Twenty-six years later and with all of the controversy surrounding it’s release a distant memory of filmmakers-getting-fucked-over Hollywood lore, Brazil still stands as a masterpiece. The film isn’t perfect and it’s certainly not for everyone (no Terry Gilliam movie is), but Brazil remains one of those rare Hollywood creations: a large scale, spectacle-filled personal film. It’s weirdly appropriate that Gilliam had to fight so hard to get Brazil released given that the movie itself is about how easily dreams and imagination can be crushed in an unforgiving modern world. In a weird way, it’s almost as if the director looked into the future and made a film about his career long struggle to create bizarre and bracingly original movies. My review of the Blu-ray after the jump:
Brazil began almost as a joke for Gilliam. With his days in Monty Python over and a new career as a filmmaker taking off following the surprise financial success of his George Harrison (yes, that George Harrison) financed time-traveling midget movie Time Bandits, Gilliam noticed that 1984 was approaching and thought it would be appropriate to make a film called 1984 1/2. He dreamt up a strange story about a drone in an oppressive Orwellian society whose only escape from the pain of his day-to-day existence is his active fantasy life where he re-imagines himself as a winged superhero battling baby-faced monsters and giant samurai. Years passed and several writers worked on the script, including award-winning playwright Tom Stoppard. Sub-plots and Pythonesque asides were added including an illegal blackmarket plumber played by Robert De Niro and the hero’s disturbingly plastic surgery obsessed mother. The film is rooted Gilliam’s comedy background by hilariously mocking modern society, while also being a deeply dark vision along the lines of his later work like 12 Monkeys. Gilliam’s satire is acidic and his vision of crushed fantasies is harsh, but that’s what makes Brazil special. The film is as dark and deep as Orwell and as funny and exuberant as Python. There’s nothing else quite like it and few other cinematic dystopias hold a candle to this one.
Several decades on, Gilliam’s satire and vision hasn’t faded. The old fashion practical effects are still stunning. All the performances from Jonathan Pryce’s heartbreakingly funny lead to Robert De Niro’s comedy cameo or Michael Palin’s evil bureaucrat are uniformly excellent. And yet sadly Brazil isn’t considered a classic, it’s more of a cult film. That’s a shame, but I suppose it’s appropriate. Though funny and action packed, Brazil requires attentive audiences with inquisitive and cynical minds. Unfortunately there aren’t many of those folks out there looking for a satirical sci-fi black comedy. That’s probably why Universal wanted to re-cut the movie into a 90-minute romantic adventure back in 1985. Thank god Terry Gilliam fought his battle publicly in the press and got Brazil in theaters. It may have hurt his Hollywood reputation (particularly after the Baron Munchausen disaster), but it got a legitimate contemporary classic onto screens unscathed.
The story of the turmultuous battles fought to get Brazil made and onto screens is almost as fascinating as the film itself. You’d think that would guarantee and extras-packed Blu-ray release from Universal, but sadly that didn’t happen. Unfortunately they went the bare bones route. We have to assume that Criterion plans to repackage their definitive 3-disc DVD set on Blu-ray once Universal has a chance to shift a few of these barebones units (the same thing happened with Gilliam’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas not long ago). It’s really is a pity that there’s nothing in the way of special features, because this is easily the best the movie has ever looked on home video. With nearly every scene featuring wide-angle lenses, deep focus, expressive colors, and an endlessly detailed production design, Brazil was made for blu-ray. Details that haven’t been visible since the theaters really pop in this blu-ray presentation and given that it’s a movie filled with meaningful details, that’s fan-fucking-tastic news. Now, it has to be said that the color palate of this blu-ray is considerable brighter than previous Brazil releases. Blu-ray transfers tend to have that effect on color schemes, but unfortunately it could also be the result of some unnecessary tweaking and tampering by Universal. We’ll have until the inevitable Criterion blu-ray release to be sure. At least for now, this is easily the best way to experience Brazil.
This disc may just be a cash grab before a more substantial special edition comes along, but if you’re a fan of Terry Gilliam, Brazil, or movies in general, this disc is worth picking up. Hollywood movies are rarely this original and imaginative. There’s a simple business reason for that and Gilliam had to fight many battles over Brazil as a result. The movie was clearly worth it though. Gilliam has made other extraordinary film since then, but has never found another project that combines his talents so well. The humor and sci-fi fantasy aspects ignite his cartoonist’s imagination while the bittersweet satire appeals to his ambitions as a serious artist. It’s flawed (mostly in the casting and conception of Kim Greist’s character), but what movie isn’t? Brazil is a masterpiece, end of story. To finally have it in high-def is exciting even if penny pinchers out there may want to hang on for a few months to see what Criterion has planned.