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February 20, 2001

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A Healthy Paranoia:
The Many Lives of Brazil

The first time I ever saw the film, Brazil, I hated it. A friend called me from across the country to tell me that Brazil would be on some commercial cable channel, and that I simply had to see it. So, I watched and was horrified. It had potential, but it degenerated into campy silliness. Before the film had even ended, the phone rang. It was my well-to-do friend who had recommended the turkey. "That isn't Brazil! Turn off your TV!!" he screamed as soon as I was on the line. He then related a long list of "things that Really happen" in the film, that I certainly had not seen on the television screen. It took a lot of convincing for me to ever actually rent the film and see if, somehow, it was better than it had been. Little did I know it would become one of my all-time favorite films.

The film tells the story of mild-mannered bureaucrat Sam Lowry in a 20th century where Orwell's 1984 was sheer prophecy. Lowry spends most of his time daydreaming fairy-tale like scenes of himself rescuing his dream girl, whom he has never seen in real life. But then he sees her. But how is she rapped up with the renegade handyman Harry Tuttle (Robert Deniro), and the terrorist organization he may or may not be a part of? Eric Idle guest stars as a demented colleague of Lowry’s, who can’t remember which of his own children is named what. The whole thing plays out like a black comedy mixed with a romance novel, designed by a madman and translated for a comic book audience. It's political satire. It's a love story. It's an adventure. It's none and all of these. And it’s Good.

Brazil: The Criterion Collection (three discs, chock full of extras) is not only a dream come true for the many fans of the film, it is also the greatest DVD package to hit the market yet. It features the full-length Director's Cut of the film, with optional audio commentary by the maker of the film, Terry Gilliam, as well as the "Love Conquers All" version. This revised (49 minutes shorter), and remixed version of the film is what the movie studio fought long and hard to secure as the theatrical version of the film. If you already like the film, you may want to watch this version first, as it will definitely make you think. Gilliam waged war on studio executives to see that his version of the film survived and, in the end, he won. The absurd and fascinating story of the fight between studio and director is chronicled in the documentary "The Battle of Brazil", also included in this pack. "What is Brazil?" features behind the scenes footage, cast interviews, and a hilarious sequence where everyone involved in the film tries, and ultimately fails, to explain why the film is called "Brazil". There are many other extras included, but I only have so much space here.

Brazil is a modern classic and this set really does deliver the extra features. Cancel your weekend plans and stock up on popcorn for this one.

Video Empire provides films for review in the Harbinger. And we are glad because they have the best movie selection anywhere around and more DVDs too! Video Empire is located on Azalea Road in Mobile.

-- Trey Lane


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