BRAZIL Laserdisc Review by Sean Murphy

BRAZIL Laserdisc Review by Sean Murphy

Editor's note : What you are going to read here was written by me, but created by Tim Lucas at Video Watchdog. I wrote one review of the Brazil Director's Cut laserdisc because I loved the film but Tim was looking for more so I totally rewrote to create a second version. This version still did not meet Tim's needs so he took bits from both of them and created the review you are about to read. I think it came out pretty well.


1985/96, Voyager/Criterion #CC1348L, D/S/SS/LB/+, $149.98, 143m 31s

MCA/Universal released three Science fiction/fantasy films in mutilated form during the mid-80's - David Lynch's DUNE (1984), Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL (1985), and Ridley Scott's LEGEND (1986) - which have since become "poster children" among laserdisc fanatics who dream of enjoying them in unexpurgated director's cuts someday. Previous issues of VIDEO WATCHDOG have detailed the scenes deleted from the original cuts of LEGEND (VW #29) and DUNE (VW #33-34); though rumors abound, neither film has yet been released in a director's cut. The director's cut of BRAZIL, on the other hand, has been generating publicity almost from the time Terry Gilliam finished it.

Brazil is the bleak story of what happens when a tiny fluke of Nature occurs in a huge mechanized bureaucracy, and the ripple effect that one error can have on many lives. Sam Lowery (Jonathan Pryce) is just another cog in the slowly-turning wheels of the System, until the ideal woman inhabiting his daydreams turns out to be the very real Jill Layton (Kim Greist). When a bug in the works causes Jill to be mistakenly labeled as a terrorist, Sam's heroic attempts to save her from the System force him to become a terrorist himself. Robert DeNiro has a memorable bit part as the enigmatic and dashing freedom fighter Harry Tuttle.

Sam's struggle against the System was mirrored in the real world with Gilliam's fight to get his version of the film released to the public. This fight, which began with an historic full-page "Open Letter" ad in VARIETY ("Dear Sid Sheinberg, When are you going to release my film BRAZIL?"), was well documented in Jack Matthews' fine book THE BATTLE OF BRAZIL. As that battle raged, European audiences were allowed to see Gilliam's original 142m cut, and American audiences were eventually spoon-fed a condensed version (131 m 4s) that quickly died at the boxoffice... and was later paraded on MCA Universal's cropped, fullscreen tapes and discs. Gilliam's initial cut eventually surfaced on a timecompressed Japanese laserdisc (Warner #NJL-38504 D/S. 136m 39s = 139m 6s), but it was a fuzzy, fullscreen transfer, somewhat darker-looking than the American laserdisc. Most domestic viewers first encountered the film via the so-called Love Conquers All TV version, an absurd 94m distortion that embodied Sheinberg's vision of the picture.

In a sense, BRAZIL is finally born with the recent arrival of the long awaited "Criterion Collection" edition. This stunning new boxed set--in the works since 1993-- contains an exclusive, never-before-seen "Directors Cut" of the film and other extensive supplements spread over five discs. The "Director's Cut is approximately as long as the original European release, though they are not the same in terms of footage. Gilliam has cut together the American and European versions to create a new, definitive version, and the overall result is a very fluid film indeed. For those of you who have seen only the American cut, the additional footage includes an extended scene between Sam and his mother (Katherine Helmond) before they enter the restaurant to eat lunch; a morning after scene between Sam and Jill in which it is revealed that she is wearing only a wig; Sam's interrogation by several different processing agents, and the "Father Christmas" scene in which Mr. Helpmann (Peter Vaughan), dressed like Santa Claus, tells Sam that Jill is dead. These final two scenes are particularly important to the narrative for showing the inner workings of the bureaucracy and the ultimate disclosure that Sam was unsuccessful in his attempts to save Jill.

The picture quality of the letterboxed (1.82:1) image is astounding, adding slightly more visual information to the sides of the image when compared to the previous fullscreen transfers. The film is presented in CAV and its densely layered visuals often look as if they were filmed for just such a perusal. The second analog track contains a running audio commentary by Gilliam and, as always, he: proves himself a most entertaining and informative raconteur.

The supplementary features of the Criterion box take the words Special Edition to a higher level. There are new video interviews with key personnel (including Terry Gilliam, screenwriters Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown, and composer Michael Kamen) which give us a very well-rounded view of the production and how the participants enjoyed working with one another. This feeling is echoed in the section containing the pictures and sketches of production designer Norman Garwood and costume designer James Acheson. Both men provide audio commentary during the slide show of images and explain how the look of BRAZIL was achieved. The still frame section also contains textual discussions of the various changes the screenplay went through until Gilliam was satisfied with the story. The highlight of this section is the original storyboards of the various dream sequences, many of which were never filmed-sacrificed due to budgetary constraints. The very funny 29m 6s documentary WHAT IS BRAZIL? I (1985) contains the only surviving footage of the infamous deleted eyeball dream sequence. A second documentary, produced especially for the Criterion release, is THE BATTLE OF BRAZIL: A VIDEO HISTORY (55m 7s). If you haven't read the Jack Mathews book, which is long out-of-print, this documentary provides a fine summary of the battle waged to present Gilliam's vision in America. The onscreen interviews with Gilliam, producer Amon Milchan, and MCA/Universal studio executives Frank Price, Marvin Antonowski and Bob Rehme are new, but former MCA/Universal executive Sidney Sheinberg is only present via a tape recording made by Mathews in 1985.

The ironic climax of the Criterion release is the inclusion of MCA's 93m 40s TV version of BRAZIL. In 1985, Sheinberg ordered this radical re-edit with the original intention of releasing it to theaters! David Morgan provides the audio commentary for this fullscreen version, and does an excellent job of pointing out the new and cut footage, as well as explaining how these changes affected the narrative. The late addition of this version to the Criterion package caused its originally announced price of $125 to jump to $150, but it's absolutely worth the additional cost.

A very good source of additional information about the film is the BRAZIL Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) list maintained by David S. Cowen at This document answers many questions commonly asked about BRAZIL and describes the different footage found in each version. This FAQ provides a great "supplement" to the Criterion disc, and is well worth reading. - SM

Article Index

Legend | Dune | Highlander II | Highlander II Liner Notes | Brazil | Buckaroo Banzai

New Nightmare | Phantasm

Last updated by Sean ( on January 1st, 2006