Studio:The Criterion Collection Year: 1985 Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Kim Greist, Katherine Helmond, Michael Palin, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan, Jim Broadbent, Barbara Hicks, Charles McKeown Director: Terry Gillain Release Date: December 04, 2012 Rating: R for strong violence, brief nudity Run Time: 02h:23m:25s Genre(s): fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, drama
"This is Information Retrieval, not Information Dispersal!" - Jack Lint (Michael Palin
Without question this is one of my top five favorite films of all time from one of my favorite directors, and Criterion's treatment - now on Blu-Ray - is equally epic.
Movie Grade: A+
DVD Grade: A+
Director Terry Gilliam once referred to his 1985 film Brazil as "Franz Kafka meets Walter Mitty", and that's about as succinctly spot-on of a high concept description as you're likely to get. Gilliam's vision neatly embodies the dystopian futility of the bleakly comic central storyline, set in some strange not-so-distant steel gray fascist-tinged future where life is a mixture of oppression, bureaucracy, conformity, paperwork, 1940s noir and an underlying steampunk aesthetic. The depressing absurdity of Brazil, for audiences, is shown through the eyes of frustrated cog Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a man with vividly fantastic dreams of freedom (where he flies about as a winged hero) who is forced to fight the system to right a wrong and find true love with the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist).
The parallels to present day - random terrorist bombings, encroaching governmental powers. loss of personal freedoms - ring eerily true decades after Brazil's initial release, and Sam Lowry's life changing stand against Big Brother are satirical, thrilling, grim and humorous. This is an odd narrative blend that Gilliam juggles perfectly, helping to give the film its trademark off balance feel. The presence of Harry Tuttle, a rebellious gun-toting heating/air-conditioning repairman (Robert De Niro) is just one example, a character who ziplines in and out of Lowry's life, helping him to forge his own brand of personal bureaucratic uprising. Tuttle's final moment in Brazil is nightmarish and beautiful, a dazzling scene that seems to encapsulate the futility of Sam Lowry's ultimate quest.
In his review of the single disc Criterion release in 2006 dOc's Mark Zimmer asked where to begin "with a picture that is so full of detail and layered in many different ways, thanks to Gilliam's unique visual sense and the writing skills of Tom Stoppard, who contributed substantially to the screenplay. The visuals are insistently stunning, both in the fantasy sequences and the story's corporeal setting. Although Gilliam notes much of the picture is done with model work, very little of it is distinguishable from the full-scale sets and locations used, making for a seamlessly unique world." As Mark said so well it is the marriage of the story and the visuals that elevate Brazil, allowing it to become of the most uniquely striking films ever made. Excuse my previous perceived hyperbole, but Brazil is a remarkable production, daringly long-winded and bold, visually clever and inventive.
The history of Brazil is just as fascinating as the film itself, with Gilliam's battle with Universal on creative control on the final cut almost as well known, at least in most movie nerd circles. Criterion's inclusion of the so-called Love Conquers All Edition here showcases just how clueless a studio can be when attempting to alter the creative vision of a filmmaker who does not require altering. I have always held that if someone like Gilliam - whom I consider to be a true visionary - has to struggle to get something released what hope does that hold for anyone else?
This two-disc set gets my highest recommendation, as not only one of the best releases of 2012 but a necessary addition to your film library.
The new 1.78:1 AVC-encoded 1080p Gilliam-approved anamorphic transfer was created from a 35mm interpositive. The notes provided by Criterion indicate the extensive cleanup done to remove dirt, debris, warps, jitter and the like, with the end product often looking as good as this film ever has. When it is is "on", it is revelatory. Elements such as facial/clothing textures in certain scenes - especially those inside the Ministry of Information - look completely new, sporting exceptional clarity and detail. Other times- the dream sequences, most notably - the transfer still resembles a mid-1980s production, marred slightly by measurable inconsistencies in the constancy of the color palette.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is free of hiss or crackle, presenting the dialogue and Michael Kamen's score with a renewed sense of fullness. Some of the ancillary audio effects (gunshots, explosions) have a somewhat tinny heft, but the remainder of the track is remarkably fluid, with a keen sense of movement, most evident with the score components.
The supplements for this two-disc Blu-Ray release of Brazil match the previously coveted three-disc SD from 1999, but the material is all high caliber content and it takes up much less shelf space; this begins with a 15-page insert booklet featuring a lengthy essay by film critic/film professor David Sterritt, entitled A Great Place To Visit, Wouldn't Want To Live There. Disc one carries the director's cut (02h:23m:25s), as well as a 1996 Gilliam commentary culled from the original Criterion laserdisc release. A Gilliam commentary is always entertaining, and here he offers up a rich discussion of production issues and film themes, making this an essential listen and one of the better commentaries I have listened to.
Disc two is where the remaining content is housed, beginning with the 1985 doc What Is Brazil? (29m:07s). This Rob Hedden-directed piece features interviews with Gilliam, Pryce, Greist and a number of cast/crew, all seeking to find out exactly what the film is supposed to be about. It's a funny premise, simply because Brazil is so mercurial in its themes, and hearing the variety of impressions of the material makes this segment thoroughly enjoyable. An in-depth Production Notebook consists of six parts, each investigating a specific element of the production, and include We're All In It Together: Brazil Screenplay (10m:42s), Dreams Unfulfilled: Unfilmmable Storyboards (21m:00s), Designing Brazil (20m:45s), Flights of Fantasy: Brazil's Special Effects (09m:50s), Fashion and Fascism: James Acheson on Brazil's Costume Design (07m:01s) and Brazil's Score (09m:41s). Also featured is The Battle of Brazil: A Video History (55m:09s), which recounts the now legendary war between Gilliam and then Universal head Sid Sheinberg regarding the final cut of Brazil. This segment is based on the book by Jack Mathews (who is featured prominently throughout). The theatrical trailer (02m:36s) is also provided.
The piece de resistance here is Brazil: The Love Conquers All version (01h:33m:44s). This is the recut version Universal made for syndicated television release, and to say it bastardizes Gilliam's original work is an understatement. The Love Conquers All cut - so named for the way it completely dispenses with the original ending and reinvents the storyline for the worse - is a must-see, simply for the experience of witnessing just what an insulting hatchet job Universal did, not only only to a visionary like Gilliam but to the intellect of movie audiences everywhere. As a capper, the Love Conquers All cut features a commentary from David Morgan, who documents the edits and analyzes this version as a whole.