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Like so many other films directed by Terry Gilliam, 12 MONKEYS ($30) is permeated with a certain bizarre brilliance that makes the film completely captivating and unforgettable. Working as a hired gun on a screenplay by David and Janet Peoples, Gilliam imprints his visual signature on the dystopian nightmare and time travel story at the heart of 12 MONKEYS. In the year 2035, the surface of the Earth is devoid of human life, as a virus has killed billions and left the surviving population living underground in contained virus free environments. Convicted criminal James Cole (Bruce Willis) finds himself "volunteered" for various hazardous duties, which include gathering animal and insect specimens on the surface. With the promise of an early prison release up fro grabs, the scientists trying to cure the virus offer Cole a chance for freedom, if he is willing to undertake an even more hazardous duty.

To win his freedom, all Cole has to do is time travel into the past and gather intelligence on the deadly virus, as well as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, the terrorist organization that released the contagion. Unfortunately, time travel technology is far from perfected, with Cole landing in 1990, instead of the target year of 1996. Of course, Cole’s antisocial behavior results in his arrest, and to add insult to injury, his tale of time travel gets him confined to a mental institution. While in the institution, Cole encounters a sympathetic doctor named Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), as well as fellow mental patient Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt). Eventually, Cole manages to gets a message back to the future, and he is brought home for a debriefing. Upon relaying his intel, Cole is this time sent to the correct target year of 1996 to complete his mission. In addition to being a total mind trip, 12 MONKEYS features outstanding performances from its three stars, with Brad Pitt earning an Oscar nomination for his deranged supporting work. The cast of 12 MONKEYS also features Christopher Plummer, David Morse, Frank Gorshin and Christopher Meloni.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has made 12 MONKEYS available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. Kudos have to go to Universal for keeping the 1080p presentation of 12 MONKEYS looking the way it should- warts and all. 12 MONKEYS is not a pretty looking movie on Blu-ray, but it was never intended to be one anyway, so we are fortunate that there hasn’t been any digital tinkering to smooth over the less attractive aspects of the film’s intended look. The best way to describe the visual quality of 12 MONKEYS is to say that it is intentionally uneven. Sharpness and image detail are never exemplary, as the cinematography employs more than a bit of diffusion. Colors are usually subdued, not to mention appearing downright unflattering much of the time, as if the movie’s primary light source were fluorescent. Exteriors have a drab wintry look as well. The black level never goes as deep as it should, whites can be a bit overblown and the entire enterprise smacks of the film’s contrast being tinkered with to produce a disconcerting artistic effect. Grain is present in varying amounts, which gives 12 MONKEYS a truly film-like quality. The elements from which 12 MONKEYS has been transferred do display some modest blemishes, and this would be the video presentation only true technical failing.

12 MONKEYS is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Sound quality is quite strong on the Blu-ray, because the film’s sound design is far more conventional than its cinematography. A number of sequences have been aggressively mixed, with good use of the outlying channels for sound effects placement. Additionally, pans between channels are handled smoothly and the track is also quite good at conveying the film’s sonic environments. Fidelity is strong, with the film’s jarring music and sound effects coming across cleanly. The bass channel provides terrific reinforcement, as well as a nice kick. Dialogue reproduction is usually clear and easy to understand. French, Spanish and Italian DTS 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese and Mandarin subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some very cool supplements. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with director Terry Gilliam. Next up is The Hamster Factor And Other Tales Of 12 Monkeys, the nearly ninety minute documentary covers the production in extensive detail and is a must see for fans. A fairly extensive Still Gallery closes out the standard supplements. 12 MONKEYS is also BD-Live enabled (requires a Profile 2.0 player).

12 MONKEYS is a movie that gets into your head and proves itself another bizarrely brilliant piece of filmmaking from director Terry Gilliam, which is highlighted by terrific performances from its three leads. While not pretty, the Blu-ray is an accurate reflection of the film’s intended look and is praiseworthy. Highly recommended.



12 Monkeys [Blu-ray] (1995)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2009 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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