Lost in the future

TERRY Gilliam, formerly one of the Monty Python crew, has the kind of imagination that makes Wild Palms look pedestrian. In Brazil (World 9.30pm) he lets it rip. This 1985 fantasy adventure is as obtuse as a black hole, but dazzling in its inventive and massive sets and spectacular in its techniques.

It stars Jonathan Pryce, last seen in the exceptional Glengarry Glen Ross, and Gilliam's former Monty Python sidekick Michael Palin, best known in Hong Kong for Around The World In 80 Days and as a friend of photographer Basil Pao.

The theme is latter-day George Orwell, well beyond 1984. Citizens of this future regime live a subterranean existence. One of these punctilious little moles is Pryce, a statistician working for the Ministry of Information. He and millions of others work and live in a world crowded with a huge snakelike ductwork that heats, cools and generally keeps the community going. The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Building? Lloyds of London? A disaster is set off when a glitch in a computer system causes everything to go haywire by altering the arrest record for a terrorist (Robert De Niro). Pryce investigates and discovers the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist). In doing so he brings the scrutiny of his superiors upon himself.

The plot is confusing, but the art direction and the special effects are mind-boggling and eye-popping. This was Gilliam's follow-up to Time Bandits and with it he proved he is one of the best fantasy directors in the business.

NOW for two fine actresses in two average films; Meg Tilly in Impulse (Pearl, 9.30pm) and Barbara Hershey in Aunt Julia And The Scriptwriter (Pearl, 11.45pm).

Impulse is a strange one, a reverse variation on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers or The Stepford Wives, in which everyone shows too much emotion, as opposed to not enough.

Tim Matheson visits girlfriend Tilly in a hick farming community called Stryker and finds the inhabitants unable to control their impulses. They are robbing banks, shooting children and urinating on cars. Doctors tinker with old people's respirators and the younger residents develop a taste for nasty practical jokes.

As a footnote, this is not to be confused with two other films of the same name, one of which I mention because it was so truly awful. It starred William ''Captain Kirk'' Shatner and was originally called Want A Ride, Little Girl? Aunt Julia, made in 1989, is a nervous and not entirely satisfactory mix of comedy and period drama, set in 1951 New Orleans. For a comedy it is rather short on laughs. It marks an early appearance by Keanu Reeves as the youth who wants to be a famous writer.

MAKE that three fine actresses in three average films. In Bad Manners (World, 1.50am) Karen Black plays a wickedly selfish woman who adopts a ratty little boy in the hope that he will change her strange life. One of those comedy ideas that probably looked hysterical on paper, but metamorphosed into something more soporific on celluloid.

IT is a strange life if you are a brown bear, as The Great Bears Of Alaska (Pearl, 8.30pm) lucidly and elegantly reveals. Before winter these proud and violent animals fatten up by gorging on salmon, suckling, dozing and stealing fish. When their gluttonous mission is over they do what all of us have wished at some point we could do; head for their dens and hibernate for six months. During hibernation they do not eat, drink, defecate or urinate, a miracle of survival in itself, and of bladder control. The Great Bears Of Alaska is part of the BBC's Natural World series.