Brazil appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though the image was held back by the source photography, it looked good within those parameters.
Most of the time, sharpness was positive. Some wide shots could be soft, but these weren’t frequent or extreme. For the most part, the movie appeared distinctive and precise. I saw no problems with jagged edges or moiré effects, and neither edge haloes nor digital noise reduction marred the proceedings. Sourve flaws weren’t a factor; we got a light, natural level of grain but no specks, marks or other problems.,
Brazil usually went with a pretty subdued gray palette, but it managed to come to life with sporadic frequency. When it did so, the colors looked good. They were always concise and accurate, and they showed quite nice breadth. Blacks appeared deep and firm, while shadows were clear and well-developed. All in all, I felt pleased by this transfer.
I thought the DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio of Brazil worked fine for its age. The soundfield opened up matters to a positive degree. The forward channels dominated as they depicted good stereo music and a nice sense of life to the various settings. Elements meshed together well and moved smoothly. Dialogue occasionally bled from the center to the sides, but that wasn’t a big concern.
For the most part, the surrounds reinforced the forward speakers. They did so well, as they brought out a good feeling for the environments. They occasionally added a little more than that; some of the busier sequences seemed pretty involving. I wouldn’t call this an especially active mix, but it was above average in that regard given the age of the film.
Audio quality was a little erratic, though not terribly so. Speech could seem a little thin and distant, but the lines lacked much edginess and were always intelligible. Effects fell into a similar tone. They could appear slightly rough and harsh at times, but they usually sounded reasonably accurate and full.
Actually, bass response was pretty good, and that went for the music as well. The score varied between quite rich and somewhat wan, but the music was usually positive and lively. I wouldn’t call this a terrific mix, but it was more than satisfactory.
How does the Blu-ray compare to the 2006 remastered DVD? Audio was fairly comparable; the DTS-HD mix had a bit more range but was still held back by the restrictions of the original material.
The same went for the visuals – to some degree, Brazil will always be “silk purse/sow’s ear” territory, as it’s simply not the world’s most attractive presentation. In addition, the Blu-ray’s extra resolution revealed flaws not apparent on SD-DVD, as the softness of various shots became more obvious here. That said, it still offered obvious improvements, as the Blu-ray demonstrated superior colors and clarity.
On Disc One, the "Final" cut of the film provides an audio commentary from director Terry Gilliam. He covers… well, pretty much everything. Gilliam discusses themes, inspirations and influences, sets, costumes and props, locations and the movie’s look, visual effects and cinematography, changes among the various versions and permutations of the script, cast and performances, and a host of other useful topics.
The only minor negative I can attach to the commentary comes from Gilliam’s ego, since he can come across as a bit full of himself at times. Nonetheless, I don’t see this as an issue, especially since he proves so informative and engaging. Gilliam gives us an excellent snapshot of the production in this lively and rich commentary.
Disc Two gives us the infamous ”Love Conquers All” Version of Brazil. Basic history: the folks at Universal weren't too keen on the edition of the film Gilliam initially handed to them, and they wanted cuts. Gilliam refused, and a battle ensued. At one point, Universal executives decided to hire some editors to redo it, and this is what they produced, a version of Brazil that focuses on the romantic aspects of the story and provides it with a stereotypical happy ending.
This edit of the movie has received virtually universal condemnation, and I agree that it doesn't compare to Gilliam's version. To be frank, it didn't seem that bad to me, but I think that's because I saw it so soon after I'd watched the longer cut. I couldn't fully appreciate the cuts because I mentally filled in what I knew from the definitive version. Anyway, it unquestionably changes the entire tone of the film and is valuable mainly as a historical curiosity; it’s not worthwhile as a movie in its own right.
Alongside “Love Conquers All”, we find a commentary from journalist David Morgan. Whereas Gilliam discusses the making of the film and his related thoughts, Morgan essentially summarizes the differences found in this cut. It's too brief - there are quite a few blank spots – but Morgan does a good job of telling us what changed and how it altered the content and messages of the movie. I found this to be very helpful, since I hadn't clearly noticed many of the differences. It's not as much fun as Gilliam's track, but it definitely is worth a listen.
Next comes a documentary called What is Brazil?. Produced around the time of the film's 1985 release, it runs 29 minutes, seven seconds and provides a good but rudimentary look at the background and making of the film. It's not a great program, but as promotional pieces go, it's pretty good and it added some interesting information about the movie.
Created for the 1996 Criterion laserdisc set, The Battle of Brazil: A Video History comes next. Hosted by film journalist Jack Mathews, it lasts 55 minutes, nine seconds and details the sad and sordid history of the fight that surrounded the release of the movie. All of the key players are present, whether through then-new interviews or via archival audio conversations.
“Battle” seems quite interesting and informative and it does a nice job of offering the basic story about all of the problems the release of Brazil encountered. That conflict is a story within a story, and gives a fascinating account of the way the movie industry works. (Mathews wrote a book about the struggle, also called The Battle of Brazil. It’s an excellent source of information.)
Under The Production Notebook, we get a mix of subdomains. “We’re All In it Together: The Brazil Screenwriters” offers 10 minutes, 42 seconds of interviews with co-writers Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown. As is the case throughout this set, all participants are frank and upfront about the process through which they went, and these sessions are very interesting. Another interview is presented during the Brazil’s Score section; Gilliam and composer Michael Kamen discuss the music here with some pretty informative comments in nine minutes, 41 seconds of interviews and narration.
More video footage can be found during “Fashion and Fascism: James Acheson on Brazil’s Costume Design”. Costume designer Acheson narrates some photos and drawings of the material for the film; the audio/visual part of this section runs for seven minutes, one second and adds some helpful information.
We hear more from David Morgan in “Flights of Fantasy: Brazil’s Special Effects”. This goes for nine minutes, 41 seconds and includes Morgan’s commentary as we watch some of the movie’s effects sequences as well as test shots. It becomes another informative program. Morgan does similar duty for the 20-minute, 45-second “Designing Brazil”. He covers props, locations and sets in this enjoyable “visual essay”.
“Production Notebook” ends with “Dreams Unfulfilled: Unfilmed Brazil Storyboards“. It presents an introduction and then shows us eight storyboards that’ve been brought to life via animation. These run a total of 21 minutes, 12 seconds and allow us to get a good sense of some unfilmed sequences.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we find a 20-page booklet that features an essay from film critic David Sterritt. Though not one of Criterion’s most substantial pieces, it’s still a nice addition.
Brazil provides a daring, rich experience that remains gripping after 27 years. Almost certainly Terry Gilliam’s best work, it holds up to repeated viewings and provides an involving flick. The Blu-ray offers good picture and audio along with a strong roster of supplements. Fans will feel pleased with this high-quality release.
To rate this film visit the original Three-Disc Criterion Collection review of BRAZIL