November 23, 2011

Blu-ray Review: Brazil

In 1985 Terry Gilliam's Brazil was released after a battle between writer/director Terry Gilliam and studio executives. Gilliam's original cut of the Orwellian film ran 142-minutes and was the version that was liked in Europe upon its release. The problem is that American executives did not like the downer of an ending and insisted on a happy ending, this resulted in a 94-minute version which has been dubbed the "Love Conquers All" version. A third cut compromise was made by Terry Gilliam, who screen tested on his own and even took out ads imploring the studio that the film be released. This last step returned a 132-minute version which everyone agreed upon and was ultimately released in theaters. It is this last theatrical cut which is the first to appear on Blu-ray.

Brazil is a fascinating film It is a movie filed with nuance and meaning for those willing to interpret it for themselves. It is a movie whose commentary on bureaucratic society rides close to the surface where it becomes the actual substance of the movie. It is a movie filled with imaginative visual splendor, featuring a style that can be no one but Terry Gilliam. Beyond all of that, Brazil is a quirky movie with a strange, slapsticky style of comedy blended with mystery and fantasy in a retro-science fiction setting. Love it or hate it, it is really quite remarkable.

Terry Gilliam's quirky vision of the future as a retro world hamstrung by bureaucracy and completely reliant on information and paperwork seems to be as much a comment on society as it is on his own efforts to get movies made. It always seems that when he is trying to get a project off the ground that there are countless roadblocks erected in his way.

The movie centers on the drab information worker Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce). However, before we get to him we need to get the plot in motion. The story is spurred by a literal bug in the machine, when a swatted fly falls into a printer causing a typo, Buttle rather than Tuttle. The error is made on an arrest warrant for a terrorist. The wrong man is arrested and subsequently dies during interrogation. Well, Lowry discovers the error, has an encounter with the real Tuttle (Robert Deniro), who turns out to be somebody branded a terrorist because he does the work and circumvents the paperwork.

It should be known that Lowry is not a man of action. He has accepted this lot in life, working with forms and moving the information to where it needs to go. His only escape is into his fantasies where he soars high above everything, he has wings, a sword, bigger hair, and always sees a woman, the woman of his dreams. In any case, when he trues to correct the Buttle error he meets Jill (Kim Greist), and she is the woman from his dreams!

He becomes infatuated with her and before long, he is branded a terrorist and is on the run with Jill from the paper pushing bureaucracy that is unwilling to admit they made a mistake. To tell more would be telling and believe me when I tell you that this movie is worth your investigation, if you have not found it already.

There is something terribly engrossing about Brazil. The acting is not the most naturalistic, but it fits the universe of the movie. Jonathan Pryce is very good as the dweebish Lowry, something that was enhanced by the fact that when I first saw the movie, many years ago, I had only known Pryce as the Lexus pitchman. Now, as good as I thought he was, this is really all about Terry Gilliam.

The design, the effects, the setpieces all have a distinctly Gilliam feel. It is almost like he let his imagination run rampant and just went for the gusto regardless of cost. He brings a great retro-future to the screen that makes it look like a large chunk of society stopped developing in the 1950's, look at the computer displays, for example, they look like old televisions with big magnifying glass panels in front of them. Also, look at the clothing, very old school.

What it really comes down to is that Brazil is a fascinating movie that can be watched as pure entertainment or as something more, a statement on society, big business, big brother, and individualism. Either way is correct and it pays off in both directions. Also, let us not forget the beautiful recurring use of "Aquarela do Brasil."

Audio/Video. The movie is presented in its original aspect ration of 1.85:1. The Blu-ray is definitely a step up from my old DVD. The colors are nicely saturated and there seems to be improved detail. At the same time, the movie still looks soft, something that seems to have always been, regardless of format. I can only assume it was meant to be that way, and it is the way I have always thought of it. It is not bad by any stretch, it adds to the fantasy look of the fictional retro-futuristic city. It will never be compared to a new Hollywood release, but it is probably the best it has looked since it was in theaters.

The audio track is a DTS-HD 5.1 track that does its job well with solid dialogue fidelity. The mix is mostly upfront, although there are some instances of surrounds kicking into gear with some the louder moments, such as when Tuttle's men step in to help out Lowry. It is a solid mix that represents the material well without really calling attention to itself.

Extras. Nothing. Aside from it being BD-Live enabled the disk contains nothing. This is a definite shame, but I am still glad to have the movie in high definition.

Bottomline. Brazil is one of Terry Gilliam's best films and a great example of what science fiction can do. It is an imaginative journey that uses its setting to creatively comment on modern society that feels just as timely today as it must have in 1985.

Highly Recommended.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Brazil (1985) on Blogcritics.

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