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Terry Gilliam
Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan, Kim Greist, Jim Broadbent, Barbara Hicks, Charles McKeown
Writing Credits:
Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown

It's only a state of mind.

In this darkly comic view of the coming future, bureaucratic cog Sam Lowry dreams of escaping the totalitarian machine that society has become. He fantasizes about joining a beautiful woman flying through the clouds, far away from this world. One day he glimpses a female truck driver who resembles his fantasy and he attempts to win her love - but he ends up being dragged into the underworld of antigovernment terrorists and radicals. Terry Gilliam's vision, both expensive and expansive, resulted in a battle with studio executives over the lack of commercial potential of the darkly humorous, but often grim, material that was reedited for theatrical release without the director's approval.

Box Office:
$15 million.
Opening Weekend
$30.099 thousand on 1 screen.
Domestic Gross
$265.365 thousand.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.78:1
English Dolby Stereo 2.0

Runtime: 142 min.
Price: $59.95
Release Date: 7/13/1999

• Audio Commentary With Director Terry Gilliam
• 94-minute Love Conquers All Version of Brazil
• Audio Commentary by Journalist David Morgan for Love Conquers All Version
• “What is Brazil?” Documentary
• “The Battle of Brazil: A Video History” Documentary
• Storyboards, Drawings, and Stills
• Behind-the-scenes Footage
• Video Interviews with the Production Team
• Theatrical Trailer
• Booklet


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Brazil: Criterion Collection (1985)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 24, 2006)

Hype can be a terrible thing. How often have your expectations been built up by all of the hot advance word about a movie but it turned out to be less than scintillating? If you're like me, this probably happens pretty frequently.

One example from the past: Brazil. I rented that sucker on VHS back in the mid-1980s because it had received such great critical acclaim: best movie of 1985, proclaimed the Los Angeles Film Critics! When I watched it, however, I didn't think much of it. It seemed mildly interesting and entertaining, but nothing special.

However, since I'm not infallible - the truth can now be told! - I thought I'd give the movie another try after all these years. After all, it's been about 20 years – many things have changed in that period. Still, I didn’t expect a whole lot from the flick.

Happily, I needn't have worried. Brazil turns out to be a simply marvelous, dazzling movie that entertains and astonishes from start to finish. Short review? "Wow! What a flick!"

Director Terry Gilliam creates a singular vision with this work. As with the best films, Brazil offers a fluid piece that leaves itself open to differing sorts of interpretation; your view of it may not much resemble that of mine, but neither is necessarily correct. That openness even extends to the movie's title; never is it made even remotely clear why the film's called Brazil.

My take on it? I think it partly has to do with the light fantasy nature of the song “Brazil” that's used throughout the movie. For one, the song offers counterpoint to the heaviness of the onscreen action, but it also reflects the fantasies of our protagonist, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce). He dreams of a life away from the humdrum dullness of his world's bureaucratic reality, and the perky romance of the tune reflects that.

I also couldn't help but think that the title reflects the fascism inherent in the film. This unnamed society is as fascistic as they get, and it seemed to me that it depicted some sort of alternate reality in which the Nazis won. Since South America was a noted haven for fleeing Nazis, Brazil the country makes sense from that point of view. Of course, it's never clear where the movie's supposed to take place, and I'm not saying that it's supposed to be in Brazil, but that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it!

Even without that possible stretch, the fascist nature of this society is undeniable. The government is all-powerful, but not very well run, unfortunately. Not that anyone ever admits that, however. Mistakes are made, things break down, but the buck always gets passed; no one can actually recognize their flaws, for belief in a perfect system is absolute. In Brazil, paperwork is king, and nothing can occur without it. It's a government of the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats; the people be damned. The whole story basically revolves around a paperwork mistake that no one will acknowledge, so lives are ruined due to bureaucratic inefficiency.

Brazil presents a very quirky world but not in a gratuitous manner. I never felt that Gilliam added cheap jokes or silly sights just for their own sake; all of the humor and oddness seemed very well-integrated into the film's world. That's a tremendously important point, for if you don't accept this environment as it is, you will have a much harder time connecting to the story.

Gilliam can hammer viewers over the head with his points, but that's rarely the case in Brazil. As I mentioned earlier, much of the delight of the film stems from the fact that so much of it is open to interpretation. Key point: the government bases many of their restrictions on the idea that terrorists are constantly threatening the system and the safety of its citizens. However, it's never even vaguely obvious whether or not there are any terrorists. There might be, or the incidents may be the work of various layers of government agents who got lost in the system and aren't sure which side they're on anymore, or the destruction might just be more examples of things breaking down. Who knows? Not the viewer, and probably not even the government; it's so lost in its bureaucratic morass that it doesn't have the slightest clue what's really happening.

On a similar note, one other merit of Brazil is that it's not in the least bit predictable. I rarely had much of an idea where it would go and what would happen next; it kept me guessing pretty much from start to finish. However, this is not to say that it’s jumbled or confused. On the contrary, I think it flows logically and sensibly, and I never felt lost or disoriented. The film maintains a strong pace and it keeps the viewer firmly involved and interested in its story. Brazil remain strong; I didn't think any of the effects appeared cheesy or phony, something that's not the case for Gilliam's previous film, Time Bandits. In addition to the wonderful production design and Gilliam's' solid direction, the acting really shines here. Jonathan Pryce absolutely nails his role as Sam. He manages to convey all of Sam's faults and contradictions without making him seem too weak; Sam comes across as a very accurate portrait of the kind of person he should be, given the circumstances. Pryce also shows that he's a terrific physical actor, especially when he offers comic bits like trying to eat a soggy piece of toast or hitting his head on the roof of his refrigerator; he's a constant delight to watch and he truly helps make Brazil special.

As do the remainder of the stellar cast. Name-wise, Robert De Niro is the most prominent actor among the other actors as he performs a bit part as super-electrician Harry Tuttle. He's a treat, as he displays a comic spryness that lacks in his more serious roles. Really, it's hard for me to sort through the supporting actors and isolate any because they're all so good; almost everyone - down to Gilliam's daughter Holly as a three-year-old child of torturer Jack Lint (Michael Palin) - portrays their characters fantastically. If I had to find a weak link, it'd probably be Kim Greist as Jill, but that's mostly because of my own personal preference in women; Greist does a solid turn and is really very good, but I didn't find her to be good-looking enough to be a "dream girl." Objectively, however, she's just fine.

At the risk of sounding too exuberant, discovering Brazil after all this time makes me feel like I've found some sort of lost treasure. This is a film that can be watched and rewatched and retain most of its appeal; additional viewings are sure to reveal hidden nuances. Brazil is the sort of movie that you tout to all your friends, and which you then scream at them if they didn't also think it was brilliant. It's a masterpiece, plain and simple.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus A

Brazil appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture was watchable but not special.

Sharpness was usually solid. At times the movie came across as a little soft, and some minor edge enhancement added to this. Nonetheless, I found the material to come across as acceptably concise most of the time. Some jagged edges and light shimmering were observed, and a moderate mix of source flaws occurred. The image tended to be a bit grainy, and I also saw occasional examples of specks, blotches, grit and marks. The movie wasn’t overly dirty, but it seemed messier than I’d like.

Brazil usually went with a pretty subdued gray palette. In general, the colors looked fine within those parameters, though they occasionally could be a little flat and drab. Blacks were pretty deep and firm, while shadows usually followed suit. Low-light shots did look a bit murky and thick at times, though. This ended up as a fairly average transfer.

In addition, the Dolby Stereo 2.0 audio of Brazil displayed a mix of good and bad. The soundfield opened up matters to a positive degree. The forward channels dominated as they depicted good stereo music and a nice sense of life to the various settings. Elements meshed together well and moved smoothly. Dialogue occasionally bled from the center to the sides, but that wasn’t a big concern.

For the most part, the surrounds reinforced the forward speakers. They did so well, as they brought out a good feeling for the environments. They occasionally added a little more than that; some of the busier sequences seemed pretty involving. I wouldn’t call this an especially active mix, but it was above average in that regard given the age of the film.

Audio quality was the weaker link. Speech was fine for the most part, as the lines sounded acceptably concise and crisp. Effects were less acceptable. The louder elements tended to be somewhat harsh and metallic, and too much reverb marred them. The effects also showed examples of distortion. Music was decent but could have been more robust. Bass tended to sound a bit boomy in general. This was an acceptable mix but not a terribly good one.

Now for the heart of the package: the scads of supplemental materials included. Most intriguing of the bunch is the alternate cut of the film, titled the Love Conquers All version. Basic history: the folks at Universal weren't too keen on the version of the film Gilliam initially handed to them, and they wanted cuts. Gilliam refused, and a battle ensued. At one point, Universal executives decided to hire some editors to redo it, and this is what they produced, a version of Brazil that focuses on the romantic aspects of the story and provides it with a stereotypical happy ending.

This edit of the movie has received virtually universal condemnation, and I agree that it doesn't compare to Gilliam's version. To be frank, it didn't seem that bad to me, but I think that's because I saw it so soon after I'd watched the longer cut (the next day, actually); I couldn't fully appreciate the cuts because I mentally filled them in with what I knew from the definitive version. Anyway, it unquestionably changes the entire tone of the film and is valuable mainly as a historical curiosity; I might watch it again at some point, but I might not.

The Love Conquers All version of Brazil is presented full frame with a Dolby Pro Logic mix. Picture quality is generally comparable with the long cut of the film, though more print flaws are visible and it seems a bit flatter; it's clear that the same level of care was not given to mastering it. The full frame nature of the presentation actually doesn't seem to be a problem; I didn't see any "pan and scan" issues that were distracting. Still, since this cut's such a mess anyway, it wouldn't really matter if they did. The image looks decent but not outstanding, and not quite as good as the presentation of the "Final" film.

Ironically, the audio mix of the Love Conquers All version is more acceptable to me. It's not as aggressive, so it's not as harsh and shrill. While it lacks most of the flaws of the "Final" cut's sound, it also does not include the benefits; overall, it come across as somewhat flat and muted. Still, I found it to be generally more listenable than the other mix, if just because I wasn't overwhelmed by the poor-quality surrounds. One definite negative, though: lots of poorly dubbed dialogue! This mix was issued for TV presentation, so most profanity has been altered, and altered badly. Also, occasional extra dialogue appears, and it has also been added poorly.

The Brazil DVD set includes two separate audio commentaries. The better of these accompanies the "Final" cut of the film and comes from director Terry Gilliam. The director covers… well, pretty much everything. Gilliam discusses themes, inspirations and influences, sets, costumes and props, locations and the movie’s look, visual effects and cinematography, changes among the various versions and permutations of the script, cast and performances, and a host of other useful topics.

The only minor negative I can attach to the commentary comes from Gilliam’s ego. He can come across as a bit full of himself at times. Nonetheless, I don’t see this as an issue, especially since he proves so informative and engaging. Gilliam gives us an excellent snapshot of the production in this lively and rich commentary.

The second commentary comes from journalist David Morgan and accompanies the Love Conquers All version. Whereas Gilliam tried to discuss the making of the film and his thoughts, Morgan essentially summarizes the differences found in this cut. It's too brief - there are quite a few blank spots – but Morgan does a good job of telling us what changed and how it altered the content and messages of the movie. I found this to be very helpful, since I hadn't clearly noticed many of the differences. It's not as much fun as Gilliam's track, but it definitely is worth a listen.

Okay, so that sums up DVDs One and Three; what about number Two? It's exclusively dedicated to supplemental materials, with loads of both print and video materials. It includes two separate documentary programs. The first, called What is Brazil?, runs for about 29 minutes. It was produced around the time of the film's 1985 release, and it provides a good but rudimentary look at the background and making of the film. It's not a great program, but as promotional pieces go, it's pretty good and it added some interesting information about the movie.

The second documentary was created for the 1996 issue of the Criterion laserdisc set. It's called The Battle of Brazil: a Video History. Hosted by film journalist Jack Mathews, it details the sad and sordid history of the fight that surrounded the release of the movie. All of the key players are present, whether through then-new interviews or via archival audio conversations. It's quite interesting and informative and it does a nice job of offering the basic story about all of the problems the release of Brazil encountered; that conflict is a story within a story, and gives a fascinating account of the way the movie industry works. (Mathews wrote a book about the struggle, also called The Battle of Brazil. It’s an excellent source of information.)

In addition to these programs, about 25 minutes of additional video footage can be found within the various sections of the second DVD. Within the Script Development part, we find about nine minutes of interviews with co-writers Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown. As is the case throughout this set, all participants are frank and upfront about the process through which they went, and these interviews are very interesting. Another interview is presented during the Score section; composer Michael Kamen discussed his contributions here with some pretty informative comments in ten minutes of interviews and narration.

More video footage can be found during the Costume Design portion. Costume designer James Acheson narrates some photos and drawings of the material for the film; the audio/visual part of this section runs for about five minutes and adds some helpful information. Finally, about two minutes of rough effects footage appears during the Special Effects section. One 90 second segment shows "behind the scenes" shots of the "flying" portions, and narration from editor/photographer/effects supervisor Julian Doyle accompanies this part. It's okay; while I liked seeing the raw footage, Doyle's comments mainly reprise quotes we just read, so at least one part of this segment was redundant. The remainder of the video material shows about 30 seconds of the "Forces of Darkness" characters. I thought this part was pretty dull and would skip it next time through the disc.

(Note: many extra video clips can also be found within these and other sections of DVD 2, but since they all show clips from the movie itself, I didn't think it was necessary - or even worthwhile - to detail them. They are in there, however!)

No, I'm not done yet. While much of DVD 2 includes these video segments, probably most of your time with it will be spent reading text materials. In addition to the four sections I already discussed in regard to their video components, we get these: "Storyboards for Fantasy Sequences," "Production Design," and "Production and Publicity Stills." All seven areas include scads of text and images, and they all add to the experience. The "Script Development" portion is easily the most compelling of the bunch, whereas "Special Effects" probably contributed the least, but all seven are informative and useful.

Finally, DVD 2 includes the theatrical trailer for Brazil. The keepcase for DVD 1 also offers a nice booklet that features a good essay from Jack Mathews and some production and DVD credits/information. Nothing fantastic in either area, but just a little bit more fun.

Despite all these riches, I must admit that I found two things missing. First, I would have liked to have heard a more detailed description of the different cuts of Brazil. We see both the "Final" cut and the Love Conquers All cut and hear much about them, but there's very little mention of the original 131 minute US version of the film. I guess that's the one I saw on video way back when, and I would have liked to have learned more about how it differed from the longer cut. Also, I would have enjoyed some deleted scenes. These seem to exist, but we see no additional footage other than the raw materials in the "Special Effects" section. Cut scenes are a frequent addition to DVD or laserdisc special editions, so their exclusion here is surprising.

However, I'm just picking a few nits, because overall, the Criterion edition of Brazil is an absolute treasure. The movie itself is a treasure, and the set comes packed with excellent supplements. Unfortunately, picture and audio are inconsistent, though the film always remains acceptable in both areas. Despite those weaknesses, there’s more than enough here to merit my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5714 Stars Number of Votes: 35
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