Plot: What’s it about?
Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is just a cog in the machine of his world, no real purpose and no real future either. His work consists of endless piles of paperwork and no real chance to be efficient, which leaves him to live a dull overall existence. Even in his personal life he has little luck, as his mother (Katherine Helmond) pushes him to advance in his work and it seems his problems never cease, this time it is his heating unit within his home. After a lot of needless work, he is able to make a repair appointment and soon, Harry Tuttle (Robert Deniro) shows up to tackle his troubles away. But Tuttle isn’t the real engineer sent to deal with the issue, he is a freelance and blacklisted worker, who hates paperwork more than anyone. Sam and Harry have to hide when the real engineers arrive, but they manage to evade detection thanks to the lack of a vital document. Soon, Sam notices a small error on some paperwork, which leads to an innocent man’s death. As Sam tries to correct this mistake, he runs into the woman he sees in his dreams, which is the only place he seems to be truly happy. Even though the powers that be forbid behavior of that sort, Sam sets out to track down this woman and tell her how he feels, which turns out to be a real adventure. Soon, Sam finds himself in real trouble, wanted for some terrorist attacks and running out of time to finish his goals. Can true love exist in Brazil?
As a reviewer, it is nice to be able to sit down and look over a personal favorite film, in the hopes you can steer a few more people toward it. With Brazil, I am sure most of you have seen the film and heard about the controversy behind it, but how many of you have seen & heard first hand on the issue? This release from Criterion allows you to plot the path of the controversy, as well as compare both cuts of the film. But more on all that later in the review, onto my feelings on the film. I think all too often, people just slap the label of “weird film” on Brazil and leave it at that. Yes, the film is rather unusual and sports some very strange moments, but if you have an imagination, it almost seems like second nature to watch this movie. I don’t think about the strange parts as strange, because they’re so much more than that, they deliver a message and further the storyline. So yes, Brazil is a little down the unbeaten path, but never just for the sake of being offbeat. This is a very intellectual movie and while not everyone will like it, it is more than worth a look for all fans of film. And with this release, you don’t just get the movie, you also get the whole story behind the movie.
At the helm of this unique and inspiring piece of cinema is Terry Gilliam, who is now well known for his creative vision and taste for the darker elements. Gilliam doesn’t like to sugarcoat his film in the least and nowhere is that more evident than here, as he fought tooth & nail to keep his vision for the film intact. It is true that Brazil is a dark film, very dark at times in fact and that might scare some off, but not all of us need to have fluffy clouds and pink rabbits all the time. This is where Gilliam excels, to make us love these dark, imaginative films and he layers them with such richness, you can’t help but watch them over and again. I am a fan of most all of Gilliam’s films, but I think Brazil is his finest work and I consider it to be one of the top five films of all time. I recommend Gilliam’s other films also, such as Twelve Monkeys, Time Bandits, The Fisher King, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen. On the acting side of the film, Jonathan Pryce (Ronin, Stigmata) is excellent in the lead and while he doesn’t have much screen time, Robert Deniro (Casino, Taxi Driver) is flawless in his role. The cast also includes Katherine Helmond (Overboard, Lady in White), Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Long Good Friday), Ian Holm (The Fifth Element, The Sweet Hereafter), Michael Palin (A Fish Called Wanda, Fierce Creatures), and Ian Richardson (Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead).
This review covers the three disc release of Brazil, issued by The Criterion Collection. If you need the Universal single disc edition, please refer to a different review to fit your needs. As film lovers, we all want to see our favorites given the royal treatment on home video, but few are actually given a near perfect release. Such was the case when Universal issued a single disc edition of Brazil, which contains none of the supplements from Criterion’s excellent laserdisc package. But soon enough, Criterion wrangled the rights back and now, we have a superb treatment for Brazil, one of the best releases we’ve seen on DVD thus far. Although the video should be anamorphic, this three disc collection is outstanding in all respects and will stand for some time as a point of comparison for future special editions. A lot of discs have bonus materials, but few contain such rich and insightful features like this collection, which even includes two very different cuts of the picture. We cannot only hear about the differences, but we can watch them and make our own judgments about the changes made. We can learn about the battles waged to keep Gilliam’s vision intact, as well as gear from the crew members who helped create that vision on screen. This is a landmark film in my opinion and it deserves a total red carpet home video edition, thanks to Criterion, it now has one.
Video: How does it look?
Brazil is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, which is not enhanced for widescreen televisions. I suppose this is the weak link in this release’s armor, but while the transfer isn’t anamorphic, it still looks very good. Criterion has cleaned up the source print and issued a flawless compression, with no errors or artifacts present. I saw minimal flecks or debris on the print, so Criterion’s cleaning process must have been a real success. I also didn’t much grain, which previous editions of the film have had problems with. The film’s unique visual scheme comes across in fine form here, so don’t be alarmed if the colors sometimes seem muted, that’s intentional. The contrast looks very good also, black levels are well balanced and I saw no visible detail loss in the least. I do wish this was an anamorphic transfer, but I still have few complaints to lodge in the end.
Audio: How does it sound?
This release contains a newly minted stereo surround track, which provides an excellent overall experience. Of course, this film doesn’t use dynamic audio in the same fashion as say, an action film, but this is still an impressive track. The film has never sounded this good before and while again, you won’t be blown away, I can find little fault with this track. I think a new Dolby Digital 5.1 might liven up the music somewhat, but this mix is in no way a disappointment to the ears. The film’s musical score is excellent and fits the tone of the film well, so it needs to sound superb and it does in this mix. The music is very rich here and never fails to come across well, no harshness is evident in the least. I also heard no problems with the sound effects, from the subtle to the obvious, they all sound terrific in this mix. The main focus is the dialogue however, which is also up to task in all respects. The vocals sound very clean and clear at all times, with no signs of volume problems either. You’ll also find English subtitles have been included, if you should need them.
Supplements: What are the extras?
When you discuss the best releases on our beloved format, Brazil is sure to be mentioned, thanks to the wealth of supplements included here. This three disc special edition isn’t just packed with whatever Criterion could find either, the bonus materials are of the highest quality and add much insight into all the aspects of Brazil. This is one sweet package and it all starts on disc one, where we find the uncut 142 minute version of Brazil, which reflects Gilliam’s true vision. In addition to a new transfer and sound mix, this disc also contains an audio commentary track with Gilliam, who has a lot to talk about. Gilliam touches on all sorts of topics in this commentary track, but never becomes dull or silent for too long. You can tell Gilliam was well prepared for this session and it shows, as this is a well crafted and well spoken offering in all respects.
The second disc is up next and talk about extras, this one is loaded with goodies from top to bottom. I went right to Gilliam’s scoreboards here, which showcase his visions of the dream sequences. Some of these scenes made it into the final cut of the film, but most of them were axed in the end, so it is cool to see them here. I also liked the material included on the film’s special effects, including some raw footage. The film uses a style of special effects in the usual Gilliam vein and this feature takes a closer look, giving us a peek behind the curtain of sorts. You can also learn more about the processes of musical score, costume design, production design, and screenwriting for the film in various sections of the disc. These features are handled by those involved also, such as composer Michael Kamen and production designer Norman Garwood, so you will get the inside scoop on those elements and not promotional fluff. Next up is “What Is Brazil?” and this is a half hour feaurette that offers a behind the scenes look at Brazil. You’ll see some on set footage and production shots, as well as a wealth of interviews with cast and crew members. This is no simple fluff piece either, as the piece is packed with information and insight into the film. I next viewed “The Battle Of Brazil: A Video History,” which runs about an hour and chronicles the controversy around Brazil. You’ll watch and listen as Gilliam’s film is held back and even heavily edited. From newspaper articles to phone interviews, this piece tells the real story behind Gilliam’s battle to control Brazil. Also on this disc are some textual supplements, production & publicity still photo galleries, and the film’s theatrical trailer.
The third and final disc contains a much different version of Brazil, one that reflects little of Gilliam’s vision, but pleased the Universal executives. This cut runs 94 minutes in length (as opposed to Gilliam’s 142 minute cut) and loses most of the darker edge, but adds a new opening and more Hollywood fashioned ending. Thus, the cut is titled “The Love Conquers All” edition and I think it was a stroke of genius to include it on this release. You can watch both versions and see how drastic the changes are, which makes it easier to see why Gilliam fought so hard to retain his vision for the film. It might not be worth watching a lot, but I am very pleased Criterion has made it available for reference sake. An audio commentary track is present on this cut as well, this one by Gilliam expert David Morgan. Morgan offers a very insightful track here and even though a lot of material has already been covered, some new information also surfaces here. When you combine all three discs and their supplements, this edition of Brazil offers a comprehensive look into the film, how it was made, why it was made, and also what might have been. Criterion, we owe you a serious debt of gratitude for this simply breathtaking treatment of a true modern classic.