Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a madcap satirical romp where serious commentary on rampant bureaucracy mixes with idyllic love fantasies and the threat of technological usurpation of humanity in equal measure. In typical Gilliam style, it’s alternately brilliant and frustrating, mystic and childish, comical and tragic with a definite lean toward the nihilistic. In short, it’s a film no admitted movie buff should ever deprive himself of seeing. He may not like everything he views, but he won’t be able to deny that a master filmmaker with perhaps too many creative ideas is at work.
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 142 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround English
MSRP: $ 49.95
Release Date: December 4, 2012
Review Date: December 2, 2012
In an unnamed time in the near future, a computer error in the Ministry of Information leads to the death of an innocent Mr. Buttle while the intended target Archibald Tuttle (Robert De Niro) continues to prowl the city with his insurrectionists battling the governmental bureaucrats whenever and wherever he can. In trying to rectify the Ministry’s error, mid-level civil servant Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) goes to the Buttle home to deliver a compensation check, and there he first encounters a mystical girl he’s been having heroic dreams about, Jill Layton (Kim Greist). Sam learns that because Jill saw the government haul away the innocent Buttle, she too is on the list to be eradicated, so he makes it his mission to somehow save her. To do this, he must come into direct conflict with his bosses Kurtzmann (Ian Holm), Warrenn (Peter Vaughan), and his best friend Jack Lint (Michael Palin) who has a higher ranking post at the ministry than he does.
Gilliam’s brilliantly satirical script was additionally developed by Tom Stoppard and then later in conjunction with Charles McKeown (who has a devastatingly funny cameo role in the film as a slow-witted ministry clerk sharing side-by-side offices with Sam) resulting in a movie with so many ideas (both verbal and visual – the production design of the movie which was Oscar-nominated is indeed a mind-numbing triumph) it’s practically bursting at the seams. Governmental red tape and the corresponding drones who dutifully follow the company line come in for the most barbs, but there isn’t much about this nightmarish future society that Gilliam doesn’t skewer (the addiction to elaborate ducting no longer possible to hide behind walls, ceilings, and floors is especially prominent making for one of the film’s most visible and disturbing recurring images). Sam’s elaborate fantasies with him as a muscular avenging angel/warrior have the kind of lyricism that Gilliam adores contrasting with the bombastic, ugly reality that is Sam's everyday existence. Sam’s search for his idealized love object (who in real life is a down and dirty trucker who can toe the line with any man) sputters the plot forward constantly, but knowing Gilliam’s usual dramatic proclivities means it isn’t likely to end in idyllic fashion. As the film basically pits dreams versus nightmares throughout, its bittersweet tone and wrenching denouement make for a cinematic sock to the solar plexus that leaves one feeling rather pistol-whipped by the end. But the overall journey with its amazing visuals and the endless creative complexities of its conception continue to amaze with each trip to Gilliam's netherworld created by the ironic buoyancy of the movie’s title song.
Jonathan Pryce makes for a very effective dweebish everyman, and his growing dissatisfaction with the bureaucracy that employs him is palpable as the film runs. Kim Greist is a fetching and plucky female warrior. Robert De Niro’s three scenes all involve heroic derring-do and feature exhilarating stunt work and the actor’s own brand of crinkly charisma. Michael Palin offers his usual flustered friend who grows more serious as the film plays leading to a great surprise revelation by the end. Also very effective are Ian Holm as the dithery incompetent boss who’s lost without Sam as his right-hand man, Bob Hoskins as a dim but proud low-level worker who is determined to have the last say when he feels he’s been insulted, and Katherine Helmond as Sam’s mother addicted to plastic surgery but whose satirical uses in the film aren’t fully realized.
The movie has been framed at 1.78:1 for this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. It’s a stunning-looking encode with superb sharpness which offers tons of detail to the viewer and color saturation which is rich without ever going overboard. Flesh tones are very realistic and appealing throughout. While black levels may be a shade or two lighter than optimum levels, the wonderfully dialed-in contrast makes the most of the image quality and is by far the best the movie has ever looked on home video. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo surround track might not have the rich fidelity of more modern movie fantasies, but it plays quite well for the purposes of this movie. If the explosions lack a bit of depth and impact (and there are a fair number of them in the movie), the other sound effects and the music all come forth very well in this lossless transfer. Dialogue is always discernible and has been placed in the center channel when decoded by Dolby Prologic.
The audio commentary is the only bonus feature on disc one of this set. It’s by writer-director Terry Gilliam, and it is chock full of his views of the film’s strengths and weaknesses. He also states his own case for the final edit of the movie (covered elsewhere in the bonus materials) and seems proud in general of the final product.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
The remaining bonus features are contained on disc two in the set. They’re in 1080i unless otherwise noted.
“What is Brazil?” is a 29-minute overview of the movie’s themes and intentions featuring interviews with Terry Gilliam, film editor Julian Doyle, co-writers Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown, and cast members Jonathan Pryce, Michael Palin, Katherine Helmond, and Kim Greist.
The Production Notebook is a series of brief video essays and featurettes on different aspects of the film’s craft:
- “We’re All in It Together” contains comments from the film’s three writers talking about their individual work on the movie focusing especially on how Stoppard’s work ethic did not jibe at all with Gilliam’s. It runs 10 ¾ minutes.
- “Dreams Unfulfilled” focuses on eight fantasy sequences which didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie. They’re represented in storyboards and explained by Brazil expert David Morgan in this 21 ¼-minute featurette in 1080p.
- “Designing Brazil” details the collective work of production designer Norman Garwood, costume designer James Acheson, special effects supervisor George Gibbs, and models and props by Richard Conway. David Morgan’s narration highlights this 20 ¾-minute feature in 1080p.
- “Flights of Fantasy” deals with Brazil’s special effects work especially in the fantasy sequences in this 9 ¾-minute piece in 1080p.
- “Fashions and Fascism” takes a more detailed look at costume designer James Acheson’s look for several of the characters in this 7-minute 1080p vignette.
- “Brazil’s Score” is narrated by composer Michael Kamen who talks about his original music for the movie mixed in with various musical phrases from the song “Brazil” which he didn’t write but which is woven throughout the movie. This lasts 9 ¾ minutes.
“The Battle of Brazil” is the 55 ¼-minute documentary produced by Criterion in 1996 for the laserdisc release detailing the “war” between Universal head man Sid Steinberg and director Terry Gilliam when the studio refused to release the movie in the United States after Fox had successfully launched it in Europe.
“Brazil: the 'Love Conquers All' cut” is the 93 ¾-minute cut version of the movie which eliminates most of the satire of Gilliam’s film and turns the movie into as close to a standard love story as it could have been made. This also features optional commentary by David Morgan who details what’s been cut and how the cuts and added scenes or lines change the tone and theme of the movie. It’s presented in 1080i and a 4:3 aspect ratio.
The theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes.
The enclosed 18-page booklet contains the chapter listing, the cast and crew lists, and critic David Sterritt's critique of the movie.
4.5/5 (not an average)
One of the great cult movies of the last quarter of the 20th century, Brazil is also one of the most salient satires of its time, a movie that plays even more effectively now than it did on first release, and a film that fairly glows in this new Blu-ray release from Criterion. Highly recommended!