This product was provided by Arrow Video for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own, score reflects the product as a whole and not the film itself.
Terry Gilliam is not what you would consider a mainstream director, with his fondness for grandiose stories, often visually stunning but slightly too artistic for mainstream appeal. This frequently puts him in a precarious position with studios, with whom he must frequently contend due to the large budgets required to produce his elaborate tales of science fiction and fantasy.
After his 1988 film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, went way over budget and bombed at the box office, Gilliam was attempting to get back in the good graces of the system and produced a smaller, more intimate film, The Fisher King, which was a commercial and critical success.
For his next project, he enlisted the talents of two of the biggest actors of the time, Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, and got the greenlight to make 12 Monkeys, a dystopian sci-fi story about madness, time travel and bioterrorism.
Certainly one of Gilliam’s most accessible films, though that’s not saying much, 12 Monkeys stars Willis as a prisoner in the year 2035, who is tasked with going back in time to 1996 in order to gather information about a terror attack that leaves 4 billion people dead. Unfortunately, time travel tech is not always exact, and he ends up in 1990, being arrested and ending up in a mental asylum. There he meets Pitt’s character, the schizophrenic son of a prominent virologist and the man believed to be the mastermind behind the attack.
Though I wouldn’t call myself a rabid fan of Gilliam’s work, I absolutely love Time Bandits, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Brazil, and 12 Monkeys, which, on any given day, takes the top spot. Any day I get to revisit this film is a good day, which is why I was so excited when Arrow announced the release of a new Blu-ray edition.
Gilliam’s near-obsessive attention to detail goes a long way here, especially in the future scenes, with humanity forced to live in underground dwellings, making machinery out of any bits of scrap they can scavenge. The script was penned by Janet and David Peoples and was inspired by the short film La Jetée by Chris Marker, in which a time-traveling man is grappling with the fact that he witnesses his own death when he was a child.
The Arrow Video Blu-ray edition of 12 Monkeys features a new restoration from 4K scans of the original negative, approved by Terry Gilliam, and it looks flawless. Unlike many other Arrow releases though, the disc is a bit light on bonus supplements. There’s an image gallery; the theatrical trailer; a making-of featurette, which was made during the production of the film; and an audio commentary with Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Roven.
All of these features are available on the original 2009 Blu-ray release, so the main reason to pick this up would be for the new restoration, and the better cover art. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if this is worth $15 extra on Amazon.
For now, this is the best and most complete version of 12 Monkeys available, but it would be nice to see Arrow release a more feature-packed edition in the future.