Rediscovering Brazil on Blu-ray Disc has been a curious journey. I'd not seen the film since it was probably first made available for home viewing on VHS tape back in the day. Lately, I have been getting into Terry Gilliam's films so I decided that getting a nice crisp Blu-ray edition was a smart investment. I scored a used copy for $15 and was pretty happy with it initially.
Then I read that there was a Criterion edition promising a "Director's Cut," so I eventually sought out a copy of that (alas, no used bargain on that one -- people rarely trade in their Criterions!).
Subsequently, the process of figuring out which version I liked better turned out to be a bit more complex than I'd anticipated. Certainly, the Universal copy was quite nice with a hot and immersive DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack, BD-Live features and even D-Box encoding.
Unfortunately, I can't afford a D-Box set up.
I bought the Criterion edition without looking closely at the package details until I got home. At first I was disappointed because -- while the disc does boast DTS HD Master Audio processing -- it lists it as a 2.0 surround track.
Yeah, you read that right: "2.0 surround."
This made no sense to me initially until I started digging through the booklet included in the Criterion edition and found this paragraph in the section titled "About The Transfer" :
"The original 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm Dolby stereo magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation. Please be sure to enable Dolby Pro Logic decoding on your receiver to properly play the Dolby 2.0 surround soundtrack."
Scurrying away went I to my storage closet, digging through my stack of a/v gear manuals, looking for the one for my Pioneer AVR. Sure enough, I soon located the never-used buttons I needed to press to enable the Dolby Pro Logic decoding.
This was/is fascinating for me -- and those of you "in the industry" who know my many years of work as the external publicist for DTS will appreciate the humor of this -- to find in my Oppo Blu-ray player a disc containing a DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack encoded in Dolby Pro Logic designed to be decoded in my AVR.
Comparing and contrasting the Universal and Criterion editions, the differences are distinct. The Universal soundtrack is very crisp and discreet as one would expect from a DTS HD Master Audio track. It sounds great even, big and explosive. The Criterion edition -- which, again, was approved by director Terry Gilliam himself -- sounds every bit as big and explosive yet somehow is more satisfying and works better with the film. For example, in the opening scene of the film (where the man walking in front of the store window becomes a victim of a terrorist bombing) the Universal version's explosions are pinpointed to the speakers coming from behind you which is cool. In the Criterion edition, the sound of the explosion seems to wash over you front to back as if you yourself were the victim of the attack, making the impact of that scene even stronger.
My guess is that quite a bit of effort went into the original sound design of the film and thus -- instead of doing a new modern remix of the soundtrack -- using this approach Mr. Gilliam was able to share that original work preserved in the original encoding with us.
It's kinda cool, actually, when you stop and think about it.
The look of the Criterion edition preserves a bit more film grain and has a more natural sense of color; it is a subtle difference, but to my eye the Universal disc looks a little more eye popping and (if you will) modern. Depending on what you like, that could be a good or bad thing.
Personally, I prefer to see what Mr. Gilliam intended for us to see. So, another significant reason to get the Criterion edition is that you get the full 142-minute uncut version he originally created; the Universal edition is some 10 minutes shorter. Aa a bonus on the Criterion edition you get a second disc including many fascinating supplements including a great mini documentary titled The Battle of Brazil which explores the studio fighting that led to the creation of three versions of the film.
Yes, you read that correctly: three versions! Also on the second disc you get the 94-minute "Love Conquers All" version of Brazil which was created for airing on commercial television. So after you have been wow'd by Mr. Gilliam's masterful director's cut, you can really see just how the film was sliced 'n diced by the studios back in the day in order to make it a bit more family friendly.
So, which version do you get? If you are a fan of the film and Mr. Gilliam's work, you should get the Criterion edition -- its the definitive version. If you are just curious to have the film in your collection and see the Universal Blu-ray disc version on sale for under $15, by all means get it. It is decent and for the price it looks and sounds good. Of course, if you aren't a hardcore fan of the film, chances are you might not even want to physically own the film and might just want to stream it via Netflix in basic stereo. That's cool. It is not everyone's cuppa tea.
Whatever you decide, do watch Brazil as it is a fantastic, surreal and poignant movie, with some really important messages and warnings of how society can get out of control, especially in the wrong hands.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.