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Blu-ray Reviews

Brazil Blu-ray Review - Recommended



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#1 of 11 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted July 13 2011 - 06:04 AM

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Brazil


Studio: Universal/Embassy International

Year:  1985

Length:  2 hrs 12 mins

Genre:  Dark Comedy/Terry Gilliam


Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1


BD Resolution: 1080p

BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 33 mbps)

Color/B&W: Color


Audio:

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.0 mbps – up to 4.5 in the bigger scenes)

French DTS 2.0


Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish


Film Rating: R (Violence, Language, Terry Gilliam)


Release Date: July 12, 2011


Starring:  Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin and Kim Greist


Screenplay by:  Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown

Directed by:  Terry Gilliam


Film Rating:    4/5


It’s strange to try to write a review of a movie like Brazil, so I’m going to break this into technical and creative impressions.  In terms of the technical matters, I’ll say that Universal is presenting a high definition transfer of their theatrical release version of the movie on Blu-ray, with a 5.1 mix for the first time that I can find in its home video history.  The picture is mostly good, but there are some strange transfer issues here and there which I can’t quite trace.  Some of it appears to be print damage, and the end credits have a strange consistency that look like a microfiche on an overhead projector.  Also, the picture is presented in 1.85:1 rather than the 1.78:1 ratio seen in prior releases, so it’s cropped in a little on the top and bottom. Still, this is the best Brazil has looked or sounded to date on home video.   The Blu-ray has the usual BD-Live and pocket BLU functionality, as well as D-Box functionality, but this is all generic.  There are no special features specific to Brazil on the disc, which really should not be a surprise to anyone that knows the history of the film.  I’ll recommend this title, but with the caveats I have listed.  I have a feeling that Terry Gilliam fans already pre-ordered this one from the moment it was announced.


SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH!  DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM.   Looking at Brazil today, the movie seems much easier to understand than when it originally hit theaters in 1985.  At the time, there was a lot of confusion about what was really happening in the movie, what story Terry Gilliam was telling, and what the point of the whole thing was.  A studio recut was ordered as a way of trying to clarify the story and say that this was a flamboyant exercise of “Love Conquers All.”  But that’s not the movie Gilliam made or intended.   I’ll take a couple of paragraphs here to discuss the actual content of the film, and how the movie found its way to release and home video over time.


MORE SPOILERS HERE, SEE THE ABOVE WARNING.  I’ll recount the plot here as simply as possible. The movie is actually a study of how human imagination frees itself of even the most conformist and oppressive society.  The plot seems convoluted but makes sense if you follow along with it.  The main character is Sam (Jonathan Pryce), an ordinary government worker.  He lives in a conformist society where all needs are supposed to be met by high tech electronics and plumbing that actually break down in a regular and dangerous fashion.   Anyone stepping out from basic conformity by questioning things or, goodness knows, actually trying to fix or change anything, is deemed a terrorist and taken in for interrogation and execution.  Initially, there seems to be a terrorist bombing problem, but it becomes clear that this is actually a regular feature of the ever-present ducts malfunctioning and exploding.  I note that this whole setting is not intended to be a future society or even science fiction.  Terry Gilliam has stated that he intended this as a comment on modern society.  And there are many parallels to this in today’s world, if you think about it.  Sam secretly dreams of being a winged hero flying away from this mess, and several scenes show his fantasies, including a damsel (Kim Greist) beckoning to him.   In his real life, he tries to address a clerical error that has seen a Mr. Buttle taken in as a terrorist when it should have been a Mr. Tuttle.  In trying to address this, he encounters a real woman, Jill, who happens to look just like his fantasy girl and this motivates him to look further.  At the same time, his own ducts malfunction and he is offered assistance by the real Mr. Tuttle (Robert De Niro) who turns out to be not a terrorist but a renegade HVAC man.  Things continue down this path until Sam himself is targeted as a possible terrorist and taken in for “interrogation” himself.  An elaborate dream sequence follows, which gets stranger and stranger until the fate of the real Sam is revealed.  He’s still alive, and in a way, he’s actually escaped the system by retreating into his own mind.  Terry Gilliam says this is a happy ending – that the whole point of the exercise was to show a man going mad but still have a happy ending.  Some people have thought that this was a version of 1984, and there are certainly elements of that.  But I think this is actually closer to something like Brave New World, only set in an alternate contemporary world.   What we see of this world isn’t so much a “Big Brother” world as one that is full of both bureaucracy and conformity – which can be a lethal combination.  A great example of this is a restaurant scene where ducts explode and some of the patrons are killed in front of the other diners.  None of the other diners stops to help them – they just continue blithely eating and talking, and a lovely screen partition is hastily placed to mask the unappetizing areas…


SPOILERS CONTINUE HERE, SEE THE WARNINGS ABOVE.   Brazil was made on a fairly small budget, with some of the money coming in for international distribution, and some coming from Universal for a domestic release within the United States.  Terry Gilliam completed a cut running over 2 hours and twenty minutes which premiered in Europe and the UK in early 1985.  The usual reaction to a Terry Gilliam film ensued – endless debate, with some people loving the picture and some people hating it.   Universal had issues with the length of the film, the tone, and the ending, based on screening scores showing some confusion and dissatisfaction.  Gilliam then did a compromise cut, removing about ten minutes of material, including one key line of dialogue, and adding a VFX cloud opening and ending for the movie.  This cut was still too long for Universal’s tastes at the time and since the film was longer than 2 hours five minutes, there was a clause allowing for a studio recut.  (It could be argued that if Gilliam had just cut a few more minutes off, the movie would have been released at that point, which would have stopped the controversy right there.)  Universal took the movie back and created a 94 minute version that drastically changed the movie.   Early scenes were reshaped to make it extremely obvious how the Tuttle/Buttle mistake was made, and the story was reformed into some kind of a love story for Sam and Jill.  This cut is the strangest one of the bunch, as it takes the late dream material literally, which makes absolutely no sense if you try to follow it.  Frustrated at what was happening, Gilliam went public with the situation, holding clandestine screenings of his cut of the movie.  The best of these was a film school classroom, where he was told he could show clips for educational purposes.  So he showed a 2 hour and 11 minute “clip”.  He also took out a now-infamous full-page ad in the Daily Variety saying “When are you going to release my film Brazil?”  After the film received high profile awards (Best Picture, Director and Screenplay for 1985) from Los Angeles critics who had seen the clandestine screenings, Universal agreed to release the compromise cut Gilliam had prepared months earlier.  (Their shorter cut actually appeared on syndicated television but was never released to theaters.)  As it turned out, the movie did about the amount of business they expected and was nominated for two Academy Awards.   About ten years later, Gilliam did one more cut of the movie himself, for Criterion’s laserdisc release, essentially using his original international cut but adding on the American opening of the clouds.  (He kept the ending without clouds, as it had originally been seen.)


Brazil has been released multiple times on home video and DVD.  The current Blu-ray contains Gilliam’s compromise cut, with high definition picture and 5.1 sound for the first time.  A prior Universal SD DVD was listed with the this cut, but actually had the longer cut seen on the Criterion laserdisc.  Criterion of course had the laserdisc, which was loaded with supplements, and which was then ported over to a 3 DVD set (which included Gilliam’s cut with his commentary, multiple making-of materials, and even the 94 minute cut for educational purposes with its own commentary).  Criterion provided a new pressing of Gilliam’s longer cut with an anamorphic transfer for the first time in 2006.   This new Blu-ray contains none of the extras from the Criterion releases, and uses the theatrical American cut.   I have a feeling there will be a Criterion release in another year or so, but we’ll have to see how their schedule goes.


                                                       

VIDEO QUALITY   3/5

Brazil is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfer that certainly looks clearer than the earlier Criterion anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, although it’s using a slightly tighter aspect ratio. There’s a fair amount of grain present, and what I think is some occasional haloing.  The closing credits have a strange look to them, as though the movie were being seen via an overhead projector – but I didn’t have that issue in other parts of the movie.  I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.



AUDIO QUALITY   4 /5

Brazil is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, marking the first time the title has upgraded from a simple Dolby Surround mix since it hit home video.  There’s a fair amount of use of the surround channels for the music and some atmospheric effects.  Simply put, the movie has never sounded better at home.  A standard definition DTS mix in French is also provided.


SPECIAL FEATURES      0/5

There are no special features for this title.  The standard pocket BLU functionality is present, as is an option for D-Box if you have that in your home theater.  There is standard access to BD-Live and My Scenes bookmarking, but when you access the BD-Live page, you will not find any content for this release.


The movie is subtitled in English, French and Spanish.  The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present.


IN THE END...

Brazil remains a fascinating movie, now 26 years after its original release.  Its themes continue to apply to modern culture – if anything, the movie is more applicable now.  The new Blu-ray presents the American theatrical cut in a high definition transfer that’s a little tighter than what we’ve seen for the past 15 years, but is still quite good looking.  I’m still not sure what happened with the end credits, but that’s not a deal breaker for me.  The sound is a nice upgrade from the Dolby Surround mixes we’ve heard throughout its video history.  Given that this cut will not be the one used by Criterion in any eventual Blu-ray, I can recommend this title for rental or purchase for Terry Gilliam fans who may prefer it.  Something tells me they already have it on their shelves as I write this.


Kevin Koster

July 13, 2011. 



#2 of 11 OFFLINE   AL KUENSTER

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Posted July 13 2011 - 06:18 AM

Thanks Kevin I still have this on Criterion LD so hoping Criterion will get around to doing the Blu-Ray box set like they did with sddvd.
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#3 of 11 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted July 13 2011 - 06:32 AM

Al, I think they will.  Probably in another year and a half.  I just thought it was interesting that they used the compromise cut here, and that it was cropped to 1.85:1. 


#4 of 11 OFFLINE   TonyBouchard

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Posted July 13 2011 - 06:41 AM

I watched Brazil on Blu-ray last night on a 92" screen viewed from 10' away - so pretty big. It's a nice transfer - better than the usual Universal catalog title, and nice upgrade over the anamorphic Criterion DVD transfer. I didn't notice halos, but I wasn't particularly looking for flaws. The criterion transfer is 1.78 while the universal BD is 1.85, so the criterion is probably just open matte, although I didn't compare exact framing. The only thing I noticed about the closing credits is the the final shot in the cooling tower was darker than I've seen in previous versions of the film.

#5 of 11 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted July 13 2011 - 06:58 AM

Tony, what I'm seeing on the end credits is something like an overlay.  The actual titles running up the screen look fine, but there seems to be something between us and them.  It's very strange to see, and the only thing I can think of is what I've seen when looking at a microfiche machine or an overhead projector.



#6 of 11 OFFLINE   DouglasBr

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Posted July 13 2011 - 08:10 AM

Glad to hear the compromise cut is now available on disc. I may be in the minority, but I like having both options (and no, I'm not interested in "Love Conquers All").

#7 of 11 OFFLINE   TonyBouchard

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Posted July 13 2011 - 09:01 AM

I enjoyed the compromise cut. It's a good version of the movie - not butchered by any means. I hadn't seen it years at least and I'm not sure if I had ever seen it - although I'm pretty sure I had Brazil on either the Universal LD or VHS. I like the clouds at the ending as opposed to the longer version which stays entirely within the cooling tower.

#8 of 11 OFFLINE   Radioman970

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Posted July 13 2011 - 09:22 AM

Glad to hear the compromise cut is now available on disc. I may be in the minority, but I like having both options (and no, I'm not interested in "Love Conquers All").

Same here. Sounds like a GO to me. But I'll have to wait... now in my WISH LIST
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#9 of 11 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted July 13 2011 - 09:57 AM

The compromise cut is the one that played on cable throughout the late 80s and in the 90s.  It's the way I first saw the film on the Z channel back around 1986.  A few years after that, I saw the international cut at the UC Theater in Berkeley.  Finally, Criterion gave us the final cut on laserdisc in 1996.  I did not see the "Love Conquers All" version til I watched sections of it on the Criterion DVD set.



#10 of 11 OFFLINE   TonyBouchard

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Posted July 14 2011 - 04:07 AM

Tony, what I'm seeing on the end credits is something like an overlay.  The actual titles running up the screen look fine, but there seems to be something between us and them.  It's very strange to see, and the only thing I can think of is what I've seen when looking at a microfiche machine or an overhead projector.

Kevin, I took another look at the closing credits last night. I'm seeing what you see. I think it's just dirt on the 'cloud' matte painting material that's under (over?) the credits. If I remember correctly the longer cut fades to black from the cooling tower shot, no clouds, so the credits run over a black background.

#11 of 11 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted July 14 2011 - 05:14 AM

I think you're right about that, Tony.  There's a similar strangeness over the opening credits, where the titles are accompanied by dirt and debris.  This one is strange to me because it feels like the dirt is over the credits running underneath it.