MOVIE: ****1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5)
Bruce Willis as JAMES COLE
Madeleine Stowe as KATHRYN RAILLY
Brad Pitt as JEFFREY GOINES
Christopher Plummer as DR. GOINES
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
BY KEVIN CARR
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
James Cole (Bruce Willis) lives in the future – the year 2035, to be exact – after a deadly virus has wiped out most of the world’s population. The scientists of the day are sending him back to the year 1996 to bring back an unmutated strain of the virus. However, science is not an exact science, and he jumps around in the early-to-mid 1990s, encountering Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), a beautiful scientist who original is his psychiatric doctor but soon believes him. He also runs into Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), the radical sociopath who is said to have released the virus with his Army of the 12 Monkeys.
WHAT I LIKED
Since its release, I have seen “12 Monkeys” several times, and each time the film has gotten better and better. “12 Monkeys” is speculative fiction at its best in that it doesn’t just trifle with science fiction concepts, but rather tells a grander story with characters and world disasters. It is both subtle and blatant. Just when you think the film is ready to hit on political buttons, its switches into something else.
What is so incredible about “12 Monkeys” is its ability to tell a terrifyingly realistic story with some of the most fantastic elements imaginable. It doesn’t overextend itself into its own technology but rather uses the audience’s minds to fill in the gaps.
At the core of “12 Monkeys,” even deeper than its fascinating story of a future apocalypse, is its characters. Bruce Willis shows some serious acting chops by playing a tortured soul that is more than just a facet of John McLane from “Die Hard.” Opposite him is Medeleine Stowe, who is able to bridge the gap between strong, professional woman and the damsel in distress.
Of course, the most notable acting performance comes from Brad Pitt as the would-be eco-terrorist. This was definitely a breakthrough role for him, showing the world he could act outside of his type and that he wasn’t just another pretty face.
The stars aligned for “12 Monkeys,” allowing temperamental and sometimes self-destructive director Terry Gilliam to work with a studio budget and deliver a studio film but bring all the intelligence and brilliance that he has to the table. Gilliam has yet again to reach the greatness he did with “12 Monkeys,” but that’s simply because this film is such a classic.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
When I was younger, I might have criticized “12 Monkeys” for its twisting of the time travel genre. However, after adding a dozen or more years to my moviegoing experience and getting a dozen or more years older, I have come to appreciate this movie more than I did when it first came out. So, kudos Terry Gilliam. If only your second follow-up had not been “The Brothers Grimm.”
The features on the Blu-ray are not different from the previous DVD release, though they all seem to be intact at least. There’s a feature commentary with Gilliam and his producer, Charles Roven, along with an archive of “12 Monkeys” marketing and production material.
However, the most interesting piece of bonus material is the feature-length documentary “The Hamster Factor & Other Tales of 12 Monkeys.” This film-outside-of-a-film gives the viewer a ground-zero view of “12 Monkeys” as it was developed, shot and marketed. You get to see Gilliam in his bravely unwashed mode, filled with nerves and angst as the studio had very little confidence behind him. You also get to see how Gilliam operates under pressure and a possible explanation as to why his films take on a life of their own (which results from an incident that gave the documentary its title).
Finally, the Blu-ray disc can connect you with the BD-Live Center for Universal Pictures, where you can share scenes, watch trailers and see additional bonus content.
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Fans of speculative fiction and anyone who wants a new twist on the tired time-travel plot.