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Terry Gilliam has long been a challenging filmmaker. His works—always daringly different and often deeply strange—can be a hard sell to more mainstream audiences. But after his offbeat time-travel adventure Time Bandits earned a warm reception from critics and more than $42 million at the U.S. box office, Universal Pictures opted to distribute his ambitious follow-up Brazil. Still, studio execs Sid Sheinberg and Frank Price had no idea what to expect of the film, as Gilliam himself recalls in the clip below:
Gilliam's Brazil famously centers on a daydreaming bureaucrat in a bustling Orwellian future who becomes mistaken for an enemy of the state. It starred Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Michael Palin and Kim Greist. But featuring a trippy narrative that contains a renegade air conditioning repairman, drastic face-stretching plastic surgery, a daffy dream girl and a knight in shining armor decked out with giant wings, this was unlike anything Sheinberg and Price had ever seen before.
"We'll have to sell this as the film of the decade," Sid said. Gilliam took this as a sign that these suits didn't get Brazil, and figured they'd have a hell of a time selling it to the public. Gilliam notes his ever-optimistic producer Arnon Milchan took the remark at face value, but unfortunately he was wrong. The clip from the film's Criterion Blu-ray cuts off at a crucial moment, presumably when Sheinberg demanded the film be re-cut with a happier ending.
A battle ensued that led to Brazil being shelved until Gilliam—without the studio's permission—invited critics to a screening of his cut of the film. Thereafter, Brazil was named the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's Best Picture of 1985. This spurred Universal to compromise. With Gilliam's oversight, his original 142-minute film was cut down to 132 minutes and was released. Though its domestic box office did prove disappoint, the film went on to earn Oscar nominations for Art Direction and Best Original Screenplay, and aside from becoming a cult classic, is considered by many to be Gilliam's masterwork.
The Brazil Criterion Blu-ray is now on sale.