by Sherry Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Brazil - The Criterion Collection on Blogcritics.
Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a government worker, spends his days performing meaningless clerical tasks and his nights dreaming he is a winged superhero saving a damsel in distress. The government is highly inefficient, processing form after form without ever accomplishing anything. The inefficiency is cleverly represented visually by equally meaningless ducts that litter every structure in the city. The ducts intersect through homes, offices, and even fine restaurants, but they don't appear to have a beginning or an end. Whatever they are transporting just travels in endless circles, never really getting anywhere.
Sam gets caught up in the resistance movement when he spots a pretty neighbor upstairs of the Buttles. The attractive lady looks just like his dream girl and Sam will stop at nothing to find her again. Finally Sam has something to motivate change in his life, but the kind of change Sam seeks is not tolerated by anyone in his life. His mother wants him to do what she wants, and his boss wants him right where he is. His friend Jack (Michael Palin) is so roped into the system, he continues to call his wife by the wrong name after his boss mistakenly confuses it. But Sam can’t resist the chance to be a real superhero by rescuing the girl from the clutches of a fascist society.
Brazil is full of strange imagery and odd characters. Robert De Niro turns up in a comedic performance as the real Mr. Tuttle, a rogue heating and air-conditioning repairman. Though the setting is in the future, everything has an old fashioned look. The men wear suits and hats reminiscent of the 1940s. The computers are old manual typewriters with reflective screens and a multitude of tubes and wires attached to them that make them appear electronic. Even the little one-person car Sam drives has a look suggesting what old ‘50s sci-fi films thought the future might look like.
The Criterion Collection Blu-ray is presented in a MPEG-4, 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. I have never seen any other version of Brazil so I cannot compare the quality to a previous release. I found this picture to be mixed. The indoor scenes featuring medium and close-up shots are very sharp, with vibrant colors. Wide shots were occasionally a little softer focus. The outdoor scenes appeared grainy, with the colors somewhat dull and the image less sharp. This was most apparent in the fantasy sequences where Sam is flying through the clouds (filmed indoors, but set outdoors). Overall, however, the picture is pretty solid for a lower-budget film from 1985. The booklet included with the Blu-ray indicates that Terry Gilliam himself approved this transfer, and dirt, scratches, jitters, and other imperfections were meticulously cleaned from the print.
The sound is presented as a lossless 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The soundtrack is very good, with fine clarity and a strong presence. Sounds of police crashing through apartment windows, car tires screeching, and gun fire come through clearly. Dialogue is also clear and never gets lost, even in the more cacophonous action scenes. The focus is on “cacophonous,” as the sound mixing is intentionally chaotic during the action-oriented scenes. The soundtrack is free of pops or cracks.
The booklet included with the set features an essay from film critic David Serritt. The featurettes are very substantial and include the 30-minute on-set documentary “What is Brazil,” the 70-minute “Production Notebook,” which is broken down into several sections, and the hour-long “The Battle of Brazil: A Video History.” This documentary appeared on the 1996 Criterion DVD. “Battle” documentary is a comprehensive look at Gilliam’s fight with the studio over the U.S. release of the film. It’s perfect for better understanding the bastardized “Love Conquers All” cut and the fascinating fight undertaken by Gilliam to preserve his unique vision.