Adapting a movie to work as a television show can be a tricky situation. There is often the belief that a television show will never be able to capture the magic of the film. Every so often you have a network try to churn out something that completely misses the mark, like the failed CBS adaptation of Rush Hour. But, against conventional wisdom, several of our greatest shows have been derived from feature films. Shows such as Friday Night Lights, Bates Motel, Fargo, and even MASH have proven that, under the right creative circumstances, these adaptations can truly bring something new to the franchise. When the word came down that Syfy was looking to adapt Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi favorite 12 Monkeys for the small screen, fans were understandably concerned. The Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt starring film ranks among the best time travel films of our time, and it was difficult to imagine how it could be improved upon. Thankfully, this new version of 12 Monkeys followed in the footsteps of some of the aforementioned series to deliver one of the most satisfying science-fiction narratives in recent memory.
As is typical in my season or series reviews, the following paragraphs will mostly avoid spoilers to preserve the narrative impact of the series. In the beginning, 12 Monkeys follows what transpired in the film version of the narrative in a more fleshed out manner. In an almost too-relevant development, the Earth of our future has been ravaged by a deadly virus and has nearly eradicated the human race from existence. In the year 2043, James Cole (Aaron Stanford, X-Men series) has been recruited by a small group of scientists to travel back in time to 2015 help prevent the release of the virus before it ever happens. In 2015, he will have to find and convince a brilliant virologist, Dr. Cassandra “Cassie” Railly (Amanda Schull) to help him prevent this world-changing event. Cole will also encounter a gender-flipped version of the Brad Pitt character from the film, an unstable math genius named Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), whose father is believed to be responsible for the virus. Their twisted path eventually leads them on a mission to take down a secretive organization known only as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.
The first season of the show is pretty damn solid, but it would soon become apparent that they had only just scratched the surface of their creative prowess. From the second season to the end, the show took the foundation that it had laid out and went on a journey filled with philosophical ruminations, mind-boggling time travel tales, bold narrative twists, and heart wrenching character choices. In some of the most beautiful storytelling that I have seen, the show pays off narrative threads that you may have not even realized had been planted seasons before. When dealing with time travel, things can often get convoluted and illogical within the context of the rules established in the world. It can be a lot to process, at times, but 12 Monkeys nearly always respected their own mythology that they established early on while still delivering breathtaking story arcs. It may not be a show you can watch oh so casually, but the time you invest in this show will pay off mightily once you find yourself in puddle of emotion at the end.
From a narrative perspective, the show is pretty much beyond reproach. A well thought out story is at times a rare animal, but rarer still is when you marry that with a technical prowess that is equally matched. This is a show that stretched every dollar of their cable channel budget to give the show a large-scale canvas on which to execute its vision. The special effects on this show are absolutely wonderful, and the cinematography lovingly transports you to these worlds with its beauty. They had some amazingly talented directors on this show that kept the show cohesive and energetic while making sure all of the other elements were firing on all cylinders. The first few episodes of the first season had me doubting the strength of some of the actors, but it did not take long for them to lock into their characters and tap into a depth of emotion I would have never imagined. There are so many characters and situations which I am completely omitting to preserve some of the mystery, but those who take a chance on the show will be treated to one of the most surprisingly great television shows to come out of the last decade.
12 Monkeys: The Complete Series arrives on Blu-Ray courtesy of Mill Creek Entertainment with a pleasing AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. Universal Studio previously released these seasons individually, but I only owned the first two to compare to this release. For the first two seasons, Mill Creek downsized the 3-Disc Universal sets to two discs for each of these seasons. The resulting image is largely comparable with some slight compression artifacts visible at times on the Mill Creek release. The third and fourth seasons have a little more room to breathe, as they have less episodes per season. It can only be assumed that these would offer up very little difference from the Universal 2-disc sets. The video quality may be slightly better on the first two seasons with Universal, but the Mill Creek set is still quite lovely and has an amazing price point almost equal to purchasing season three or four individually.
The levels of detail this presentation is able provide does the show a great service, as subtle features in the production design are easily identifiable. The color palette runs on the cooler side with a focus on blues and greys, but there are some instances of beautiful colors popping off the screen, especially some eye-popping uses of red that are important to the narrative. Black levels are fairly deep and give way to a nice amount of detail in shadows. Skin tones appear natural across the entire cast. As previously mentioned, there are instances of digital noise and compression artifacts detectable here, but it is nothing that ruins the show. This would be an amazing show to receive a 4K UHD presentation, but the Blu-Ray is quite strong as it brings a meticulously crafted series to life in a pleasing manner.
This Blu-Ray comes with an incredibly active DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that creates a truly enveloping world. The tone of the series is set by a moody, sinister theme that permeates the room in a rich manner. The effect is extremely satisfying and gives the soundtrack a nice foundation from which to build. Dialogue always come through crisp and clear without being stepped on by the various, bombastic sound effects at work. Action sequences and more kinetic moments are given the appropriate power in the mix with a forceful showing in the low end. Ambient sounds are also precisely placed in the rear channels. The audio presentation here is fantastic on all levels.
- Deleted Scenes: Nearly twenty-one minutes of deleted or extended scenes from three episodes which include a more-involved beginning to the series, more sinister scenes with Leland, additional scenes in the psychiatric ward and more. The majority of these scenes come from the first episode, which they streamlined to make more mysterious.
- Deleted Scenes: Nearly four-minutes of deleted scenes from episode eight which include an additional scene with Col. Jonathan Foster (Xander Berkeley) and Katarina.
- Gag Reel: Three minutes of flubbed lines, silly antics on set, crew members interrupting shots and more. Always one of my favorite features.
- Cast Auditions: Twelve-minutes of audition footage from some of the key members of the series.
- Emily Hampshire – Markridge Improv Speech: A minute-long unscripted speech from the character of Jennifer Goines while making an impassioned presentation.
- Webisodes: Six episodes totaling fifteen-minutes featuring fleshed out scenes with Jennifer Goines, among other narrative threads. One of the webisodes is taken from the block of deleted scenes on the first disc.
- Deleted Scenes: Six minutes of deleted scenes from four episodes which include an additional sequence of scenes with speed-dating Dale, additional moments with Jennifer and more.
- Podcast Commentary
- 202 – Primary: Executive Producer/Showrunner Terry Matalas, Writer Sean Tretta, and Actors Aaron Stanford and Emily Hampshire point out Easter Eggs, provide some really interesting insights in crafting the episode and more.
- 205 – Bodies of Water: Executive Producer/Showrunner Terry Matalas and Actors Amanda Schull, Todd Stashwick, and Emily Hampshire breakdown the episode, even though some of the actors have never seen the episode previously. They have some funny anecdotes involving the tortoise, among other things.
- Inside 12 Monkeys: Every episode on the disc is provided with a look inside the episode with the cast and crew, typically running about four minutes in length. There are a lot of interesting tidbits in each segment, so it’s worth checking out before putting in the next disc.
- Deleted Scenes: Ten minutes of deleted scenes from three episodes which include some really touching scenes between Cassie and Cole, among other threads.
- Podcast Commentary
- 212 – Blood Washed Away: Executive Producer/Showrunner Terry Matalas, Writer Sean Tretta, and Actors Amanda Schull, Aaron Stanford, and Emily Hampshire break down the penultimate episode of the season including the costume and production design, experiences working with guest actors and more.
- 213 – Memory of Tomorrow: Executive Producer/Showrunner Terry Matalas and Actors Amanda Schull and Aaron Stanford discuss the finale and how they were worried about pulling off the challenging shakeup of the show, experiences with kissing and more.
- Gag Reel: Four-and-a-half minutes of unusable takes thanks to minor injuries, giggle fits, general goofing around and more. Lots of laughs here!
- Inside 12 Monkeys: The remaining episodes of the season are provided with their own analysis by the cast and crew to enjoy after you are done with the season.
- Webisodes: Five episodes totaling ten-minutes are included here that have additional moments with Jennifer antagonizing a group of strangers, some creepy moments with The Witness and more.
- Deleted Scenes: Seven deleted scenes from four episodes totaling ten minutes are included here which features moments with Cole and Katarina in Paris, a foiled kidnapping and more.
- Alternate Opening: An alternate opening is provide for episode 306, which features a graveside sermon from Zalmon Shaw (Christopher Lloyd).
- Deleted Scenes: Three deleted scenes from as many episodes totaling five minutes are included here featuring more scenes focused on Athan.
- Deleted Scenes: Six episodes worth of deleted scenes totaling 22-minutes are included here featuring an additional confrontation with The Witness, fun times with Jennifer, more villainous Tom Noonan goodness and more. You can see that the writers had a lot they wanted to include as they were nearing the end.
- Deleted Scenes: Four episodes worth of deleted scenes totaling 18-minutes are included here featuring additional time with Hannah, planning the last stand against the Army of the 12 Monkeys and more.
- Season 4 Trailer: An exciting two-minute trailer that proves to be a very effective tease to the explosive final season.
12 Monkeys is a show that could have easily fallen apart under the weight of its own big ideas. Thankfully, the creative team was powerful enough to craft an immensely compelling, intricate narrative that had huge intellectual and emotional payoff in the end. Mill Creek Home Entertainment has bundled together all four seasons on Blu-Ray at a more than reasonable price while maintaining more than satisfactory A/V quality and pretty much all of the special features from the previous releases. Do not miss your chance to own one of the most innovative, satisfying series to come to television in some time. Highly Recommended
12 Monkeys: The Complete Series is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Mill Creek Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.