Blu-ray Review: Brazil

Who would’ve thought in 1985 that Brazil would predict the state of both Britain and America in 2011? In this savage satire written by Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown, and director Terry Gilliam, the Big Brotherly invasions into personal privacy and liberty — surveillance without warrant, imprisonment without trial, the use of torture — have now become common currency, all in the name of suppressing supposed terroristic threats. A large chunk of the federal budget being spent on the gigantic bureaucratic gathering of information, National Guard soldiers wielding automatic weapons in public places, a decade of war against internal and external enemies of our once “way of life” — all that and more is in Brazil. And, yes, that was 26 years ago in 1985 . . . which makes George Orwell’s 1984, published 62 years ago, even more brilliantly prescient.

For its Blu-ray debut, Brazil is seen in the Gilliam-supervised 132-minute cut — not his 142-minute “final cut” (available in the Criterion Collection’s three-DVD boxed set) nor Universal’s 92-minute “Love Conquers All” version that ended up in TV syndication. It’s not a bad compromise.

Visually, Gilliam melds his own vision with Orwell’s, creating a half-futuristic, half-1940s look. This, in turn, is juxtaposed with dream sequences that bring out the funny yet sinister and shocking surrealism of Gilliam’s old Monty Python animations, with soupçons of Federico Fellini and Jacques Tati. And it all looks pretty damn good here.

In the very crisp and bright transfer, the 1.85:1 images are filled with rich colors, often purposely garish — such as the purple in one of the ugly outfits worn by Mrs. Ida Lowry (Katherine Helmond), the mother of our hero, Sam (Jonathan Pryce). Blacks are deep throughout, especially in the hat and overcoat of Jack the torturer (Michael Palin), and there’s a sea of shades of all the gray men in gray offices. Meanwhile, details in background wallpaper are clearly visible. There’s a fair amount of grain at times but nothing too intrusive.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is mostly resonant, but the initial singing of the theme song is tinny — and this shrillness continues in the highest frequencies of the score’s loudest passages, as well as in some effects (like the ricocheting of bullets). Otherwise, the music is decently bassy, as are all the explosions. The surround channels are used for echoing the music and for office atmospherics (clattering typewriters, shuffling papers).

The disc lacks Gilliam’s memorable commentary. In fact, there are no extras whatsoever. One presumes (and hopes) that Criterion will redeliver the big-box goods on Blu-ray.