This time, we’re taking a look at the influential cult classic Brazil (movie) and along the way we ask if George Orwell’s 1984 really played a part in developing the script, asking how influential is this film and is anyone safe from the ire of Terry Gilliam? Let’s dig in….
Brazil (1985) Cast & Crew
Directed by Terry Gilliam: We’ve previously covered Gilliam and his “style” in our previous episode about the movie 12 Monkeys but this film was an early example of his talents much earlier in his directorial career. Prior to this he had directed films like Time Bandits and Jabberwocky and had gained the distinction of being the only American born member of the Monty Python comedy group. He also wrote for many of their sketches and films and brings a certain quirky quality to his dialogue and scenes. He had a hand in writing Brazil, but there is some controversy as to who helped him compose the first draft. For over 20 years, he had contended that his friend, Charles Alverson, did not help him write the screenplay. Now, Alverson was paid for his work and was ultimately not credited in the final product. However, when the first draft was published that contained Alverson’s original notes, Gilliam had to own up and admit he had been throwing Alverson under the bus for over two decades.
Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry: Pryce wasn’t just beginning his great career in the mid 1980’s, but he had developed a solid reputation while performing on the London theater scene and had even earned a Tony Award. Brazil is considered his breakthrough performance and has since gone to act in projects like Tomorrow Never Dies, Game of Thrones and was nominated for his first Academy Award for The Two Popes.
Kim Greist as Jill Layton: Not much is to be said about Greist in this role. She really just occupies the screen and doesn’t offer much compared to the other actors in the film. Other actresses considered for this role were Jamie Lee Curtis, Madonna and Rosanna Arquette. Tom Cruise was also considered to play Sam Lowry so we have to wonder what a version of Brazil would look like with Madonna and Cruise in the main roles.
Robert De Niro as Harry Tuttle: In spite of his prominent billing, De Niro is only on-screen for a limited time. De Niro originally sought the role of Jack Lint. but that was given to Michael Palin as his status as a family man would offer a unique juxtaposition to Lint’s role as a state sponsored torture artist. De Niro still wanted a part in the film so Gilliam offered him the smaller role of Tuttle.
- Jim Broadbent as Dr. Jaffe
- Ian Holm as Mr. Kurtzmann
- Bob Hoskins as Spoor
- Katherine Helmond as Ida Lowry
- Michael Palin as Jack Lint
For those unfamiliar with George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, it follows the lives of two government employees who fall in love with each other and begin an illicit affair. Their affair is discovered and they are forced into a reprogramming regimen and become brainwashed drones of their society. It sounds eerily similar to Brazil after watching the film. In fact, the film was developed under the name of 1984 ½ due to the similarities of the plot and characters.
There have already been several adaptations of Orwell’s book including one as recent as 1984, the year prior to the release of Brazil. But, if you are thinking that Terry Gilliam would be fan a of the original novel to develop an entire sequel film to the novel, well you’d be surprised to learn that Gilliam has admitted to never having read 1984. That’s like asking someone to replicate the Sistine Chapel when they’ve never even left the country. Gilliam has stated that while the novel 1984 is a jumping off point, he sort of took his own version of the book and wrote a film from a contemporary perspective rather than looking far into the future as Orwell when writing his original novel.
An adaption of Orwell’s book by Gilliam might be interesting to see, but given how selective the man is about what projects he takes on, we will probably never see that.
Universal Studios At It Again
Now, we’ve talked about studio interference before on the show and there are frequent offenders in this category and Universal Studios is often the biggest offender. We’ve mentioned before in our episode on Back to the Future how the studio continued to offer suggestions that didn’t make sense or just plain comical. For that film, it wasn’t until Steven Spielberg sent a sarcastic memo that the obnoxious notes finally stopped.
For Brazil, it was the will of a hard headed director that ultimately defeated the powerful studio heads. Terry Gilliam was not given final cut privilege and a battle ensued between him and Sid Sheinberg, the head of Universal Studios at the time. As Universal was handling the US distribution, they had final say as to how the film should end and they wanted Gilliam to change it from its original dark ending with Sam slipping into madness while being tortured by his former colleagues.
These proceedings were so contentious that Universal even enlisted an additional editing team that were working without Gilliam’s knowledge. This sort of tactic is nothing new, but has since not been used Hollywood. The most infamous example of multiple edits is the film Blade Runner and debate even rages today over which cut is the definitive one to watch.
It looked like all hope was lost and the film would never see the light of day. Gilliam even took out a full page ad in the trade magazine Variety. Sheinberg and Gilliam continued to publicly exchange barbs in the newspapers while no one could figure out what to do with the film. That is, until Gilliam decided to hold private screenings for critics without the studio’s knowledge. This of course, was and still is a big no-no in Hollywood, given the age of the Internet and leaks.
During 1985, Universal was heavily promoting its romantic drama film Out of Africa while leaving Brazil to labor with little promotion. On the same evening as Out of Africa’s premiere, Brazil was awarded the Los Angeles Film Critics Association prize for Best Picture which finally caused the studio to release the film in its intended version. While Out of Africa would go on to win 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Brazil has lived as a prominent cult film and has a wide influence into other films and television shows.
Force Fed Sci-Fi’s Brazil Film Review and Rating
On our unique scale for Force Fed Sci-Fi, our hosts were in agreement for Brazil with both Sean and Chris rating it as WOULD HOST A VIEWING PARTY. There’s a lot to take away from this film and repeat viewings would help anyone develop a deep appreciation for it. The production design is amazing and the depth of the world building is incredible. While the acting doesn’t feature any standout performances, everyone is able to pull their weight in this otherwise stacked film.
What did you think of Brazil? Was Bob Hoskins really killed by poop? Listen to our episode to find out our choice of Lens Flares and whether or not Sam Lowry is a reluctant or accidental hero. Please listen, rate and subscribe to the podcast.
Tune in next time when we discuss the horror/thriller/sci-fi genre bender, The Cell!