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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/19/99

(Criterion and Universal versions)

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Criterion's Brazil (disc case art)
Criterion Disc One

Criterion's Brazil (outer jacket)
Criterion slip case
1985 (1999) - Universal (Criterion)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A/ A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: Final Director's Cut
142 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:15:30, at chapter 22 switch), Amaray keep case packaging, commentary with director Terry Gilliam, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (35 chapters), languages: English (DD surround), subtitles: English, Close Captioned (SDH)

Disc Two: The Production Notebook
NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layer (no noticeable layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, two documentaries (the 30 minute What Is Brazil by Rob Hedden, which holds the rarely seen "eyeball" dream sequence, and contains rare interviews with Gilliam, Michael Palin, Tom Stoppard, Charles Griest, Jonathan Pryce and other members of the cast and crew, and the 56 minute The Battle Of Brazil: A Video History by Jack Mathews, author of book of the same name, with interviews with Gilliam, producer Arnon Milchan, Universal executives Frank Price, Marvin Antonowsky, Bob Rehme and Sid Sheinberg), interviews with screenwriters Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown, composer Michael Kamen, production designer Norman Garwood and costume designer James Acheson, storyboards, production designs, costume designs, production and publicity stills, special effects footages, and the theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menu screen with music, scene access (8 chapters each for the documentaries), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

Disc Three: The Love Conquers All Version
94 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, commentary with Brazil historian David Morgan, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (21 chapters), languages: English (DD surround), subtitles: none

Universal's Brazil Brazil
1985 (1998) - Universal

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A/ C-

Specs and Features:

142 mins (spec chart claims 131 which is wrong), R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, production notes, cast and crew bios, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD surround), subtitles: English, Spanish and French

When Criterion finally (after a 3 year production schedule) released the ultimate version of Terry Gilliam's incredible, retro-futurist film Brazil on laserdisc, I was in heaven. To tell you the truth, it's what made me go out and buy a laserdisc player (which, in turn, sent me spiraling into the word of DVD) in the first place. The production of the disc was full of political herky-jerky hoo-hah over several issues - including MCA's refusal to let Criterion use added footage, and some not very nice comments made by Gilliam on the commentary towards MCA. Even when you think the drama is over, it's not. Brazil is funny that way. No matter what, somehow, somewhere, someone wants to step in the way of people seeing it.

Thankfully, eventually everything was ironed out, and Criterion got all the extra footage they wanted. A new commentary track featuring Gilliam's laughing voice was recorded, and the disc was released with incredible applause. The Brazil special edition proved to be one of the most important special editions ever released. And now it's on DVD. If you listen very closely you will hear my screams for joy.

Brazil is about one little man's fight against the big corporate machine. Gilliam himself has sort of turned the idea of the film into something it really isn't -- him against Hollywood. I like to look at it more simply than that, although calling Brazil simple is a pretty silly thing to do. It all starts with a bug, literally, getting caught in the system and causing a simple typo. You see, as I said in the above, Brazil is retro-futurist, which means that we are seeing a society that doesn't take any bull. Anyone who's against the government is quickly swooped up, tortured (for information, you know) and then killed. It's all done very quickly and, most important, efficiently. The government is after one Archibald Tuttle, but the bug causes one of the arrest sheets to read Archibald Buttle -- I think you know what happens next. Enter into the story Sam Lowry, a salaryman who finds an overcharge (very nudge-nudge -- the government charges those who are tortured a fee for their services. Uncomfortably funny in theory, but a good idea nonetheless). He tries to remedy the situation, but discovers problems at every turn, until he is eventually caught so far up into the complex machination of the system, that he eventually finds himself in the torturer's chair. Remember when I said calling Brazil simple was silly? Well, along with that description, throw in: a mother fighting the ravages of age, a series of fairy tale dreams (symbolizing the on-going story) featuring baby-faced monsters, Sam in Superman meets an angel armor and a samurai made from technological bits. Those who know Gilliam are used to his visually visceral style. He knows how to conjure up images, and he doesn't hold back an ounce. Brazil is not necessarily Gilliam's best work, but it is his masterpiece. That is to say, it sums him up in one work (and when you get a look into the making of the film, you see summing this man up isn't easy).

We're going to look at the Criterion Special Edition of Brazil in two ways, as a film on DVD, and as a special edition. As a film on DVD, the Brazil DVD falls a little short of my expectations (which would have been a A+ transfer). The good: this transfer is rich, with bold colors and deep blacks. The detail is very nicely apparent throughout the disc. It's a few jumps ahead of the Universal DVD of Brazil, released in 1998 (more on that below). The bad? The grain and edge enhancement create a layer of noise that really is very apparent. Much of the time, I noticed a haze of grain, and with all the line and neon work in the film, the little dose of extra edge enhancement stands out quite a bit. I think the problem is, because of how dark the film looks, you see so much more of the darker grain -- the open in the clouds is flawless. Personally, I got used to it after a while, and some may not even notice it. It's more of a minor grumble that I have to point out, than a true reaction of low-down anger towards Criterion. The film is not ruined (and those who have the Universal DVD will also note that the Criterion set is leaps and bounds ahead of that edition. The funny thing is, the Universal DVD shows most of (or more) of that grain haze -- and Universal is really good at their transfers, which shows me that A) Criterion must have used their stellar LD transfer, and B) the problems I'm seeing are inherent in the original print. So what's that say? Probably that this DVD is the best version you're gonna find. Most of what I saw on the DVD transfer is on the laserdisc set, it's just hardly as noticeable. That's the inherent beauty and beast of DVD -- digital video is a purer video, you see faults with films much easier than you will with simple analog laserdisc transfer. Although a part of me can't help but to think that if Criterion did a brand new 16x9 anamorphic widescreen transfer, they wouldn't have to rely on their laserdisc transfer. Hopefully that won't be a concern, once Criterion starts to do 16x9 as they have promised.

The sound is very nice. There's loads of nifty mixing work going on in this film, and it all comes across very nicely. There's a good low bass growl, explosions are felt, and the dialogue is natural. The picture and sound quality throughout the rest of the three discs is also pretty good. The supplemental material is all well done -- the digital video interviews are perfect with comparable sound.

As a special edition, you will have to go pretty far to find a more thorough DVD. It has everything you could ever possibly want to know about the film on it. You get two documentaries, which are both as witty and brilliant as they are informative, a stack of storyboards from all the dream sequences (cut and uncut from the film), interviews with most every creative person behind the making of the film, and of course the television version of Brazil that every fan of the film should see. There are three discs in this very distinctive package, and before I was done, I wished there were more (and I mean that in a good way). On the director's cut, Gilliam is featured on the commentary track, and he's always a joy to listen to. He likes himself and his work, and he has no problem discussing either. There are no gaps on the track -- he goes on and on, and I could listen to it over and over again. The Love Conquers All disc (the third in the set) features a commentary track by Brazil historian David Morgan. He's not as passionate about his commentary as Gilliam is, but he does shed a lot of "film school" light on this cut on the film, pointing out which scenes were alternate takes, and illuminating the plot points brought up in the more definitive version (and lost here). It's good to see this cut with the commentary track, because it's amazing how different it is from the original vision. Keep in mind, that all the footage was shot by Gilliam, but edited by someone without his supervision, and you will definitely see how editing can change everything from character tone to storylines.

The setup for the special edition material is expectably well-done, with the one exception that you need to step forward when it says "play". If it says "play", and you press "play" on your remote, you go back to the menu screen and have to start over. Once you figure that out, you're good to go. The picture and sound quality for theLove Conquers All version is just okay. It's a full frame transfer, and seems dark and foggy. This DVD transfer looks almost exactly like the laserdisc transfer, so it's probably the print, not Criterion. But as a curiosity piece, it's perfectly done. This isn't the reason you're watching Brazil, so I think it's fine.

I'd like to also give a brief review for the Universal DVD edition of Brazil, because it has some importance in all this. You see, the Universal edition is the Criterion edition -- just at a lesser quality. I have no idea how or why, but the time listed on the back spec chart lists the Universal edition at the original American length of 2 hours 11 minutes. But it is, in fact, the full director's cut of 2 hours and 23 minutes. That means, if you don't have 60 bucks to buy the Criterion edition, and have no desire to see the extras or the alternate version of the film, you can rest easy buying the movie only edition. I wouldn't, because the transfer is dark and slightly more grainy than the Criterion edition -- plus, I think a movie like Brazil is better with the extras on DVD. The Universal edition offers nothing outside of the trailer (which is badly transferred, and looks like it's been through the ministry's system a time or two). If asked, I would surely push you in the direction of the Criterion edition. But if you're a film purist without the extra income, the Universal DVD is the same cut and should suffice.

I like Brazil. I have always found it to be one of the biggest films ever made. I think it's important not just as a film, but as a production as well. I didn't go into all of what I could say about the movie, because I think, like so many other well-made films, it's up to each individual to find, learn about, and become possessed by Brazil. No matter what you think, your reaction to Brazil will likely be passionate -- it's that type of film. Once you learn about all of the problems and fights it took to get the film made (or even seen), you will be amazed (you'll probably have an opinion on all the politics as well). Was the film too long, too deep, and too surreal, or was it perfect (and are we the ones with short attention spans, that aren't deep enough or have no capacity for visual thinking)? You might be a step closer to knowing these answers after you pick this set up.

Todd Doogan
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Brazil (Criterion)


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