Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
4.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Brazil: The Criterion Collection

Street Date:
December 4th, 2012
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
December 7th, 2012
Movie Release Year:
1985
Studio:
Criterion
Length:
142 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of the previous Blu-ray release of 'Brazil.'

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Explaining Terry Gilliam's magnum opus, 'Brazil,' to the uninitiated is about as easy as actually understanding all the strange imagery that makes up this cult sci-fi classic. Or at least, that's what I've come to realize over the last few years. It's a bizarrely surreal, but highly-imaginative hallucination about the future, a world where wild, fantastical dreams merge with dreary nightmares. And like some of his films, Gilliam explores a wide array of probing philosophical ideas. No other film probably best demonstrates his most outlandish musings than 'Brazil,' a bleak dystopian vision of bureaucracy run amok with mechanical angels and computer monitors equipped with ridiculous-looking magnifying screens.

It is often described by the eccentric filmmaker as the second in a trilogy on the power of imagination. The first is 'Time Bandits,' which centered on a young boy's dreams through time, and 'The Adventures of Baron Munchausen' is the third, revolving around an aged storyteller's crazed delusions. Logically, 'Brazil' features a middle-aged hero named Sam Lowry, played marvelously by Jonathan Pryce. The unambitious government employee lives in a dreadfully mechanical and ordered world that's drowning in consumerism, self-interest, privatization and mounds of paperwork. Though clearly a dreamer, he sees nothing truly wrong with his existence until he finds the woman from his dreams (Kim Greist), which takes his down the rabbit hole and eventually into a permanent state of dreaming.

And wouldn't you know it, Sam's hair-rising, eye-opening journey all started with something as small and insignificant as a housefly, creating a chain of events which slowly pull the curtain aside for Sam. Investigating a printing mishap caused by the fly's dead body, our demurring hero finds himself caught in a kind of Phillip K. Dick adventure that has him questioning his place in the universe. But it's also a harrowing escape from a predetermined, nightmarish existence that seems ripped right out of Franz Kafka's darkest imagination — definitely leaning more towards The Trial than anything else. This downward spiral awakens Sam to see his world as the Orwellian purgatory it truly is, where the gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened beyond repair.


It's a fascinating tale that imagines a future where endless technological possibilities intersect and interact with the antiquated and the obsolete. And in many ways, this interchange between the old and the new appears to have an awful, stifling effect on advancement and imagination. Plastic surgery becomes not only a competitive trend, but also a horrifyingly obsessive pursuit for youthful beauty. Self-employed repairmen such as Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro) operate like superheroes, but labeled as terrorists by society at large. Close friends, like Michael Palin's Jack Lint, are exposed as obedient servants to the oppressive system. The architecture of this unnamed metropolis is a grotesquely confining design, laying bare the ugliness of living into an acceptable banality.

This 1985 wildly-erratic fantasy of a totalitarian, bureaucratic hell is arguably Terry Gilliam's best work. He is certainly up there as one of the most visionary and ambitious filmmakers working today, brimming with rich, visually arresting flare and a poignant cynicism, even when his films sometimes fall flat. (I'm thinking specifically of 'The Brothers Grimm.') With the hallucinative 'Brazil,' Gilliam is at the top of his game, mixing a very-dark black comedy atmosphere with a seriously dystopic worldview. It perfectly encompasses the director's most troubling themes of the individual trapped by modernity's machine-like existence and a society content with its obscene abnormality. It's a film with a troubled history that's better watched than explained.


The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

This Blu-ray edition of Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil' comes by way of The Criterion Collection (spine #51). The two-disc package features the original143-minute cut of the film on a Region A locked, BD50 disc, which sits comfortably on top of another Region A, BD50 disc containing supplements and Sheinberg's 94-minute "Love Conquers All" edit. Both are housed in the distributor's standard clear keepcase and accompanied by a 16-page booklet with an essay entitled "A great Place to Visit, Wouldn't Want to Live There" by film professor David Sterritt, which appears to be exclusive to the Blu-ray edition. There are no trailers or promos before being greeted by the distributor's normal menu options.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

According the accompanying booklet, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode of Gilliam's dystopian nightmare was struck from a new 35mm interpositive. The results are rather excellent and a marked improvement over previous editions. Compared to last year's release from Universal, the differences are arguably marginal, but this transfer is still the better of the two. Certain limitations in the production and cinematography are apparent, as the picture quality is not the sort to rival newer movies, yet this is the best 'Brazil' has ever looked.

Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and approved by Gilliam, the video is awash in a thin-layer of grain, especially during Sam's dream sequences, providing the image with an attractive film-like appearance. Staying true to the intentions of cinematographer Roger Pratt, the transfer comes with a low-key color palette and a slightly-muted contrast level, creating a consistently gloomy, low-spirited tone to the plot. Primaries, however, remain bold and full-bodied, with warm secondary hues and crisp, clean whites throughout. Blacks waver a tad, depending on the scene, but come in rich and accurate nonetheless with strong shadow delineation. Except for a few soft spots, details are sharply defined with excellent resolution and visibility of the smallest features in the stage design, making this a splendid high-def release of a cult sci-fi classic.


The Audio: Rating the Sound

Like the video, this DTS-HD MA stereo soundtrack was also remastered from 35mm magnetic tracks. Unlike the video, however, the differences between this and last year's release are not vast. Comparatively speaking, the two are very similar and both have their advantages, with the only real difference being that of certain atmospherics employed in the rears creating a wider soundfield. Given the choice though, I prefer this track since it stays truer to the original design.

As for this particular release, the lossless mix comes with a splendidly wide front soundstage. Discrete effects fill the entire screen from beginning to end, and channel separation is very well-balanced. Especially when it comes to the whimsical music of Michael Kamen and Geoff Muldaur's version of "Watercolor of Brazil," imaging feels spacious and broad with a large sense of scope. Dynamic range is crisp and crystal-clear with room-penetrating clarity and definition during the film's loudest moments. There's not a whole lot going on in the low-end, but it's accurate and appropriate from a recording made in 1985. A couple conversations come in a tad lower than others, but nothing that would be considered distracting. Otherwise, dialogue reproduction is terrific and precise in the center, making this a marvelous presentation of a Gilliam favorite.


The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Disc One

  • Audio Commentary — Originally recorded in 1996, director Terry Gilliam discusses at great length the production history of the film. Rarely dull or quiet, he also shares several great memories of being on set, touches on a variety of themes and explains his creative process. For Gilliam fans everywhere, this is a splendidly engaging and highly informative discussion worth a listen.

Disc Two

  • What is "Brazil"? (1080i/60, 29 min) — The on-set documentary by Rob Hedden shows a wealth of BTS footage and insightful cast & crew interviews discussing the film's plot.

  • The Production Notebook (HD, 1080i/60) — A treasure trove of photos, interviews and short pieces compiled by Criterion and Brazil expert David Morgan. The first is a discussion with the screenwriters, titled "We're all in It Together" (11 min). Second is a nine-part collection of storyboards for scenes that never made the final cut, with a Gilliam introduction and narrated by Morgan ("Dreams Unfulfilled," 22 min). The third piece has Morgan discussing the noir-style of the production ("Designing Brazil," 21 min).

    This is followed by a closer look at the film's special effects with Morgan leading the discussion once again ("Flights of Fantasy," 10 min). "Fashion and Fascism" is a surprisingly interesting interview with costume designer James Acheson (7 min). Finally, the last piece shows a great discussion between Gilliam and composer Michael Kamen, which was originally recorded at around the same time as the commentary track (10 min).

  • The Battle of Brazil: A Video History (1080i/60, 55 min) — Based on the book by Jack Matthews, this excellent and must-watch documentary discusses one of the most contentious controversies in recent Hollywood history. The Criterion-produced piece reunites many of the key players, especially Gilliam and executive producer Sidney Sheinberg. It's a terrifically informative conversation everyone should watch.

  • Brazil: The "Love Conquers All" Version (1080i/60, 94 min) — This is the infamous alternate vision of Gilliam's cult sci-fi classic, reedited and retooled by Sheinberg for syndicated television in an effort to make the film more commercially appealing. This version shows different or altered footage and dialogue, removing much of the film's darker edge and whimsy, but it's most famous for the alternate opening and the so-called Hollywood "happy" ending. It also comes with an optional commentary track by David Morgan.

  • Trailer (1080i/60) — The original theatrical preview.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no high-def exclusives.


Final Thoughts

Arguably Terry Gilliam's magnum opus, 'Brazil' is a bizarrely surreal, highly-imaginative black comedy set in a bleak, mechanical future. The frightful vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic hell is a visually-arresting film where fantastical dreams merge with dreary nightmares and features terrific performances by Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro and Michael Palin. Courtesy of The Criterion Collection, the controversial, cult sci-fi classic arrives to Blu-ray with an excellent audio and video presentation and a wealth of supplemental material, making the overall package highly-recommended.

Technical Specs

  • Two-Disc Set
  • 2 BD-50 Dual Layer Discs
  • Region A Locked

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.78:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Featurettes
  • Documentary
  • Alternate Version
  • Trailer
  • Booklet

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

List Price
$49.95
Amazon
$30.25 (39%)
3rd Party
$19.99
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»