Title: The Adventures of Baron MunchausenDirector: Terry Gilliam
Starring: John Neville, Sarah Polley, Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, Bill Paterson, Charles McKeown, Winston Dennis, Jack Purvis, Robin Williams, Valentina Cortese, Peter Jeffrey, Allison Steadman, Ray Cooper, Sting
Plot: The fantastical tale of 18th century aristocrat and teller of tall tales Baron Munchausen (Neville) who along with his band of talented henchmen and theatre owner’s daughter Sally Salt (Polley) must band together to save a city from the invading Turk army.
Review: Opening in an unnamed and war-torn city in Europe, during the late 18th century in a period dubbed “The Age of Reason” while more precisely on a Wednesday were a theatre troupe are putting on a production of Baron Munchausen’s life and adventures, despite the city currently being under siege and city official “The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson” (Pryce) continues to reinforce the city’s commitment to reason or more precisely uniformity. Its at this moment that an elderly man claiming to be real Baron Munchausen bursts into the theatre critizing the players for getting his story wrong and essentially setting in motion the many strange and wonderful events which follow, while equally setting the tone for this third and final entry in Gilliam’s “Trilogy of Imagination” which started with “Time Bandits” and “Brazil” and which could in many ways been seen as the films that the Monty Python team would have made, had they not called it a day with “The Meaning of Life”.
This film is also the one which has since its release become something around of a millstone around the neck of Gilliam’s career thanks to its trouble production and spiralling costs which saw his original budget of $23.5 million balloon into $45.63 million by the end of production, while Columbia’s new CEO Dawn Steel refusing financing previously agreed by her predecessor David Puttnam. The situation also not being helped by the film failing at the box office despite highly positive reviews it would only claw back a paltry $8 Million. Despite the film going on to become a cult favourite it has however continued to dog Gilliam career ensuring that he’s constantly had to fight for funding for the films which followed and no doubt explaining why he’s remained more of an indie director in the years which followed starting with his “Trilogy of Americana” made up of The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.
Unquestionably this film is one of Gilliams most fantastical films as he seemingly sets out with a vision to try and top the imagery of Brazil and Time Bandits, while crafting what could almost be seen as a “Gulliver’s Travels” style adventure as we follow this fantastical creation on a series of ever more fantastical adventures as he rides a cannonball, escapes a city in a hot air balloon made of women’s undergarments, meets the king of the moon (Williams credited here as Ray D. Tutto) and the roman god Vulcan (Reed) and even gets eaten by a large fish. It’s really the sort of film that only Gilliam could think about attempting while one he is yet to top in terms of imagery with “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” being the closest he’s come, though even that film doesn’t really come close to matching the feeling of scale and grandeur that this film has, no doubt as the result of this film being shot purely with the use of practical effects.
While it is easy to get caught up in the all the visual flair, this is actually a surprisingly straightforward tale with the Baron and Sally escaping the city and along the way meeting up with the older versions of the Baron’s loyal henchmen made up of Bethold (Idle the world’s fastest runner, Adolphus (McKeown) the crackshot marksman with superhuman eyesight, Gustavus (Purvis) the dwarf who not only has super hearing but also the ability to blow down an entire army and finally the super strong Albrecht (Dennis). More amusing is seeing these heroes as their younger selves in the Baron’s first tale of how he avoided being beheaded by Sultan Mahmud (Jeffrey) and then as we follow the Baron on his journey seeing them all as old men, with Gustavus now pretty much deaf while Adolphus is by all appearances now blind. Seeing them all pull it together for a final showdown with the Sultan unsurprisingly left me with a dopey smile especially when this battle contains so many comical moments such as Bethold attempting to outrun a snipers bullet only to turn it into the world’s greatest trick shot.
One of the real strengths of the film is in its casting especially when it comes to the supporting cast which amongst them sees Robin Williams here working for free camping things up as the king of the moon, whose head and body are able to work separate from each other, while more surprising is the fact that this role had originally been written for Sean Connery only for him to deem it not kingly enough for him. Oliver Reed meanwhile is equally fascinating to watch as the roman god Vulcan when the baron and his followers seemingly get sent to hell and were Reed seems to be more concerned with projecting his own performance and giving us odd little touches such as turning a piece of coal into a diamond. These stop off each coming with something different and it’s these characters we encounter on these stop off which make the journey so fun that you never really question the fact that none of it really makes a lick of sense.
For the established fans of Gilliam's work there is much to enjoy here, especially when he is playing up the visual side of things as much as he does, especially using some great touches such as theatrical flat screens to tell his story and while some aspects might not work such as the reoccurring character of the Angel of death whose effects are especially ropey and some of the plot might be more plodding than it needs to be this is still a highly memorable and entertaining film and one which is truly deserving of its cult status, even with its confused ending this is still a fun fantasy film directed in a way that only Gilliam can.