Terry Gilliam Week Day #2: Brazil

For his next film, 1985's Brazil, Terry Gilliam targets his vision of fantasy a little more towards an adult audience.  This time, instead of Michael Palin (who does still co-star) helping out with the script writing, it's renowned playwright Tom Stoppard, best known for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.  It's a bleak dystopian vision of the future where bureaucracy is slightly more domineering than it is today.  It has real 1984 and Kafka vibes, married with Gilliam's penchant for cartoonish imagery.  Many of his Time Bandits cast return, including Ian Holm, Katherine Helmond, Jim Broadbent, Peter Vaughn, Simon Jones and, as we said, Michael Palin.  The big stars they did lose have been replaced by more stellar greats like Robert DeNiro, Bob Hoskins, Ian Richardson and our protagonist, Jonathan Pryce.
The romance that's meant to be driving this story is dead on arrival, the pacing drags and Gilliam's work tends to get stuck in the superficial.  As with Time Bandits, fans hoping for the consistent comedy of a Python film were left grasping.  Brazil doesn't manage to live up to the works it's trying to emulate, but it does at least manage to put a modern (at least for its time) twist on things.  And there's just too much clever stuff and vivid imagery in this movie to dismiss it.  Especially if you're watching the right cut.
A scene only in the director's cut.
"Right cut?"  Yes, there are essentially three versions of Brazil that keep getting released on home video.  There's the American theatrical cut, which is actually a slightly trimmed down version of Gilliam's original director's cut, which is what played theatrically in Europe.  And then there's a shorter TV cut, often referred to as the "Love Conquers All" cut, because it changes the ending and alters the meaning of the whole film.  Not that there's much exclusive content to speak of, but it is true that both shorter cuts do feature a few alternate takes/ lines of dialogue that are not in the original European version.  So there is something for die-hard fans to discover in these alternate versions, though the ideal release would probably just be the European cut along with the deleted/ alternate scenes as extras.
The history of Brazil on home video in the US is pretty easy to grasp.  You've just got its own studio first releasing simple, barebones editions, and then Criterion licensing it and releasing special editions.  So, we start with Universal's widescreen but non-anamorphic DVD of the European cut in 1998, which they described as "FULLY RESTORED With Bonus Footage."  In fact, you could follow this back further to the laserdiscs, where Universal first released the American cut in 1986, and then Criterion released as an impressive 5-disc set in 1996, which debuted Gilliam's director's cut here in the states along with the TV cut, plus heaps of extras.
And it's all of that great content that Criterion released on their still non-anamorphic 3-disc DVD set in 1999.  In 2006, they reissued the same set, but now properly enhanced for 16x9 display.  Then the pendulum swings back to Universal for Brazil's blu-ray debut, a barebones presentation of the American cut (a surprising decision, since even their own DVD had been the director's cut).  This was released in 2011, and just reissued last year.  But in between those, Criterion came out with their 2012 2-disc blu-ray edition, which included both cuts (DC and TV, not the theatrical) and everything else from their DVD set.
1) 1998 Universal DVD; 2) 1999 Criterion DVD; 3) 2012 Criterion BD.
I knew both DVDs had non-anamorphic widescreen transfers, but I was surprised to learn they were identical.  Well, the 1.81:1 was fine for its time, I suppose.  It's not interlaced, the color timing is strong with natural looking flesh tones and solid blacks.  But if you were expecting Criterion to come along and correct the aspect ratio to 1.85:1 for their blu-ray, nope.  Surprisingly, it's 1.78:1.  Universal's 2011 blu is 1.85:1, but not the Criterion.  It's "Terry Gilliam approved," so maybe that was his call?  It does still reveal more picture along all four sides compared to the DVDs, and it's a proper upgrade in many other aspects, of course.  Struck from a 35mm interpositive, it's no longer trapped in a 4:3 frame, it's boosted to HD, replacing compression noise with film grain, and it's highlights are a little more subtle.  They've also cleaned up the print damage (note the black stain above Kim Greist's rear-view mirror in the second set of shots), which wasn't terribly distracting on the DVD, but it's even nicer now that it's not there at all.
2012 Criterion BD.
Criterion's "About the Transfer" booklet doesn't even bother to address their "Love Conquers All" TV cut presentation.  It's full-screen at 1.31:1 and problematically interlaced, even on the blu.  The blacks are all grey and the print damage hasn't been cleaned up on this one.  The framing is largely open-matte, revealing a lot of excess vertical space, but it does lose a little on the sides, too.

All three discs present the director's cut with its original stereo mix and optional English subtitles, in DTS-HD on the blu.  Criterion does not provide subs for the TV cut, and the stereo audio is lossy even on the blu.
Now, no new extras have been produced for the film since the 1996 laserdisc.  So fortunately, they came up with a lot.  Universal's DVD just has the trailer, but Criterion's sets are pretty packed.  Firstly, there's an audio commentary by Gilliam, and a second commentary on the TV edit by expert David Morgan.  There's the original promo featurette, which runs a good half hour, and a collection of odds and ends called The Production Notebook, which is kind of a hold-over from how laserdiscs used to compile extras.  It contains a featurette on the screenwriting, a bunch of animated storyboards, and additional featurettes on the production design, special effects, score and costumes.  Probably the stand-out extra is an hour-long documentary called The Battle Of Brazil that covers the film's alternate cuts and struggles to get a proper home video release.  There's also the trailer and a booklet with notes by critic David Sterritt.  The DVD set had three amary cases in a slipbox and outer semi-transparent slip.
I keep expecting Arrow or someone (but mostly just Arrow) to come around with a fancy new 2k, or now 4k, restoration, with all new special features and, by this point, a UHD disc.  But it keeps not happening (20th Century Fox is the only label to have handled it in the UK), and this 2012 Criterion blu remains the definitive release.  So it's lucky for us that it holds up rather well.

1 comment:

  1. The 2011 Universal Blu-ray makes for a good curiosity, being a then-fresh scan of the U.S. theatrical cut with unique colour timing (and to my eye, better fine detail) complements the Criterion set nicely for the completionist.
    Buuut I've seen used copies listed online for as much as a new Criterion copy lately with some sensationalist "OUT OF PRINT" headers, and I don't think it's worth more than the $15 I paid for it ten years ago.