Terry Gilliam’s time traveling tale gets a new 4K restoration from Arrow Video
Terry Gilliam has long been an acquired taste for many, his fare garnering a cult following rather than mainstream adoration. Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the incredible Brazil exemplify his distinct talents, but it’s 12 Monkeys that is perhaps being his most accessible feature thanks to a compelling tale and a number of recognizable names. With characters and a time traveling mystery, the film lends itself to a quirky and disjointed tone that fits perfectly with Gilliam’s sensibility, the end result building a cult following since its original release back in 1995, one now celebrated with a new 4K transfer and Blu-ray release from Arrow Video.
Following the commercial and critical success of The Fisher King, Terry Gilliam next feature would turn to science fiction and a screenplay by Janet and David Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven) inspired by Chris Marker’s classic short film La Jetée. In 1996, a deadly virus is unleashed by a group calling themselves the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, destroying much of the world’s population and forcing survivors underground. In 2035, prisoner James Cole (Bruce Willis, Die Hard) is chosen to go back in time and help scientists in their search for a cure. Featuring an Oscar-nominated turn by Brad Pitt (Fight Club) as mental patient Jeffrey Goines, Twelve Monkeys would become Gilliam’s most successful film and is now widely regarded as a sci-fi classic. Arrow Films are proud to present the film in a stunning new restoration.
The time-traveling aspect of the film is kept relatively simple, some paradoxical elements aside of course. Instead, many of the twists and turns come from the psyche of the protagonist, one James Cole (Willis). A convict, having survived the apocalyptic events of mankind and then incarceration, he now finds himself in indentured servitude. Enduring the torturous process of time travel, one he has suffered several times to get him back to the right point in time. These side adventures, including a trip to World War I as well as a New York asylum in 1990, smartly loop into the main plot. Thrust into such a crucial role, he becomes the focus of the film and it’s as much about his ordeals as it is the bigger picture. Information is kept from him, a pawn in the game being played by those in charge, trying to restore mankind, while his own grasp on reality is challenged, the madness instilled in him that only magnifies as he finds himself in the midst of these people hurtling towards impending doom.
While conventional a picture in terms of its thriller aspects and Cole striving to solve the mystery of the 12 monkeys, it’s in this psychological breakdown and the glimpses at a dystopic future that Gilliam flexes his sensibilities most. With the warping of memories as well as time, Cole’s growing mental fragility becomes apparent. Gilliam deftly keeps things ambiguous so the audience has some leeway in interpreting the plot as it unfolds, as well as what is real and what is possibly a construct of Cole’s mind. This is all before the films leans into ideas of paradox, cause and effects. It’s a great central role, one that gives Bruce Willis plenty to commit to, a reminder of his talents when he engages with fine material. Brad Pitt also makes his mark (winning an Oscar nomination for his efforts) as Jeffrey Goines, the future leader of the army of the 12 monkeys and standing template for how to play a asylum inmate. Madeleine Stowe was something of a stalwart of this era, and 12 Monkeys reiterates this. Her presence on the screen is undeniable and sorely missed.
The film does truly belong to Gilliam though, a quirky tale filled with similarly tilted characters, with a distinct aesthetic, especially in the scenes set in the future. A steampunk inspired refuge, cobbled together from the what the remnants of mankind have managed to salvage. It’s a lo-fi look that aligns well with the dystopic script, one co-written by Chris Marker, Janet Peoples, and David Peoples, who also penned Blade Runner. The result is a rather mainstream story fused to offbeat ideals, a way to deliver a ‘blockbuster’ of sorts without Gilliam compromising his own vision.
This Blu-ray offers a brand new restoration of 12 Monkeys from a 4k scan of the original negative, approved by director Terry Gilliam. The film has never looked better, this transfer showcasing impressive sharpness, detail, and depth of image along with crisp natural colors and deep blacks. Gilliam’s films are known for their texture and detail, and this transfer shows off both wonderfully.
If you want a better look at how this release compares to its previous outing, check out the article below courtesy of fellow Cinapse writer Austin Vashaw.
- Audio commentary by Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Roven
- The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys, feature-length making-of documentary by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (Lost in La Mancha): Running close to 90 minutes, this is a substantial look at the production of the film, loaded with nuggets of info.
- The Film Exchange with Terry Gilliam: Rather illuminating interview, originally conducted with the director back in 1996.
- Appreciation by Ian Christie: The author of Gilliam on Gilliam, a compilation of interviews with the director, shares his personal thoughts on the film. Some nice perspectives and insights in here.
- Twelve Monkeys Archive: Extensive image gallery
- Theatrical trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Nathan Rabin and archive materials: A really nicely put together booklet with a lengthy essay and stills from the film.
The Bottom Line
The cultish adoration of 12 Monkeys is well deserved. It’s a film that reaches beyond a simple “go back in time and save the world” tale, instead delving into questions of perception, sanity, and cause & effect. Over twenty years on, its story and settings remain compelling, both given fresh life with this new restoration from Arrow Films. A host of extras included deepen appreciation for one of Gilliam’s finest features.
12 Monkeys from Arrow Video is available via MVD entertainment group from October 30th, 2018.