B- Sound: B Extras: B Film: B+
take Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s best
film might well be his complex, ironic, dark time travel thriller 12 Monkeys (1995), a still enduring
tale about a future society where technology has so crowded out the human race
that there is no longer room for people.
Bruce Willis is the unwilling subject named Cole, who is in an
underground jail for hardened criminals who is pulled out (literally by hook)
by the scientists who run things. All
are told that a virus wiped out the human race and the survivors have lived
underground ever since. Now a bizarre
futuristic police state, he is told being sent back in time to stop the virus
from being launched by an animal rights terrorist group. However, what is really happening is much
past, he gets a psychiatrist (Madeline Stowe) who thinks he is nuts when
captured, “interrupting” his mission and he eventually meets the “crazy” son
(Brad Pitt in a strong supporting role which earned him an Academy Award
nomination) of a powerful man (Christopher Plummer) who turns out to be part of
the group of the film’s title. However,
even that might have more meanings and even his psychiatrist’s superior (Frank
Gorshin) is not for certain what to think.
Jon Seda is also good as the cellmate who shows up to keep track of Cole
in different eras, but even his role is unusual.
screenplay by David and Janet Peoples script is thoroughly thought out, always
challenging as it is also funny, bizarre and more political than most
realize. The performances are strong all
around, including Willis, in one of the best understated performances of his
career. Stowe shows she is more than
just a pretty face and Pitt went from mere sex object to serious actor with
this film. It is easily one of the bets
Science Fiction films of the 1990s and no time travel film or TV show since has
was even a moderate hit and a consistent favorite on home video, so it is no
surprise that this is one of Universal’s early choices for the new HD-DVD
format. It is a great film and Gilliam’s
audience and fan base has only grown since then. If you like the film and have not seen it in
a while or have never seen it, what are you waiting for? I might just be a classic.
1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image was shot by cinematographer Roger Pratt,
B.S.C. and I have seen this in 35mm and never, never, never has any video
version looked as good as the film print.
Originally, there was the 12” LaserDisc, from the basic, to the boxed
set to a DTS edition that has been an audiophile favorite. When DVD came along, it was thought
anamorphic enhancement could help the Video White from going yellow. A stand-alone DTS DVD was even issued before
DTS and Dolby could share the same DVD, but the picture was not improved much.
is the HD-DVD over ten years later and there was finally hope one could see the
film look right without a film print. I
went to the scene of the first early flashback where the film white gets hotter
to signify a distant pass. In all the
previous versions, it was always too washed out, looking more like bad Super
35mm shooting than what we get here. I
thought the mistake was a low definition transfer. Well, the bad news is that this looks almost
as bad as all previous versions, except the HD reveals the extent of the flaws
and errors in the transfer. This might
be the oldest HD master in Universal’s library or close to it, because this is
do not turn yellow, yet it is as bleaching as ever. There is noise in spaces, lack of definition
in others and despite the high quality of the film, this is a disappointment
for picture up there with Goodfellas
and The Fugitive. By default, it is barely the best version of
the film on home video, but this is going to need an upgrade later when no one
will be able to really enjoy it versus so many better transfers.
mix is another matter, always an audiophile favorite and only here in Dolby Digital
Plus 5.1, but best-known as a prime DTS demo and Universal obviously knew this
by giving it those special DTS editions.
DTS should have been here as well, but this sounds about as good as
previous full-bitrate (1509kbps/20bits) original DTS at its best, though I
wonder if a Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD upgrade would help. Paul Buckmaster’s score is very memorable and
holds up well, along with the character of the sound design.
include the original theatrical trailer, great Hamster Factor documentary
that is a full-length program and not just a featurette, an archive section and
a really good early audio commentary track with Gilliam and Producer Charles
Roven. Diehard fans will note that the
old LaserDisc Signature Box Set included Chris Marker’s La Jetté, the short film made of black and white stills that this
film was based on. Needless to say it is
not included here and likely never on any future HD edition. However, these extras hold up like the film,
even when the transfer should be trashed.
- Nicholas Sheffo