Twelve Monkeys stars Bruce Willis as Cole, a man living in the year 2035 as a member of the 1% of the population left on Earth, thanks to a mystery virus which swept the planet back in 1997 killing five billion people, leaving the survivors no choice but to abandon the surface leaving the animals to rule the world once again.
The film begins with Cole as a child at the airport hearing a gunshot and seeing a long-haired man keel over, closely followed by a blonde woman screaming and running over to help him. Then we’re back to the present as Cole wakes up, his job as a ‘volunteer’ to take samples on the surface of the planet for analysis.
Events take Cole back in time to April 12th, 1990, where he becomes a mental patient at Baltimore County Hospital, the doctors, including Dr. Kathryn Railly, played by Madeline Stowe, not understanding his ramblings about the world and its impending doom, although one of his fellow ‘inmates’ Jeffrey, played brilliantly by a psychotic Brad Pitt seems to appear in full agreement with him. After another chain of events, Cole is thrust forward to 1996 where he comes across Dr. Railly and Jeffrey again, and sees it as his destiny to find out what killed the planet’s populaion, and just what the mysterious Army of the 12 Monkeys have to do with all of this. Can he succeed? In a typical Hollywood film you might say yes, but with director Terry Gilliam at the helm, nothing is typical, or predictable.
This film has so much going for it, that there’s no way it can fail as superb entertainment, keeping Bruce Willis in the actor’s A-list, and as he proved in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, he’s an all-round actor who can apply himself to much more than a straight-forward action role.
Madeline Stowe serves adequately in the role as the good doctor, but Brad Pitt, in a role which earned him an Oscar nomination, is excellent as the psyched-out mental patient who helps Bruce Willis escape from the institution, only to be captured again…
While many early Universal releases were brought out with an anamorphic widescreen picture, during the times when they were still known as Polygram, this one hasn’t. Zooming the picture in to fill a widescreen TV, it makes the picture look a little dull by comparison with what a good anamorphic release would look like.
The average bitrate is a fine 5.59Mb/s, occasionally peaking over 9Mb/s and the film is presented in its original widescreen ratio of 1.85:1, capturing all of Gilliam’s inspired visuals. According to the back cover it indicates a “full frame” 4:3 version is also included on the disc but it isn’t. Such claims made by Columbia TriStar’s Stepmom led to that disc being recalled as it was emblazoned on the front, so how come the VPRC (Video Packaging Review Committee) missed it?
The sound cannot be faulted though. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the one thing you’ll remember the most is the score from Paul Buckmaster, while the rest of it comes across perfectly for dialogue, ambience and the occasional light tune such as “Wonderful World, all drawing you into Cole’s world and the madness that inhabits it.
Extras: Also accompanying the film is a “making of” entitled “The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of the Twelve Monkeys”, the hamster factor being that Gilliam likes to include a hamster in all the films he makes.
One problem with it though: it’s chapterless! Stop it at some point and you’ll have to trawl through it to pick up where you left off. Compare that with the 24-minute Wilde documentary which makes an effort with four spread throughout it. On the plus side, it is subtitled.
Chapters: There are 18 chapters to the 124-minute film which isn’t really enough and pales into comparison with the 44 that can be found on the American release. Also, no theatrical trailer is to be found.
Bizarrely, the first chapter still shows a Polygram logo at the start with the last few seconds of the music that normally accompanies Universal’s logo crashing in.
Languages & Subtitles: English in Dolby Digital 5.1 and subtitles in the same language for the deaf and hard of hearing are the only such options on this disc.
Menu: A static and silent screen showing a collage of images including Bruce sat in the high-chair with mugshots of Stowe and Pitt and simple options to start the film, select a scene, toggle the subtitles on/off or watch the featurette.
Overall: Terry Gilliam’s films are never always an easy watch and tend to fall into one of two categories: excellent or “okay but over-weird”. ..Holy Grail and Brazil fell into the latter and I couldn’t even finish ..Baron Munchausen, but Time Bandits and this film come under the former category. The set pieces are well-designed and the thinking behind it is beyond comprehension but it all clicks together perfectly.
However, while the “Hamster Factor” is a much-welcome addition to this release and also appeared in the double-tape video boxset which has been re-released, the content of this disc unfortunately doesn’t live up to the Region 1 Special Edition DVD which treats you to an anamorphic widescreen picture, an audio commentary track by Terry Gilliam and Charles Roven, storyboards, production stills and 44 chapters.
Running time: 124 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
Released: October 4th 2009
Region(s): 2, PAL
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
Disc Format: DVD 9
Director: Terry Gilliam
Producer: Charles Roven
Screenplay: David Peoples and Janet Peoples ((inspired by the film “La Jetee” written by Chris Marker)
Music: Paul Buckmaster
James Cole: Bruce Willis
Dr. Kathryn Railly: Madeleine Stowe
Jeffrey Goines: Brad Pitt
Dr. Goines: Christopher Plummer
Dr. Peters: David Morse
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.