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Brazil (1985) - DVD Review

By Widge - posted 05.13.01 @ 11:54 pm
Brazil Criterion Collection DVD

Film:
DVD:

Written by Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown & Tom Stoppard
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert DeNiro, Ian Holm, Michael Palin

Features:

  • Director's cut with Gilliam audio commentary
  • "What is Brazil?", a 30-minute documentary
  • "The Battle of Brazil: A Video History", 60-minute documentary
  • In-depth coverage of the many drafts and treatments of the script, with comments from McKeown and Stoppard
  • Production designer Norman Garwood on the look of the film
  • Costume designer James Acheson on the costumes and their inspirations
  • Composer Michael Kamen on his work for the film
  • In-depth look at the storyboards for the original dream sequences with writeups on their content
  • In-depth look at the special effects, including some raw footage
  • Theatrical trailer, with publicity and production stills
  • 94-minute "Love Conquers All" version of Brazil overseen by the studio, with audio commentary by Gilliam expert
    David Morgan

Released by: Criterion.
Rating: R.
Region: 1
Anamorphic: No.

My Advice: Own It.

Somewhere in the 20th Century, Sam Lowry (Pryce) is a fairly mundane individual working for the Ministry of Information. His life is the stuff of bureaucratic nightmares, while in his dreamlife he is a hero, seeking his dreamgirl and fighting against the bizarre forces of darkness. When a mistake in the system at the Ministry finds Lowry dispatched on a mission to cover it up, he runs into the real life version of his dreamgirl (Greist)--and tries to become the hero of his dreams--against all better judgement.

Tobias categorizes this Criterion outing as "film school in a box," and there's no better way of putting it. The most impactful element of this set is not the unadulterated treatment of the film, the final director's cut as it's touted, although it's still powerful as all hell. It's not even the second disc, which covers pretty much every conceivable stage of creation of the film--we'll get back to all this. I must deal immediately with the contents of the third disc, the "Love Conquers All" version of the film.

Now when watching the documentaries about the conflict between Gilliam and the suits over this: I have to admit I could understand where the suits were coming from. After all, you play in their sandbox with their toys--hell, they own the toys. I had no concept of what they wound up trying to do to the film, though. The "Love" edition shows you--and commentator David Morgan details it for you--what Hollywood would do to every single film if they could only lay their paws upon it. I honestly believe this. Every piece of subtlety smashed just like the bug at the beginning of the film. Everything that does not serve an easy-to-digest theme, like "love conquers all," is...well, conquered. Granted, Tobias insists that stuff like the Return of the Joker debacle is much more insidious, but here you can see the before and after. And it's utterly chilling. This sucker's worth the price of admission for that and the "Battle" documentary alone.

Brazil: Santa Helpmann Brazil Bonus Feature: Eyes

But...there's more. A crapload more. The Gilliam commentary is insightful and entertaining. The draft by draft, blow by blow breakdown of the script's development is comprehensive to a fault. Everything from the effects to the sets to the costumes is broken down for you with tremendous attention to the whys and wherefores. Every single dream sequence (including many that were cut) is here complete with synopses and storyboards.

If there's any drawback to the set, it's the fact that there is so much text on the screen, it takes a long time to get through it all. What did I expect, though, right? I just wish they had put some option in there to let you set the screens to scroll every ten seconds or so, so that I didn't have to wear out the right arrow button on my remote. But that is a miniscule nit, make no mistake. Also, the set is not anamorphic, but those holding out really shouldn't. It's pricey, but well worth it. And seeing as how it's the most complete dissection of a film on DVD I've seen yet--you just gotta have one of your own.

Read More About:

Widgett Walls is Need Coffee's Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. He is the author of the novel Mystics on the Road to Vanishing Point, and two collections of short stories, Magnificent Desolation and Something Else: The Complete First Season. He is also co-author of the children's book There's a Zombie in My Treehouse! All of those books are available in paperback or for the Kindle from Amazon. He is also the narrator and publisher of the first unabridged recording of Seneca's letters, available here. He is active on both Twitter and Facebook. (If you befriend him on Facebook, do say you came via Need Coffee.) He lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. He hardly ever sleeps.

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