In the dystopian masterpiece Brazil, Jonathan Pryce plays a daydreaming everyman who finds himself caught in the soul-crushing gears of a nightmarish bureaucracy. This cautionary tale by Terry Gilliam, one of the great films of the 1980s, has come to be esteemed alongside antitotalitarian works by the likes of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. And in terms of set design, cinematography, music, and effects, Brazil is a nonstop dazzler.
Criterion releases Terry Gilliam’s “Final Cut” of Brazil on Blu-ray, presenting it in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
This looks to be the same high-definition transfer used for Criterion’s 2006 reissue DVD of the film, which offered a substantial improvement itself over Criterion’s original DVD. Here we get a considerably sharper image delivering the fine details of the film’s elaborate production design far clearer than before. Though the image can come off a bit distorted in places, or soft, because of the stylistic choices of the director, the image is quite crisp throughout with clean edges. Film grain is present with exceptional execution, and the transfer doesn’t seem to present any glaring artifacts that mar the image.
Some of the effect shots present some obvious dirt and grit but source materials look to be in tremendous shape with very little damage otherwise. In all this is easily the best I’ve yet seen the film on home video over its multiple home video versions, and this is definitely the most film-like presentation I’ve seen.
The disc comes with 2.0 DTS-HD MA surround track. Michael Kamen’s incredible score sounds vivid and alive, spreading between the speakers wonderfully. There’s some fantastic range and depth to it, with stunning clarity. It’s the best I’ve yet heard the score.
Unfortunately the rest of the track comes off a bit flat with only some minor depth. Dialogue can be a bit muddled at times and effects, which do make their way to the rear speakers during the more action-packed sequences, can also have a hollow sound to them. For the most part dialogue is easy to hear but there are times where its overwhelmed by other factors.
The track has always had these problems, though, so it’s more than likely inherent in the source materials. As it is it’s fine enough but shows its age somewhat.
Probably one of Criterion’s most famous releases on Laserdisc all of the content was ported over to the original 3-disc DVD edition they released, and their 2006 3-disc reissue. Most of that content has been ported over to this 2-disc Blu-ray but Criterion, as they’ve been doing a lot recently, have left out some text material and galleries.
The first disc's extra is an audio commentary by Terry Gilliam recorded for the original Laserdisc edition in 1996. The director, wired up as usual, talks in great detail about his development of the film from story to screen, covering all of the ideas he had including what ultimately didn’t make it. He recalls various anecdotes about the production, how he was able to get certain actors into the film (specifically De Niro) and talks about how the film has grown with audiences. He talks a little about the troubles that came up surrounding its American release but he seems to save most of that for the documentary that is included on this set only touching on it. Gilliam covers a lot of material and he certainly keeps the track lively, never slowing down, which makes it a very entertaining track well worth a listen.
The second disc contains most of the supplements found on the second and third disc of the deluxe DVD edition Criterion released. First up is ”What is Brazil?”, a 29-minute documentary made on set by Rob Hedden. It features interviews with Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Michael Palin, Katherine Helmond, Jonathan Pryce, Charles McKeown, and others. The participants talk about the themes of the film and the look while the documentary also provides behind-the-scenes footage from the set. It also looks at the various effects and sets, as well as location shooting, like the Croydon station cooling towers for the finale. What may prove most fascinating about the piece is the inclusion of information on a dropped sequence called “The Eyeball Sequence”. It seems to be a promotional piece but it’s certainly an above average one, offering far more intriguing information than you would expect from something of this sort.
A section called “The Production Notebook” puts together various featurettes and galleries covering the film’s production. This section actually differs greatly in comparison to a similar section found on the previous 3-disc DVD editions. A vast majority of the material was text notes you flipped through and in some cases video interviews were thrown with various participants. As you flipped through you would also, on occasion, come across a scene from the film or a behind-the-scene clip. What Criterion has done here is strip out all of the text material and kept the video segments, while attempting to upgrade the galleries to various video essays. Some of this works but unfortunately some material gets lost in the conversion.
First is We’re All in it Together: The Brazil Screenwriters. On the DVD this was a rather large gallery with photos of the script, storyboards, and text notes, accompanied by interviews with screenwriters Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown. The whole section is now simply a 10-minute video piece featuring the interviews. Here the two talk about the development of the script, based on a script that Gilliam had already written, and there was some butting of heads, specifically on jokes. Interestingly a scene from the American version, where Sam Lowry states “My God, it works!” after seeing his mother’s grotesque face at the plastic surgeons, was one of the things they fought on. He took it out only to put it back in again. But since the scene is missing from the version in this set I can only assume Gilliam decided to remove it again. Stoppard was also annoyed to an extent by the fact the film seemed like 1984, but Gilliam was afraid to admit to Stoppard he never actually read the book. The segment is fine and offers a nice look at the development of the script but the text notes on the DVD offered a lot of material on the various drafts, which is completely missing here.
Dreams Unfulfilled: Unfilmed Brazil Storyboards presents the storyboards for the dream sequences. It presents nine but ultimately only one of them was filmed in its entirety and it appears sections of others, like the samurai, were added and then spread out over the film. This section was a gallery on the DVD accompanied by text notes. Here it’s actually a 21-minute animated sequence narrated by David Morgan. It’s a fine presentation and a decent upgrade, seeming to cover most of the material from the similar section on the DVD.
Designing Brazil also attempts to upgrade a couple of similar gallery sections on the DVD, though I think it loses some material. He does add some archival audio interviews with Gilliam and other members of the crew, some of which appeared in the various video clips found in the DVD’s essays, and some of which sound to be newly added. Again David Morgan provides a 21-minute visual essay that goes over the visuals in the film, all the way from costumes to sets to the “propaganda” to letterheads that appear throughout the film, while also looking at the colour scheme. The DVD’s section was pretty dense so I commend Morgan on fitting in so much of it. I don’t think all of the material has made it from the text notes and galleries, but he still manages to offer a fascinating look at the film’s visual design.
Flights of Fantasty: Brazil’s Special Effects is another visual essay by David Morgan, upgrading the DVD’s similar gallery. Here, complete with behind the scenes photos, the 9-minute segment looks at how the effects were done, from the various model work to some of the camera tricks and optical effects used. It also pulls in the clips that were found on the DVD and edits in some audio clips from interviews as well. This section actually offers a decent upgrade over the DVD’s section, adding in some new material not found on the old DVDs.
Fashion and Fascism: James Acheson on Brazil’s Costume Design is also somewhat of an upgrade over a feature on the original DVD. The 7-minute feature presents Morgan offering a bit of an introduction on Acheson’s career, and then jumps into the same audio interview with the designer found on the DVD, though it’s now edited over a different set of images. He talks about how he developed the looks for the various characters from the police to Sam’s dream costume and De Niro’s rogue repairman outfit. He also talks about the influences of some of the more outlandish costumes, like the shoe-hat. A great discussion and I’m glad it was carried over in its entirety.
Brazil’s Score is the exact same 10-minute interview featuring Gilliam and composer Michael Kamen, who talk about the film’s score and how the song “Brazil” (which Kamen considered a Bar Mitzvah tune) became a primary influence for the film. Kamen covers most of the piece talking about how he worked in certain sounds and certain styles, while keeping that central “Brazil” tune. We also get clips of rough edits for certain sequences in the film which were edited together either using music from a Straus or Kamen’s score for The Dead Zone. It’s a strong interview, delving deep into the process of the score’s development, and I’m glad it’s another item Criterion left untouched.
Moving on from this section we next get to one of the biggest features on the disc, the 1996 documentary The Battle of Brazil: A Video History, a 54-minute documentary put together by Jack Mathews covering the brutal history of the film’s production and release. Made up primarily of interviews it still manages to be a rather riveting documentary as it brings together everyone that had a stake in the film including Gilliam, producer Arnon Milchan, and even studio head (at the time) Sid Sheinberg. It begins with how the production came to be and how the money came together before moving on to Gilliam showing his first cut to the studio execs, where Sid Sheinberg apparently flipped out. From here we then get into the studio politics that played out, where Sheinberg insisted the film be cut down and have a happy ending tacked onto it, despite the fact Fox released the film as-is overseas with no changes. We hear from both sides of the aisle on what went down and there are some conflicts to the story, but it seems the biggest issue is that Gilliam wouldn’t cut it down to the time Sheinberg wanted. Eventually, after the film was screened for critics (and Gilliam took out a big Variety ad asking Sheinberg why he hasn’t released his film yet) Universal released what would become known as the American version of the film to theaters, which was shorter and had a slightly altered ending. This is easily one of the most fascinating pieces Criterion has produced for one of their releases and all these years later I still find it a gripping account. Definitely worth watching.
The final big feature is, of course, the ”Love Conquers All Version”, which was apparently put together by Sheinberg. This curiosity appeared on television for a number of years, but no one seems to know exactly when it was put together or how it made it to television stations. It runs only 94-minutes and not only cuts out a lot of material (primarily dream sequences) but completely changes the nature and order of things in the film. It also has odd insertions of material trying to clarify things for audiences I can only assume Sheinberg thought were complete idiots. It flows oddly and actually makes less sense than Gilliam’s film, which can admittedly take a couple of viewings to fully grasp. It also adds on a happy ending, which is bizarrely edited together from a mix of footage. It’s a complete bastardization of the film, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s such a wonderful curiosity that ultimately shows you how important editing is to a film. David Morgan provides an audio commentary that was recorded in 1996 where he goes over the alterations and how they impact the film. Some of this is very obvious without Morgan’s analysis but I still found it a decent commentary. It’s a shame Gilliam didn’t participate as that probably would have been a blast.
As to its presentation it looks the same as the DVD’s, and is presented in 1080i/60hz, appearing to be upscaled. Since this was made for television I wouldn’t expect a better source to exist so this is about as good as it gets.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer. Surprisingly the included booklet replaces Jack Mathews’ essay found with all previous DVD editions with a new one by David Sterritt. Mathews participated greatly on the original Laserdisc edition so I’m unsure why Criterion felt the need to provide a new essay as Mathews’ was fine I thought. Sterritt’s is a bit longer going into the themes of the film a bit more and recalling when he first saw the film at one of the “underground” screenings Gilliam put together. Oddly he does seem a bit more enthusiastic about the film than Mathews did. It is a fine essay, but I still find it strange they replaced it.
Sadly Criterion also dumped the creative packaging of the original DVD, which presented each of the three disc in its own DVD case that was then held in a semi-transparent sleeve presenting an image of the cloudy sky seen in the dream sequences. I always thought this was one of the coolest packaging designs to ever hit the DVD market so for it not to be carried over to the Blu-ray was a bit disappointing. The discs are housed in one of Criterion’s special 2-disc Blu-ray cases.
Yet again we get a solid selection of supplements, though there’s still some material that feels to be missing. Yes, some material hasn’t been carried over from the DVD, with the lack of information on the various drafts of the script probably being the biggest excision. But I have always felt the set was missing one critical area about the various versions of the film. There are at least four cuts of the film, two of which are presented here, and we get very little information on the European and American cuts. There’s also obviously quite a bit of deleted or alternate material since the Final cut is missing material found in the others cuts, and the 94-minute version presents material not found in any cut. Still, as it is, it’s a very satisfying release, one of the most impressive projects to ever come out from Criterion all these years later.
I think the Blu-ray offers a nice upgrade in terms of picture and sound no matter which version of the previous DVD you own (though it’s obviously a bigger one over the non-anamorphic edition) so I’d say it’s worth getting. For fans who have never owned any of the previous Criterion editions it’s definitely worth it with the supplements offering a fascinating look into one of the more interesting productions in Hollywood history. It comes with a very high recommendation.