Terry Gilliam's Brazil, a singular science-fiction vision of a totalitarian future, had already been released in Europe by the time he had resorted to guerrilla warfare in the American press. Twentieth Century Fox had accepted Gilliam's 142 minute cut and released it. In North America, where Universal had the rights, it was a completely different story. First, a screening in front of Universal executives had gone down like a lead balloon – it's ending too bleak for the commercial sensibilities of some. Universal's head of physical production, Frank Price – who in his previous role at Columbia Pictures had green lit risky projects like Tootsie (1982) and 1984's box office smash Ghostbusters – was of the opinion that the film was good, but would struggle to find a wide audience. Universal wasn't – at the time – a studio that marketed niche, arthouse productions. Sid Sheinberg was of the opinion that a commercial film could be made out of the story elements, if you cut some of the bleaker concepts out and concentrated on the love story. Price and a few other higher ranking Universal executives disagreed.

So began the first of Terry Gilliam's battles with a major film studio. The Monty Python alumnus had come off the back of a massive box office success with Time Bandits (1981). Indeed, at the time it was the highest grossing independent movie ever released at the North American box office. This made Gilliam a hot director in Hollywood. The studios, being as they are, wanted to line Gilliam up for their next 'A list' project, which in this case was a science-fiction piece called "Enemy Mine". Gilliam read this apparently "hot script" and promptly rejected it. The film would end up being directed by Wolfgang Petersen.

This made Gilliam's other project more enticing by association. Surely if he is turning down the studios big project then his OTHER script must be even better. That script was Brazil, which had already been turned down by all the studios. Gilliam had been writing this concept for a few years and it had jokingly been titled "1984 and a ½" at one point, despite Gilliam having never read George Orwell's prescient novel or seen any of the adaptations for screen and stage. Tom Stoppard, the acclaimed playwright, had been tasked with adding most of the dialogue to Gilliam's dystopian structure, though most of the final credit would go to Gilliam and Charles Mckeown – who Gilliam would later work with on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), two projects similarly plagued with bad luck and factitious battles.

Brazil would arguably represent the zenith of Gilliam's creative visions. A work that was simultaneously comedic and bleak, satirical and scathing. The political atmosphere of the 1980's funnelled through his sensibilities. It remains a unique work, one of visual splendour – it's retro-future aesthetic would influence throughout the 1980's (Tim Burton's Batman (1989) feels like it wants to be Brazil for example, in the way it patches a noir sheen into a different genre) – and one where the design is as funny as the dialogue. For example, The Ministry of Information has plenty of amusing graphics lining the streets which says more about its totalitarian influence than any exposition.

For Gilliam, one of cinemas biggest dreamers, the protagonist Sam Lowry (played by a never-better Jonathan Pryce) represents the best and worst of those qualities. In his dreams, Lowry soars through the sky and fights like a knight against the oppression lining the streets. In his day job, Lowry refuses promotions – despite being clearly quite bright – and day dreams through his life taking zero risks. He ignores the obviously damaged world he lives in and doesn't accept the consequences of mistakes until (in a move that's completely selfish in motivation) he spots the literal girl of his dreams – except in actuality she is a terrorist named Jill (played by Kim Greist, in a role that was largely excised from Gilliam's final cut). Lowry is forced for the first time to fight for something he believes in, though it's telling that Gilliam views Lowry as being complicit in the whole thing. He might frame him like the hero of his own noir but he doesn't view him that way. When Lowry eventually gets what he wants – and deserves – it's in a way that sees him lose everything.

The supporting cast add a lot of enjoyment to a viewing. Gilliam's fellow Python and regular collaborator Michael Palin gets perhaps the most interesting role as Jack Lint. Lint represents a clean, nice, charming and joyful persona on the outside but is perhaps the most vindictive character in the whole piece. One who might be smiling as he talks to his child – whose name he cannot remember, a man who has his priorities in a different place – whilst washing the blood off his hands from his latest torture victim. Gilliam cleverly plays on the audiences expectations of Palin playing a nice character of a similar nature to his own disposition, whilst slowly peeling back the layers to reveal the horrible underbelly. Tellingly, fellow supporting cast member Robert DeNiro wanted to play Lint. Gilliam had already promised the role to Palin, so he suggested the role of Harry Tuttle to him. Tuttle represents a hero-figure of sorts, the kind of mythical figure that Lowry embodies in his dreams and casting DeNiro against type and in a relatively small role at the time really worked, his energy a manic contrast to Pryce's more bumbling Lowry. Bob Hoskins and Jim Broadbent also appear in small roles.

With the influence of Fritz Lang in its visuals and the spectre of Orwell in its tone, Brazil was a hard sell. Gilliam was without the head of Universal's support in getting it released in the form he was happy with. It should be noted though, that Gilliam could have avoided any studio resistance if he had edited Brazil down to 2 hours and 12 minutes, as he was contractually obliged to deliver.

As it was, he was forced into guerrilla screenings at college campuses – literally stealing the print and screening it against the wishes of the studio. It wasn't until the Los Angeles film critics managed to screen the film and voted it their film of the year – in a move that some believe was a statement against Universal and for the artistic expression of Gilliam – that the film was released by Universal in late December, 1985. Its box office impact was minor, though it did garner two Oscar nominations for its screenplay and for the art direction.

Brazil's legacy is assured. It remains a spectacular blend of science-fiction, cultural satire and horrific future-vision. Gilliam has gone on to have an idiosyncratic career, of spectacular films that could only have come from his imagination. Not all of them work, but the fact that he continues to get to make them is to the benefit of cinema. In some ways though, Gilliam may have won the battle but lost the war. The studios would be loath to release a movie like Brazil today – films like Darren Aronofsky's Mother! (2017) are the exception that proves the rule – and he struggles to attract major financing for his works. Then again, much like Sam Lowry, he's ended up exactly where he needs to be.