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
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.
$30.099 thousand on 1 screen.
English Dolby Stereo 2.0
Runtime: 142 min.
Release Date: 9/5/2006
• Audio Commentary with Director Terry Gilliam
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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 (2006 Single-Disc Edition) (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 B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-
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. A considerable improvement over the original non-anamorphic version from 1999, this one looked pretty terrific.
At almost all times, sharpness was positive. A little edge enhancement made some wider shots a smidgen soft, but those instances cropped up infrequently. For the most part, the movie appeared distinctive and precise. I saw no problems with jagged edges or moiré effects, and source flaws were virtually non-existent. Some grain occurred, but I detected no specks, marks or other distractions.
Brazil usually went with a pretty subdued gray palette, but it managed to come to life with sporadic frequency. When it did so, the colors looked very good. They were always concise and accurate, and they showed quite nice breadth. Blacks appeared deep and firm, while shadows were clear and well-developed. All in all, I felt impressed by this transfer.
Although not as big an improvement, I thought the Dolby Stereo 2.0 audio of Brazil worked better here than on the prior DVD. 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 a little erratic, though not terribly so. Speech could seem a little thin and distant, but the lines lacked much edginess and were always intelligible. Effects fell into a similar tone. They could appear slightly rough and harsh at times, but they usually sounded reasonably accurate and full.
Actually, bass response was pretty good, and that went for the music as well. The score varied between quite rich and somewhat wan, but the music was usually positive and lively. I wouldn’t call this a terrific mix, but it was more than satisfactory.
How did the picture and audio of the 2006 DVD improve on the 1999 release? To my eyes and ears, both departments were cleaner. The audio seemed less shrill and rough, and the visuals smoothed out a lot of problems. The prior transfer suffered from a mix of source flaws and a general sense of murkiness. None of that affects the 2006 version. Across the board, it betters the presentation quality of its predecessor.
The 1999 DVD came only in one flavor: extra-large. A three-disc set, it packed in tons of extras. In 2006, fans get a choice. They can buy a new version of the three-DVD package that includes all the same extras but replaces the old non-anamorphic transfer with this fresh one. In addition, they can purchase the new anamorphic edition of the flick on its own.
Since that’s what Criterion sent me for review, I’ll concentrate on the single-disc version here. However, I’ll consider the three-DVD one when I get to my recommendations.
A few supplements appear on this one-platter Brazil. The prime attraction comes from an audio commentary with director Terry Gilliam. Originally recorded in 1996 for a laserdisc release of the film, Gilliam provides a running, screen-specific look at the film. 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 only other supplement found here comes from the package’s booklet. It features a good essay from Jack Mathews and some production and DVD credits/information. Nothing fantastic appears here, but it’s worth a look.
After more than 20 years, Brazil remains a work ahead of its time. The flick enthralls and fascinates as it presents an unusual and evocative world. The DVD presents very good picture with more than acceptable audio and extras highlighted by an excellent commentary.
Without question, I recommend Brazil - the question becomes which version to purchase. That depends. If you own no version of Brazil, I’d send you toward the new edition of the original three-DVD set. It includes all the extras from the 1999 release and replaces the non-anamorphic transfer with the new 16X9 visuals. Without question, the three-disc package is the most satisfying.
Unless you just don’t care a lot about extras, however. In that case, snag this single-DVD version. It gives you a nice rendition of the movie and you can listen to the terrific commentary if you overcome your aversion to supplements. As much as I love extras, I can understand that some may be put off by the high list price of the big set, so this one acts as a nice compromise.
The single-disc edition is also the perfect choice for fans who already own the prior three-DVD set. They can simply replace DVD One from that package with this disc and have the best of all worlds. Anyway you look at it, Brazil is a treasure that you should pick up ASAP.
To rate this film visit the original Three-Disc Criterion Collection review of BRAZIL