Given the recent news of accomplished actor Bruce Willis’s failing cognitive health, watching a film like 12 Monkeys is a tad bittersweet. On the one hand, we’ll never get a stirring performance like this again; on the other, his works, especially the incredible series of films from the ‘90s, are all captured on celluloid to be revisited as often as we like. In the case of 12 Monkeys, the options of revisiting just increased by an additional format thanks to a 4K UHD remaster from Arrow Video. This marks the third recent reissue of the film from Arrow: the first in 2018 on Blu-ray, the second in 2021 with a limited edition steelbook, and now on 4K UHD. Like the prior two releases, the 4K UHD includes the same on-disc bonus materials; however, all first-pressings of the 4K UHD include a newly designed booklet from the 2021 edition, though the essays are the same. With options galore on how to revisit the sci-fi thriller from 1995, it really comes down to which edition satisfies you best.
Adapted from the 1962 French short film La Jetée by Chris Marker, director Terry Gilliam’s (The Man Who Killed Don Quixote) 12 Monkeys follows James Cole (Willis), a man from a future Earth destroyed by a virus, who is sent back in time to gather information as to the source of the virus. Rather than being a simple transfer from one moment in time to another, Cole is dropped in a variety of periods, one of which results in him being admitted to a mental institution where he meets Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), who he tries to convince that he’s not crazy. Who would believe such a story, except she reluctantly begins to after pieces of evidence surface that start to support Cole’s claims. But will it be in time?
If you’d like to know my thoughts on 12 Monkeys as a film or the bonus materials, please head over to the 2021 steelbook home release review. Moving forward, this will primarily focus on what’s new.
According to the liner notes, the restoration for the 4K UHD edition was created by the converting the original 35mm camera negative into 4K 16 bit resolution before restoring it in 4K and grading it with HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Arrow Video’s prior Blu-ray master served as the basis for the primary reference SDR grade, which was supervised by Gilliam. What does this all mean? That in addition to using the original 35mm camera negative, the look of the 4K UHD remaster was graded against the materials Arrow already possessed. Therefore, if you owned either of the prior Blu-ray releases from Arrow, the base materials of that edition served as the starting point for adjusting the colors of the 4K UHD edition. Personally, I liked the look of the Blu-ray and the 4K UHD is certainly a step up. There’s still a persistent hazy grain across the film, particularly in the past sequences, but that seems to be intentional and part of the original visual language of the film. Though that is immediately noticeable, the close-ups are particularly clear, the colors more natural in tone. Where the HDR10 and Dolby Vision really make the difference are in the present timeline (or future, depending on your perspective), which lack much of the grain and whose environment benefits from the deeper blacks and sharper colors. This is about as close to the ideal version Gilliam wanted for the cinema as it gets.
This restoration will likely interest die-hard fans of the film (or Gilliam’s work), but I can confidently say the edition doesn’t offer much to warrant jumping formats. As mentioned, the on-disc bonus features are entirely the same and the booklet contains the same essays as the steelbook edition. The biggest difference between the two booklets is the cover art and the various film stills placed around the essays. With too little new offered, it’ll come down to whether or not the upgraded format is worth spending the coin.
One side thing worth noting that I discovered doing prep work for this home release review is an issue that both the Arrow Video Blu-rays and this 4K UHD release have in common: some scenes are out of order or reproduced. It seems that the sequence in which Cole is interrogated by the people who sent him to the past after his first visit is different on the original Universal Blu-ray release versus the Arrow Video releases. As the 4K UHD edition uses the Arrow Blu-ray as part of the restoration process, it’s odd that this would occur. But it has and it’s done on a version that Gilliam himself supervised and approved, so the adjustment may be intentional.
That said, if you don’t own the film at all or truly just want the best version possible to enjoy, the 4K UHD restoration will scratch that particular itch. The film itself still holds up in a lot of ways — conceptually, ideologically, and from a performance and production standpoint — so one would not go wrong snagging any of the editions just to explore the film further. The question just becomes which flavor you want it in: regular Blu-ray, limited edition steelbook Blu-ray, or the newly released 4K UHD.
12 Monkeys 4K UHD Special Features
- Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative by Arrow Films, approved by director Terry Gilliam
- 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray™ presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
- Lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 stereo soundtracks
- First Pressing Only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Nathan Rabin and Ian Christie
12 Monkeys Legacy Special Features
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- 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) (1:27:35)
- The Film Exchange with Terry Gilliam, a 1996 interview with Gilliam and film critic Jonathan Romney, recorded at the London Film Festival (23:51)
- Appreciation by Ian Christie, author of Gilliam on Gilliam (16:12)
- The Twelve Monkeys Archives
- Theatrical trailer
Available in 4K UHD Blu-ray April 26th, 2022.
To purchase a copy, head to MVD Entertainment Group.
For more information, head to the official Arrow Video 12 Monkeys webpage.