There are a million different takes on the actual movie "Brazil," but what I hope to do in this review is actually rate the collection put together by Criterion.
The 3-DVD box set of "Brazil" starts off with the "final final" director's cut of the film, topping out at 142 minutes. (There are eight minutes of footage added to this release.) The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 dimensions. Fact is, the transfer of the movie is so-so.
For all the Criterion hoopla, the print here is flawed. The notes pay tribute to a few digital scratch removers, but I was truly surprised by the amount of garbage in the print (dirt, empty spots, and such) that litter the frames. One of Sam's initial dream flights has considerable gunk inhabiting the lower left corner, and any frame by frame analysis will reveal an endless parade of bits of stuff inhabiting every shot. To be honest, I expected a lot more here and if there is any criticism of this collection, it lies with this fault primarily. They could have cleaned everything up considerably more than they did. And that's a shame at this price.
Colors and contrast in the print look good, though, and the sound is fabulous. They pulled out a full stereo soundtrack and made it sing, so kudos there, too. The sound is clean and vibrant.
The booklet detailing the film is good, but not the best I've seen, even for a lesser boxset. The content listings for the other two DVDs are little more than a single overview sheets.
Director Terry Gilliam's commentary track on the first disc is priceless and fascinating, almost worthy of the cost for the set alone. As a film geek, I personally find all director commentaries to be interesting, so I may not be the best judge. In this case, though, Gilliam gives us a rich look at the film that stands up to the best of other directors's commentaries I've heard.
Criterion's skimping on the booklets is made up for in the second disc, which contains all the background of the film. "The Battle of Brazil" is the high point as Gilliam and some of the Universal Studios execs discuss the crazy backstory that almost led to the demise of the film as we know it. The film's handlers and financiers all fretted that they had an arthouse piece that would go nowhere, but Gilliam refused to make the desired cuts or to swerve from the darkness of the ending. It wasn't until he managed to sneak a final edit of the movie to the Los Angeles Film Critics organization that he was able to outduel the execs. When the critics lauded the film and lavished their prizes on it, the naysayer's bluff was called and the film was released, albeit to only modest box-office that barely made back its money. Film critic Jack Matthews hosts this slightly more than an hour examination of the battle between the creative forces and the forces of pragmatism.
The second DVD also includes "What is Brazil?" - a mostly throwaway behind the scenes look at the making of the film that features the cast and some of the writers. I didn't find it particularly illuminating.
The big disappointment in the second DVD is that many of the production notes covering the design, special effects, score, and more are not filmed, but simply text. I wanted more than that. Somewhat disappointing. There are some good insights into the flying effects in the dream sequences, though. That much of it was model work is simply amazing.
The last DVD features the bowdlerized, 94 minute TV syndication release of the film dubbed "Love Conquers All." This happy ending version was done apart from Gilliam and probably represents what the studio heads had hoped would be the released version. "Execrable" is too kind a word to use to describe this version. Critic David Morgan's commentary notes all that was left out, and a few scenes that were added back in. While this version isn't worth your time, it is worthy of inclusion in the set, fleshing out the madness that almost killed the movie entirely.
I have always considered "Brazil" to be genius, frankly. As a dystopia, the world it portrays out-Orwells them all. If you hate bureaucracy--and who but bureaucrats doesn't--then this is the film for you. And only Gilliam would be daring enough to make a renegade HVAC repairman a mythically heroic addition to that world.
Plenty of people don't get this movie and I don't know why. Roger Ebert loved "Dark City," but passed on "Brazil," inexplicably, so even critics aren't perfect. Many of today's films owe much to "Brazil" and that alone makes it important.
In the end, three stars for the package and five for the film itself. The lack of a more pristine print subtracts two full stars from what would have otherwise been a perfect review, however. Criterion's boxset, though flawed, is still the best way to experience the film, so if you are a fan of "Brazil" or Gilliam's work, this is the only way to fly.