The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Dir: Terry Gilliam, 1988. Starring: John Neville, Sarah Polley, Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams. Fantasy.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

GILLIAM’S ISLAND From the clunky, cluttered, and effectively eclectic mind of director Terry Gilliam comes this fabulous wunderkind of a film known as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. One of my personal favorites indeed! Munchausen comes as the third installment of Gilliam’s unofficial trilogy. The previous two films include Time Bandits and Brazil.

A CITY UNDER SIEGE In the midst of a war-torn city its residents are struggling for survival. Momentarily distracting themselves from their distraught surroundings they watch a depiction of Baron Munchausen’s adventures being put on by a local theatre company, Henry Salt And Son [“It’s traditional”]. However this reenactment becomes interrupted by the authentic Baron Munchausen (John Neville) himself! He’s old and cranky and he clamors onto the stage to set the record straight about himself and his adventures. Did I mention he’s a liar? Or is he?

EYE CANDY GALORE! The visual punch bowl that is The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is stunning to say the least. Watch as a crumbling theatre become a Sultan’s Palace! See the Cyclops blacksmiths work in the bowels of a volcano! View the denizens of the moon and a giant sea monster! The film is drenched in color, texture, and character. Captured by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno (Amarcord, Satyricon); draped in lavish costumes by Gabriella Pescucci (The Age of Innocence); and production designed by the entirely amazing Dante Ferretti (Gangs of New York, Sweeney Todd). Drink this up - it’s a good mix, I promise [hic-up]!

NOTE UNO: Interestingly enough the above mentioned artisans have worked with Federico Fellini and now here with Terry Gilliam. Also interesting that Gilliam is a fan of Fellini. He and Fellini both started as cartoonists as well. Que interesante indeed!

NOTE DOS: There’s a great Fellini reference during a scene in the sleeping chamber of The King Of The Moon “Ray D. Tutto” (Robin Williams). Watch for the statued bust above his bed. I assume it’s a wink at Casanova [click click].

SOUND ADVICE No better choice could have been made than to appoint Michael Kaman to score this magnificent "adventure." Kaman previously worked with Gilliam by scoring Brazil. This is truly a stand out accomplishment for both Kaman and film scores. I count it as one of my all time favorites. It’s adventurously resounding, It’s stellar!

NOTE 1: Eric Idle also had a hand in writing lyrics for the actor’s troupe and the Sultan’s opera, "The Torturer’s Apprentice." So good!

NOTE 2: The Munchausen soundtrack has been out of print for some time. I have been searching for this score on CD for the better part of 10 years. Only recently I happened upon it merely by coincidence.

FACE THE FICTIONS As with any time tested auteur, Gilliam has certain faces that show up in his films. Munchausen’s gallery includes: Robin Williams (Fisher King);  Eric Idle (Monty Python alumnus); Jonathon Pryce (Brazil, Brothers Grimm); Winston Dennis (Time Bandits, Brazil); Jack Purvis (Time Bandits, Brazil); Charles McKeown (Time Bandits, Brazil); Ray Cooper (Brazil, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). The Adventures of Baron Munchausen also marks the film introduction of a red-headed, toothy little girl we now know as Sarah Polley (Go, Existenz, and recently Splice).

NOTE A: Winston Dennis is quite memorable if not unrecognizable as the armored samurai in the dream sequences of Brazil.

NOTE B: Charles McKeown and Ray Cooper both had scenes cut from other Gilliam films. McKeown appears in a deleted scene from Imaginarium and Cooper in a scene from Fear and Loathing.

WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE BARON??? The city is under attack from the Turks. The Baron sets out on a quest to save the city in an unconventional hot air balloon. He finds Sally (Sarah Polley), the unruly daughter of the theatre company, has stowed away and he has to take her with him, much to his dismay. They set off to find his trusty companions and return to save the day. They head to the moon, fall through the earth, and have giant asparagus spears hurled at them - stuff like that. Oh yeah he’s being chased by death too. Did I mention that?

WHAT A BUNCH OF BULL! Or is it? The Baron is notorious for his lack of exact credibility due to the "tall tale nature" of his escapades. Helping him make things up as they go along are the Baron’s colorful troupe of companions. Berthold (Eric Idle) may just be the fastest thing on two legs. Adolphus (Charles McKeown) is a sharp shooter with very keen eyesight. Albrecht (Winston Dennis) might just be the strongest of the strong men. And the diminutive Gustavus (Jack Purvis) has a great sense of hearing and his greater wind-like breath.

HISTORICAL BLAH BLAH There have been various and sundry versions of the Baron’s exploits on film and stage throughout the years. The definitive image of the Baron belongs to that of Gustave Dore who illustrated a version of the stories in 1862. Gilliam and company took a visual cue from his drawings and literally stamped Dore’s caricature of Munchausen on John Neville’s face! It’s impressive if you compare the two images.

LIARS LIARS PENS ON FIRE!The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was co-scripted by Gilliam and McKeown. They also penned Brazil and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus together. Thankfully these pen pals have produced some very original material for our consumption.

FEATURES FEATURES ON THE WALL The 20th anniversary DVD release of Munchausen has some choice extras that are sure to satisfy any Gilliam novice or expert. You’ll find full length commentaries, a newly compiled documentary, and unfilmed story board sequences with voice-overs from Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown. It’s a hoot!


The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was nominated for four Oscars: Best Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Makeup.

Posted by:
Joey Jenkins
Sep 6, 2010 6:16pm
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