12 Monkeys: Collector's Edition (1995)

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Released 23-May-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Featurette-Hamster Factor & Other Tales of 12 Monkeys (87:34)
Audio Commentary-Terry Gilliam (Director) & Chuck Roven (Producer)
Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:20)
Gallery-Archive
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1995
Running Time 124:08
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (93:06) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Terry Gilliam
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Bruce Willis
Madeleine Stowe
Brad Pitt
Christopher Plummer
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $36.95 Music Paul Buckmaster


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Swedish
Norwegian
Dutch
Czech
Polish
Turkish
Hungarian
Bulgarian
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   And now for something completely different...

   Well, did you really expect me to start this review any other way? In many ways, it is an apt way to start this review, for in many ways this is a very different Hollywood film.

    First of all, it has Terry Gilliam at the helm and if there is one thing that he is not renowned for it is making Hollywood films. And that is for the simple reason that his vision is too far out there to be acceptable to and accessible enough for mainstream Hollywood. Which of course made him a perfect choice to helm 12 Monkeys, for the film did require someone with some sort of vision to be able to effectively realize the screenplay penned by David and Janet Peoples.

    Secondly, this is no typical Hollywood linear story with a nice little progression from start to finish with everything all nice and neatly tied up. Indeed, the entire point of the film is to have a deliberately non-linear story that does not explain everything and has you thinking all the time about what is going on and where the heck the movie is going. It jumps between present (being the future) and the past (being the present), with some ethereal dreams thrown in for good measure. The result is something that really is not like any other film and is a film that does reward multiple viewings with renewed insights every time you watch it. Well, it is thus for me and this is a film that I can return to often and still enjoy immensely.

   The broad story, like the broad strokes on a canvas, are relatively simple. The time is 2035 and the world has been devastated by a virus that has wiped out most of the human race and allowed the animals to become the dominant creatures on the planet. What human population remains lives underground in a very technological society. The scientists are working towards a cure for the virus and to that end send travellers into the past to seek out samples and information with that aim. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is one such time traveller - a "volunteer" whose performance will enable him to obtain a pardon for the crimes that have resulted in his incarceration. Being a very good observer, he gets a chance to go back to the year 1996 to seek out the source of the virus - a group known as The Army Of The 12 Monkeys. Unfortunately time travel is not an exact science and he ends up going back to the wrong year - 1990 - with some interesting consequences. He ends up in a psychiatric institution where he meets two pivotal people - his psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and a fellow inmate Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt).

   Pulled back to his present at an opportune time, Cole succeeds in getting the scientists to return him to the past (eventually in the correct year after another slight detour) to continue his task. In 1996 he again meets up with Kathryn and with her enforced help slowly works out the secret of the source of the virus and the workings of The Army Of The 12 Monkeys - we think. Really there is not much more that should be revealed here as this really is a film that compels you to work everything out for yourself. Any more information and the point of the film will be spoilt.

   This is a wonderfully dense screenplay that has you wondering where things are going. The realization of the written words really needed someone with a distinctly different style and the choice of Terry Gilliam was pretty well inspired. After all, there is little doubt that most of his work has been distinctly different for much of his career (Brazil anyone?, just to ignore Monty Python for a change). The team he assembled worked minor miracles with the budget they had to work with and the vision realized on the screen has rarely been bettered by people with five times the money that this film was made with.

    The style of the film is totally different to just about anything else that has come out in the past ten years. However, even that style was enormously aided by the performances of the three lead actors. Bruce Willis is slowly but surely getting some recognition for his acting abilities as people slowly get past the all-action Die Hard-type characters he is usually associated with. This really is a terrifically vulnerable performance from Bruce Willis and it is the core of the film in many ways. Up until the time of the film being made, this was his best work and still remains as a highlight of his career. However, he is very effectively balanced by the terrific Madeleine Stowe in another distinctive acting performance. I have said before that she does not do many films but what she does do is usually highlighted by quality and that is precisely what we get here. She seems to have a knack for hitting the right sort of mood and feeling here and this really is great stuff from her. The main cast is rounded out by the then-emerging man-of-the-moment in Brad Pitt. The timing of his signing to the film was rather fortuitous I guess, but this really is a fine performance from him as the mental patient. Whilst he certainly has gone onto bigger and better things, this is still one of his best performances and garnered him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

   For me, this really is a terrific film and a film that I can return to often and enjoy. I do know that this is not an opinion that sits well with everyone but the fact that this was something of a box office success is indicative that sometimes the critics don't know what they are talking about. Well worth seeking out as it is as close to mainstream as Terry Gilliam is likely to get and there are some terrific performances here that are the antidote to the endless parade of acting-by-the-numbers performances that we see so much of nowadays.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Some of you might well be aware of my review of the Region 1 version of the DVD on another site. If you are, you would be aware that I was very impressed by the quality of the transfer on that DVD. Well, get ready for more of the same, for this really is a distinctly better transfer than that one.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The Region 1 transfer was blessed with a wonderfully detailed and quite sharp transfer that seemed to overcome the fact that significant chunks of the film were filmed at night or in dark places and therefore could be expected to show problems in these areas. Well, the inherently superior PAL formatting has taken those basics and just tweaked them a bit more to elevate this transfer to an even higher standard. This really is a great-looking transfer, with oodles of definition which is so essential for a film that is quite dense at times. There is certainly little here to detract from the viewing experience. There are no real lapses in the consistency of the detail, other than those where it was intended, and shadow detail is consistently of a high standard throughout the film, again other than where it was intended to be a little restrained. Clarity is excellent throughout as well, although there is just a slightly grainy look to the film at times that I would suspect is an intended look. There is no evidence of any significant low level noise issues here.

    As you can appreciate for a film predominantly set in an underground future and a decaying past, this is not exactly going to have the brightest feel about it as far as colours go. There is certainly nothing in the film that tends towards bright, primary colours as this would not be consistent with the intent of the film. What we do have is a broad palette of darker colours that tend towards the browns, greys and greens that is beautifully evocative of the feel of a decaying society. The result is not an especially vibrant looking transfer but it is certainly an exceptionally believable result. When the chance does come along, though, for some nice, rich, vibrant colours, there are taken and this just highlights how good the colours are (just check out the gorgeous wood tones at the mansion of Professor Goines for a very good example). Black tones are not absolute, but that again is an intended feel to the film in my view. There are no oversaturation problems at all, and colour bleed did not seem to be an issue at all.

    There are no MPEG artefacts in the transfer. I don't recall seeing any film-to-video artefacts at all, so if there are any present they are obviously not at all distracting to the film. There were a few film artefacts floating around in the source material, but really not that bad and not distracting to the film.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, and the layer change occurs mid-scene at 93:06. Whilst it does occur mid-scene, during a camera shot on Bruce Willis' face and between any dialogue, it is pretty well-handled and is not really that noticeable unless you are watching your DVD player display like a hawk or listening to the commentary (there is a distinct gap in the flow there).

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    And if I thought the video transfer was fine, then in general the audio transfer is even better - again mirroring the Region 1 release and then some. There are four soundtracks on offer on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack, a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I listened to both of the English soundtracks but did not sample the other two soundtracks other than very briefly. I have to say from that brief sampling that I would not really want to watch the film in the dubbed Italian.

    The English soundtracks are very good and the dialogue comes up very well in both and is clear and easy to understand. There is no problem with audio sync in the transfer at all.

    The original music score comes from Paul Buckmaster and a beauty it is too. The theme here is terrific and, as mentioned in the audio commentary, the incidental music is used in a contrary manner to the mood that is being created by the film. Thus, where the romantic elements of the story were being pushed, we do not get the usual schmaltzy, syrupy romantic style of music but something a little more dissonant. My one great regret on both the Region 1 DVD and this effort is the fact that space could not be found for an isolated music score - I think that would be very interesting to hear.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a gem - even though this really is a dialogue-based film without any great flashy audio demonstration pieces. The impressive thing about the soundtrack is the use of the channels for the fellow inmate's voice during the cell scene in particular. It moves mightily impressively between the front and rear surround channels (both left and right) as Cole tries to work out where the voice is coming from. This is the sort of impressive surround channel use that really makes
you wish that more sound engineers actually took the trouble to understand how to use sound. Overall, there is nothing wrong with the soundtrack here at all.

    There is not a heck of a lot of use of the bass channel, but that is a reflection of the film itself and not of any inherent problem with the mastering. The overall soundscape is very believable throughout the film thanks to the excellent use of the surround channels. Whilst most would not see this as an audio demonstration per se, this surely is the quality of stuff that I would use to demonstrate what can be done with sound.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    It might not look like much of an extras package but there is some serious quality here that cannot be ignored - and that enhances the viewing experience enormously (a sadly misunderstood purpose of extras packages in my view).

Menu

    Apart from being themed in the overall manner associated with the film, and featuring 16x9 enhancement, there is unfortunately not much else distinctive about the menus.

Featurette - The Hamster Factor And Other Tales Of 12 Monkeys (87:34)

    Now this is a featurette! Almost a feature length film in its own right, this is the sort of quality package that we generally do not see enough of. A ton of background information, detailing all sorts of aspects of the making of the film itself as well as film making in general, makes this essential viewing. In fact this is the only such featurette that I consistently watch every time I watch the film. It takes you through every aspect of the making of the film, from initial meetings and discussions through the making and editing of the film through to the test audience viewings and the problems with the finalizing of the film for release. At times very candid (Bruce Willis especially objecting to the believability of one scene), forget those 10 minute EPK things - this is the genuine article as far as making of featurettes go.

Audio Commentary - Terry Gilliam (Director) and Charles Roven (Producer)

    Any time you get a chance to listen to someone of the vision of Terry Gilliam espouse about a film and film making, then you should take the chance to listen. I have, several times - and you all know how much I hate these things! Wandering all over the place in its scope, they use the film itself as a springboard to head off in all sorts of directions, with all sorts of details about what went on behind the scenes. The end result is something that is eminently listenable and really adds a whole heap to the understanding of what went into the film and why. Obviously made for the laserdisc release, since it is mentioned a couple of times, this remains one of the best commentaries I have heard.

Production Notes

    Universal have always done these better than anyone and the twenty eight pages here again show that they are ahead of the rest in this area. Worthwhile reading these.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    Another area where Universal excel, with the only complaint here being that these appear to be identical to the Region 1 release from about two years ago and have not been updated (they basically list films only up to 1997).

Theatrical Trailer

    This is the one item that differs from the Region 1 release of a few years ago. A fairly standard effort in most respects, it is presented in a Full Frame format which is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The Region 1 release has a slightly different trailer that is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Gallery - Archive

    Buried in the chapter selection list for the documentary are two chapters that do not actually belong to the documentary. Chapter 15 is a link to the theatrical trailer, whilst Chapter 16 is a link to The 12 Monkeys Archive. This extra is not mentioned anywhere on the packaging and thus technically constitutes an Easter Egg (things which I really hate). The archive actually comprises over 200 design sketches, production photographs, artist photographs and other conceptual design work.  They are split into Logo Designs (15 items), Costume and Production Designs (23), Location Photographs (16), Storyboards (16), World War 1 Sequence (11), Production Photographs (98), Costume Diaries (23) and Poster Concepts (34). Most are your fairly run-of-the-mill type stuff, which is reasonably interesting once through, apart from the rather unusual Costume Diaries. These is actual photographs taken during filming to ensure continuity of costumes, and is something that I do not recall having seen before. Only a few of the items are annotated, and quite a few suffer from cross colouration problems. Overall quite a reasonable collection, although I hate the way that it is hidden in a menu that is unlikely to be accessed in normal circumstances.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There are two Region 1 DVDs in existence for this film. There is the Collector's Edition which is the comparative version to the Region 4 release. The only substantive difference between the two is the slightly different theatrical trailer and the usual language and subtitle options. Direct comparison between these two versions indicates that the Region 4 version has a slightly smoother looking picture (the usual difference between PAL and NTSC formatting) and a slightly better sounding soundtrack. Personally, having made the direct comparison, I would plump wholeheartedly for the Region 4 version.

    The other Region 1 DVD is a barebones effort with a DTS soundtrack in place of the Dolby Digital 5.1 effort. If your bent is towards excellence in sound and do not care for extras, then this is probably the choice for you. From what I can gather the DTS soundtrack is excellent, but for me the loss of the extras package does not compensate for the additional excellence in the soundtrack - especially considering that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very good anyway.

Summary

    12 Monkeys is an excellent science fiction film that really has you thinking about what is going on. It has been given an excellent video transfer and audio transfer in every respect, and an extras package that is in terms of quality and film enhancing amongst the very best around. This is a serious must add to the collection.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Sunday, May 13, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Vincent C
impulsegamer.com - Tory Favro

Comments (Add)
poor sound and video - Damien (biotech is godzilla)
12 Monkeys Re-Release -