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12 Monkeys (1995) – DVD Review

12 Monkeys DVD cover art


Written by David Webb Peoples & Janet Peoples, based on the film “La Jetée” by Chris Marker
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer, Frank Gorshin


  • Running audio commentary by director Gilliam and producer Charles Roven
  • “The Hamster Factor” making-of docu
  • Production notes
  • Photo and artwork gallery
  • Trailer

Released by: Universal.
Rating: R.
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Buy it if you don’t have it already.

[ad#longpost]It’s the future. And mankind is fucked. Driven underground by a massive pandemic which killed off…well, virtually everybody…humanity’s last hope may lie with Cole (Willis). A group of scientists decides to send him into the past to try and track down the mysterious source of the outbreak, so that perhaps something can be done to reclaim the outside world. However, things are never quite that simple, are they? In the past, he meets a psychiatrist (Stowe) who’s convinced he’s delusional and the son of a scientist (Pitt) who most certainly is delusional. Cole might be able to make sense of everything that was happening to him, but those crazy dreams he has certainly aren’t helping…

This film is a wonderful mindfuck. Not a mindgrope, even. It just weaves together a story that could potentially go either way: is Cole really a refugee from the future sent back to save us? Or is a nutjob who’s creating the whole thing in his mind? Willis gives an incredible performance that, for the time that this premiered, was a helluva departure for the star of Die Hard. Pitt, as well, was better known for Legends of the Fall–so he cropped his own hair, worked on his speech patterns, and gave himself a lazy eye. And we’ve liked the guy ever since. And Stowe, hapless “straight man” to all of these loonies, is given the unenviable task of having to be normal in a maelstrom of WTF, but pulls it off quite well.

The movie’s just a feast and that’s due to the visual storytelling mayhem of Gilliam and the fine script by the pair of Peoples. The film bears watching multiple times to catch everything that’s going on and, honestly, isn’t for stupid people. More on that in a moment. The way they took sites of magnificent urban decay and transformed them into the decaying future in 2035 is fascinating, and the tale of how a scene went from Cole on a gurney to a huge production number is priceless. The film is a lot of things: sci-fi, thriller, drama, and tragedy…and all of them work. It’s a significant rarity, especially in this day and age where the studios only understand sci-fi, for the most part, if shit is blowing up.

Bruce Willis from 12 Monkeys
Bruce Willis as Cole

This edition is almost identical to the last DVD version that Universal released, except for the fact that, as I understand it, the film itself has been digitally remastered. All the features are the same. But, since I didn’t have the opportunity to review them last time, sit your butt back down. First up, there’s the commentary by Gilliam and producer Roven, and it’s a damn good one. Amazingly, even though the docu we’ll talk about in a second is pretty much feature-length by itself, there’s very little in the way of boring overlap between the two. I say boring overlap because some stories, like how Young Cole was recast past the last second and the relationship between the producer and director, appear both places, the way they’re handled and the sheer amount of information never make you feel like you’ve completely been there and completely down that.

“The Hamster Factor” is the other significant piece on the DVD, and this is an incredible bit of work. From basically start to finish, camera crews follow and document the process of making the film. From the casting to script work to shooting and then, finally, the painful screenings for audiences where people overall either didn’t get the film or didn’t know how to work the sheets they were asked to fill out. Mr. Peoples brings up the example of Airplane!…basically no one knew what to do with the film, its preview scores sucked, but it was a huge hit. Still is. And eventually the same thing happens here. The film was a success…but the pain and anguish felt by the crew running the ship as they realize that they’re not getting the numbers they think they should be (“They hate the movie we’ve made,” I believe is something Gilliam says at one point to a room of stunned and silent listeners). Great stuff.

Terry Gilliam from 12 Monkeys
Terry Gilliam reenacts the poster for Pink Floyd: The Wall

There’s the trailer, some production notes (i.e. copy from a press release), and a rather extensive photo gallery. But that’s it. Since it’s been ten years now, there’s always some other stuff we could wish for. A short retrospective (“Hamster Factor 2”?) would be nice, to talk with everybody a decade down the line and see where they are. Gilliam’s still struggling with things (Lost in La Mancha, anyone? Good Omens, anyone?) and it would be cool to hear an interview in light of what we saw in the big docu. Maybe later.

Basically, if you already own the DVD that came out previously with these extras, unless you’ve got a Super Mongo Home Theatre, I doubt you would see any difference. It looks nice, sure, but nice enough to re-buy? Nah. Run with what you have. But if you didn’t grab it last time around, there’s no shame in picking it up now. Is worthy.

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