SyFy’s Best Show Ever

When SyFy announced they were adapting Terry Gilliam’s much loved 12 Monkeys into a television series, fans wondered how a low-budget cable adaptation would fare without starpower from the likes of Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Or if the concept was deep enough for twelve hourly episodes per season?

Taking a few familiar elements from the movie and refining its core premise into a multi-faceted war waged across time with multiple timelines, showrunner Terry Matalas crafts one of the finest sci-fi shows ever made over four wonderful seasons.

The made-for-cable show’s underrated cast belies its depth and storytelling capability. Actor Aaron Stanford is the vagabond James Cole and actress Amanda Schull is Dr. Cassandra Railly. The two heroic lead characters must learn to rely on one another across time if they hope to stop the Army of the 12 Monkeys and their insane schemes.

Always packed with action, 12 Monkeys has incredible human drama and brilliantly fleshed out characters

Other important cast members include the always excellent Kirk Acevedo (Ramse), Emily Hampshire (Jennifer), Barbara Sukowa (Dr. Katrina Jones) and Todd Stashwick (Deacon). While not household names, they make these disparate characters come to life in memorable fashion.

Four incredible seasons build on top of one another with a difficult time-travel narrative that is slowly and skillfully unpacked. Past, present and future collide as we learn the show’s great boogeyman, The Witness, wants to stop time itself. The mysterious Red Forest is a place where time is… different.

Terribly eerie parallels with our current situation are the primary driver behind the taut thrill-ride that is 12 Monkeys. By 2043, seven billion humans have been wiped out by a viral pandemic that first started in 2013. Dr. Katrina Jones invents a time-travel machine, sending people back in a process called splintering. Hearing a fragmented recording from the past by leading CDC scientist Dr. Railly, it pinpoints a specific origin for the virus back in the 2010s.

Left with little hope in a post-apocalyptic future, Dr. Jones sends a wayward James Cole back in time. His mission is to stop the man thought responsible for unleashing this horrific virus. Dr. Railly becomes an unwitting partner for Cole in this desperate hunt.

Season one lays a solid groundwork for the show’s elaborate mythology, creating a rich and intricate tapestry in which causality and time loops are regular topics. Always packed with action, 12 Monkeys has incredible human drama and brilliantly fleshed out characters. Some shows with a solid rookie season peter out once the producers run out of ideas. Season two actually ups the ante with masterful storytelling and devastating twists, elevating a solid show into legendary status.

Emily Hampshire’s inspired performance as Jennifer is the curveball that spices up the twisting narrative, a mentally ill person receiving visions from different time periods much like Brad Pitt’s character in the movie. Her abilities are often used as a plot device but the manic performance adds an extra dimension the show otherwise lacks.

Tightly serialized, 12 Monkeys defies the problems time travel shows often develop with messy resets and cheap twists. Each season is carefully laid out with care, as shifting alliances and new villains bring fresh problems for our friends attempting to save the timeline. Hopefully the heroic few can nip the pandemic in the bud before it ever starts.

12 Monkeys is some of the most compelling sci-fi ever made for television and one of the most enjoyable shows from the last decade. Clever, fascinating and memorable with a superb cast, take a plunge into the show’s unforgettable journey.

Video

Only five years since 12 Monkeys first aired, the show’s picture quality benefits in HD from excellent production values and its consistently dark aesthetic. All four seasons are spread over eight BD-50s and encoded in AVC. That is nearly 32 hours of televised content at occasionally striking 1080P resolution.

If you are coming from the individual releases once put out by Universal, Mill Creek unfortunately had to shrink seasons one and two down to two discs each, from three in their original configurations. That isn’t a huge problem but introduces slightly more compression artifacts and banding in the darkly-lit series.

The picture quality holds up fairly well by today’s demanding video standards. There’s slight noise and a real grittiness to darker interior scenes, while maintaining bold definition and sharper details. The bleak aesthetic embraces a moodier palette with somewhat limited shadow delineation and desaturated primary colors. Flesh-tones err on the colder side of pale. Close-ups are normally razor-sharp with real depth and dimension.

12 Monkeys looks good on Blu-ray without any stand-out advantages. This isn’t reference HD material, limited by the constraints of a cable budget. It maintains a consistent contrast and steady clarity across time periods.

Dips in quality include the special effects, a mix of CGI and practical methods. The VFX are on the soft side. Minor crushing of the black levels help obscure some of their rougher edges.

Audio

12 Monkeys comes with a top-notch audio mix in full 5.1 DTS-HD MA quality. Despite being a television production, the nicely articulated surround mix is layered with depth and atmospheric cues. Action is heard with crisp, accurate bass and tight imaging. Dialogue is fluidly rendered in the dynamically mastered audio.

Clean higher frequencies and a fine midrange make for a positively delightful listening experience. The active mix is wonderfully discrete when necessary and occasionally explosive, often needed for the many battles set in the 2040s. A seamless soundstage and strong audio design work hand-in-hand for some electrifying moments.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

All four seasons of 12 Monkeys are spread over eight BD-50s. Each season itself is spread over two discs. Arriving in a larger-than-normal BD case, it comes tucked inside a slipcase. Mill Creek Entertainment has brought over all the bonus features found on the individual season sets first put out by Universal. The packaging claims the discs are coded for Region A. The only original bonus missing is the digital copy included with the season one set, which gave the entire season in HDX on VUDU.

This is a value set that economically packages together the complete broadcast series. The best special features are mostly all reserved for season two with making-of featurettes provided for each episode and four engaging cast commentaries. Deleted scenes, cast auditions, featurettes, webisodes and a few commentaries add real value for fans. The material is offered in a mix of SD and HD quality.

Disc 1:

Deleted scenes for episodes 101 (16:35 in SD), 102 (03:37 in SD) and 105 (00:25 in SD) are provided.

Disc 2:

Deleted scenes for episode 108 (03:28 in SD).

Gag Reel (03:10 in SD)

Cast Auditions – Screen tests for Amanda Schull (04:28 in SD), Barbara Sukowa (05:49 in SD), Todd Stashwick (01:36 in SD).

Emily Hampshire’s Markridge Improv Speech (01:04 in SD)

Webisodes (Upscaled SD) – Six brief snippets that help fill in a few backstory details: Self Portrait (01:59), Forty Three Minutes (01:45), Message (03:59), The Next Cycle (01:46), The Interview (02:44), and Names to Learn (02:15)

Disc 3:

Deleted scenes for episodes 201 (02:15 in SD), 202 (01:42 in SD), 203 (00:33 in SD) and 205 (01:50 in SD) are provided.

Podcast Commentaries for episodes 202 (“Primary”) and 205 (“Bodies of Water”) – Loose group chats with showrunner Terry Matalas and various cast members that are worthy listening material. Nothing earth-shattering is covered but cast members like Aaron Stanford and Emily Hampshire have a blast discussing their characters and set experiences.

Inside 12 Monkeys (HD) – All seven episodes from Season Two found on this disc receive short behind-the-scenes and making-of featurettes featuring cast and crew in interviews. None run longer than four minutes but cover a wide range of topics from characterization to special effects.

Disc 4:

Deleted scenes for episodes 210 (02:56 in SD), 211 (00:40 in SD), 213 (06:37 in SD)

Gag Reel (04:29 in HD)

Inside 12 Monkeys (HD) – The final six episodes from Season Two found on this disc receive short behind-the-scenes and making-of featurettes featuring cast and crew in interviews. None run longer than four minutes but cover a wide range of topics.

Webisodes (HD) – Included are brief asides from the 12 Monkeys mythology with “Pre-apocalyptic” (03:03), “The Traveler” (01:51), “The Witness” (01:09), “The Witness Promo” (01:18), and “Alone” (02:44).

Podcast Commentaries for episodes 212 (“Blood Washed Away”) and 213 (“Memory of Tomorrow”) – More engaging commentaries with various cast and crew members. Showrunner Terry Matalas, writer Sean Tretta, and cast members Amanda Schull, Aaron Stanford, and Emily Hampshire show up for episode 212. Episode 213’s commentary has showrunner Terry Matalas with actors Amanda Schull and Aaron Stanford.

Disc 5:

Deleted scenes are provided in HD for episode 302 (01:35, 00:45), episode 303 (00:49), episode 304 (01:57, 01:49) and episode 305 (01:30, 01:23).

Disc 6:

Alternate Opening for episode 306 (01:56 in HD)

Deleted scenes are provided in HD for episodes 307 (01:24), 309 (01:33), and 310 (01:49).

Disc 7:

Deleted Scenes in HD:

The End (02:44)

Ouroboros (01:47)

45 RPM (03:40)

Legacy (05:27)

After (06:20)

Die Glocke (02:01)

Disc 8:

Season Four Trailer (01:54 in HD)

Deleted Scenes in HD:

Daughters (05:19)

Demons (06:22)

One Minute More (01:40)

The Beginning (04:35)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

12 Monkeys
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Series

Easily one of the best television shows from the past decade, this smart and engaging time travel adventure is built around some of cable’s best characters.

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User Review
5 (1 vote)

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