 2.0 DTS Master Audio. The levels are fine for the time traveling aspect of the movie. The film is subtitled.

Audio commentary by Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Roven breaks down how Gilliam approached the film and his time with the cast.

The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys (87:34) is a feature-length making-of documentary by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. They were responsible for Lost in La Mancha. They have him backstage at Late Night with David Letterman. This gets deep into the movie’s behind the scenes and gives a glimpse at what it was like working with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in the ’90s. They mention that Terry made the film as a director for hire since the script was developed by another filmmaker and its backed by a major studio.

The Film Exchange with Terry Gilliam (23:50) is a 1996 interview with Gilliam and critic Jonathan Romney, recorded at the London Film Festival. Gilliam mentions how Chris Marker was happy the film wasn’t a direct remake.

Brand-new appreciation by Ian Christie (16:11) the author of Gilliam on Gilliam. He talks about how the director wanted to reform his reputation as a difficult director who didn’t work well with the money people. He points out that 12 Monkeys wasn’t a studio mega-budget. But Terry worked with the money.

The Twelve Monkeys Archives (39:32) includes logo designs, costume designs, location photos, storyboards, production photos, costume Polaroids and movie posters.

Theatrical trailer (2:26) hints at the time travel aspect.

Arrow Video presents 12 Monkeys. Directed by: Terry Gilliam. Screenplay by: David Peoples & Janet Peoples. Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer & Christopher Meloni. Rated: R. Running Time: 129 minutes. Released: April 26, 2022.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.