The best fairy tales have as many -- if not even more -- lessons for adults as they do for kids. "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," directed by former Monty Pythonite Terry Gilliam, is a great example of this.
Mining a rarely tapped vein of German fantasy lore, the movie brings to life its unlikely hero in the form of a middle-aged, at times elderly, German nobleman. Munchausen wanders the world -- and occasionally places above and below -- seeking outrageous adventures with his marvelous companions: Albrecht, the strongest man alive; Berthold, the fastest man alive; Adolphus, who has amazing vision; and Gustavus, who has incredible hearing and powerful lungs.
In the movie, an elderly Munchausen disrupts a theatrical production of his adventures in a 17th century city under seige by invading Turks. Munchausen's efforts to set the record straight are in turn disrupted by a cannon assault, and his attempt to quietly die in the theater's ruins are interrupted by Sally Salt (Sarah Polley), a small girl with a huge heap of stubborn. Sally is possibly the only person around who believes Munchausen is real, and her belief is impetus enough for the baron to dispense with dying long enough to try and save the town.
Setting off with stowaway Sally in a prop ship floating on a current of hot underthings, Munchausen finds his missing friends and saves the town as promised after some eye-popping adventures -- and with a few twists and surprises on the way.
John Neville is perfect as the dashing, resourceful and exceptionally lucky Baron Munchausen. In both the younger and older incarnations, he glows with the air of a legend come to life, straight from a storybook wonderland. As his older self, he exudes curmudgeonly bitterness over this new Age of Reason which is eroding his tales. The world, he says, "is made of laws now. Laws of hydraulics, laws of social dynamics, laws of this, that and the other. No place for three-legged cyclops in the South Seas. No place for cucumber trees and oceans of wine. No place for me."
Ah, but there is. Sometimes, the world just needs reminding.
Munchausen rides cannon balls, uses snuff to defeat a massive sea beast, dances on air, sails to the moon and generally cheats death. Most of the time. But always with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, like any good, stalwart hero should. If you're big on realism, pass this one by. But if you want to exercise your sense of wonder, pick up "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen." Please, believe he's real or the town is lost.
(THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE "BLU-RAY" VERSION OF THIS FILM)
Sometimes you despair. A new format is trust upon us - and an opportunity is presented to the movie industry to finally to do the business by their classics - and what do they do - they give us the same old dull stock and rip us off by getting us to pay more for it.
Twenty years on, Terry Gilliam's 1989 fantasy epic is still extraordinary - inventive, funny, touching, and on a scale few movies today would even dare to go near. Unfortunately, the 2008 transfer of it to the new format is more Blur-Ray than Blu-Ray. And while it's not awful all the way through - it's not far off it. For large parts of the film there's grain and blocking - the colours in some instances are better for sure - but it's also obvious that little or no restoration has been done to the print - when like "Time Bandits" - here is a fantasy film that is crying out for a clean up - and would surely have been much more commercially viable if it had been cleaned up - and a big deal made of it (even a re-launch in the cinemas?).
The extras mimic the special edition DVD issue - reviewed elsewhere - nothing great.
When you see "Cool Hand Luke" or "Zulu" or "2001: A Space Odyssey" on BLU RAY, the clean up work is immediately apparent and evident throughout the entire film - making them an enjoyable 'spot-the-difference' experience for the whole duration. But you know you're in trouble with "Munchausen" the second the washed out "Columbia" logo comes up at the beginning - I've seen crinkled videotape look better than this. What a huge disappointment and what a disservice to a really great fantasy film. I can only think of the gobsmacking beauty of Uma Thurman as she appears in a seashell to cheer myself up...
Unfortunately this release is why Amazon reviews are necessary. Avoid this overly expensive poor reissue unless you absolutely have to own it...
on June 11, 2001
The Age of Reason. A time when men are ruled by logic and emotions have no place. Fantasy is dead. Where does such frivolous things belong in the world today?
But their is always a place for war. And a city is besieged by the Turks, heroism met with death instead of cheers. Why? It's not rational. Even though the government frowns on it, the common people turn to fantasy to forget their woes. The theater is putting on a production of 'The Adventures of Baron Munchausen', much to the Baron's chagrin. And so begins an adventure where the aged baron, longing to die then live in a world that has no use for him, goes to end the war because a little girl believes in him.
Along the way he'll find old friends, travel to the moon, inside a volcano, the belly of a giant fish and occasionally delight us with a tale of adventures past.
This delightful film is a marvelous treat for both young and old. The cast is delightfully filled with John Neville as Baron Munchausen, the wonderful Eric Idle as one of his servants, Oliver Reed as Vulcan, Uma Thurman as his bride Venus, and Robin Williams as the King of the Moon whose head is constantly at war with his body.
The story is rich and whimiscal, serious where it needs to be. The special effects are top notch, making you believe the fantastic is real.
This is one of Terry Gilliam's finer films. And is highly recommended for the young or the young at heart.
on October 4, 2002
Fantasy (in film) is apparently a dirty word. I do not understand why. Of all the people to whom I showed or recommended this film, only 3 enjoyed it. Normally, we (those with whom I would discuss films) like the same stuff.
Ah well. This is one fantastic film. Baron Von Munchausen, historically real and mythologised, was/is the world's greatest liar. So, the story opens with a theatrical cast in a dilapidated theater, in the midst of war and shelling, putting on a play about the life of the baron. The real Baron walks into the theater, and tries to set the story straight. Then he, in his explanation of the reality as he sees it, illustrates for us, in real life, what was portrayed on stage, but on a much grander scale, to most magnificent effect; not to mention the added adventures that are woven-in.
I first saw this piece on video in the mid nineties. Now, post September 11th horrors and excess, the story has added resonance. The antagonists of the story are bureaucrats who believe they represent the fullest expression of Reason in life and government. They have everything compartmentalized practically and rationally, including the days on which they can shoot at the enemy, and the enemy at them. And they can't accept that the war eventually has been won. "Don't open the gates!"
And then there is the fantasy: A balloon made of ladie's silken underwear, a flight to the moon. The king and queen of the moon (the king is Robin Williams) with their detachable heads to pursue intellectual pursuits while their bodies... A sea monster... the spectre of death...
The story is well told, the cinematography beautiful, the dialogue witty and compelling. There are enough layers to keep the viewer from being lazy, and yet, one doesn't have to stare at the screen and lay heavy on the rewind to understand the film. Just watch it.
The Baron, on one of his many death beds, laments that the world has gone to Reason and science, and has no room for "cucumber trees", and indeed, there are too few yarns so imaginatively told on film these days. This is one of them. A great afternoon flick, or something for after the bars,when it's still too early to go to bed.
on January 8, 2004
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was nothing less than a sheer joy to watch. When I was young, my father would always say, in reference to a movie made in the 30s or 40s, "They don't make movies like that anymore!" I guess I'm getting old because I've just purchased my copy of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (which I hadn't seen since its debut in 1989), and I found myself muttering, "They don't make films like this anymore", too.
As you've no doubt read in other reviews, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is pure fantasy, and like all good fantasy, it pits reason against imagination, truth versus story-telling, and resignation against hope. After all, Dorothy didn't really go to Oz: it was a dream. And yet, it would have an effect on her view of the world and reality that would probably last her entire life. She won't ever be bored with Kansas again, and would never seek the greener grass on the other side of the fence. On a darker side, Kaiser Soze of The Usual Suspects, can spin a yarn that convinces a seasoned Customs agent and anybody watching the film.
Baron Munchausen, as wonderfully portrayed by John Neville, is the ultimate story teller. Not only does he draw in the attention and hopes of his beleaguered city, but every story he tells actually makes HIM younger. The underlying message of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is that fantasy, adventure, romance, and a world where cucumber trees still thrive will save us, children and adults alike, from a world determined to destroy us. This is a common theme among Terry Gilliam's films. In Time Bandits, Brazil, even The Fisher King, characters escape the horrors of their lives in fantasy worlds. This is known as escapism: its what fantasy allows us to enjoy for a moment--because if it were long-term we'd all wind up in the Betty Ford Clinic--however, that moment gives us a needed relief from a stern and impersonal world. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is the ultimate fantasy film that gives us a couple of hours of pleasure and joy.
Rocco Dormarunno, author of The Five Points
on May 9, 2001
When this first came out I thought the ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN was just a fancy way to say "Time Bandits 2". Imagine my disappointment when, much like Napoleon, I discovered the tall statue of most of the cast. I had never heard of the Baron and couldn't get into these "adventures". But years later I have a different opinion. Terry Gilliam, who spent much of his early career cutting out bits of paper animations for John Cleese and the rest of Monty Python, shows how to tell a tale on the big screen. Lots of excitement and never boring. The visual effects are stunning in places (the Baron's trip across the sky on a morar shell and the amazing climb to the tip of the moon) and wonderfully campy in others (The moon king riding those...er, whatever those were and the big fish scene). The variety of characters is refreshing and made me want to read some of the Baron's other tales. The DVD picture and sound are very good. There is also lots of star power: John Neville (The Fifth Element), Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction), Oliver Reed (Oliver!), Robin Williams (Mrs. Doubtfire), Jonathan Pryce (Brazil), and my favorite Eric Idle (Monty Python). You won't be disappointed. ...
on December 8, 2001
What a movie. Thank you Terry Gilliam, thank you. Anyone who watches The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and doesn't feel like a kid again must have never been one. And yet this is not little-kiddy-song-and-dance-Disney-slop. Far, far from it. The story in brief: The 18th century, the age of reason. Wednesday. A small fortified town is under siege by the army of the Grand Turk. Enter an old man, who seems like a lunatic, but claims to be the fictional Baron Munchausen, man, myth, and legend rolled into one. The town leaders roll their eyes; the people turn to him for salvation. And off he goes, to the moon, the volcano of Mt. Etna, the south seas, and all other places the explorers dreaded and feared before finally venturing forth to find what was beyond the edge of the map. He floats away in an air balloon, his goal to find his four extraordinary servants and return to save the town. So where does one start? The performances and characters? Top notch. Better. John Neville plays the Baron perfectly, the consummate ladies man, the daring fighter, and the greatest storyteller (liar?) anyone could meet. Eric Idle is hilarious as servant #1, Berthold. (Baron: "I'm Baron Munchausen!" Berthold: "Mmmm. That sounds nasty. Is it contagious?") Oliver Reed is a riot as the Roman god Vulcan who's just finished his new nuclear missile prototype and is arguing with his Cycloptic employees over a pay raise. Uma Thurman is stunning as his wife, Venus. And Jonathan Pryce is the perfect villain, cold, logical, and committed to a world fit for science and progress. Sarah Polly plays the first child to believe the Baron when he tells his story, and she plays both wide-eyed innocence and quite determination perfectly. (Look for Sting in a short role also.) But far and away, Robin Williams, in a cameo as King of the Moon, is the best. He has a heavy Italian accent. He switches back and forth between being in tune with every molecule in the universe and being a foul-mouthed Neanderthal, only less intelligent. (I will not give away why this switching takes place.) Listen carefully to his dialogue. It's great. ("I think, therefore you is.") What else? How bout sets? Made in '89, this was before computers could generate whatever was needed. And so the sets (town under siege, moon, volcano, dead fish, etc.) are all hand created, and they are a joy to look at. They carry the story almost as much as the characters. You want more? Well I said it wasn't a song-and-dance thing; I was slightly in error. The film features a rousing rendition of several parts of "The Torturer's Apprentice" as composed by the Grand Turk, complete with screaming, yelling, and the eunuchs chorus singing "Cut Off In My Prime." (I will not explain what a eunuch is; if you don't know, you don't need to.) Anything else? Well how about trying to classify this movie. Is it fantasy? Yes, though not in the Tolkien sense. Is it comedy? Again, yes; just listen to Robin William, Eric Idle, or Oliver Reed talk. Is it action? Why yes, but again, not in the conventional sense. And is there even drama there to? Yes indeed; if you watch the ending and don't smile and feel at least a little moved, there's something wrong with you. (The ending is one of the greatest moments in the movie, both dramatically and in keeping in Terry Gilliam's tradition of mystifying his audience; "Did that really happen?") The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is not a G-rated kiddy flick, but it makes the audience feel like one, taking us back to when strange things hid in the closets, to when we could take a running jump and fly to the moon, to a world where anything is possible. Undoubtedly one of the best films ever made. And remember, it's a true story. We've got the film to prove it.
This film delights the eyes with its startlingly beautiful, and often disturbing, imagery. In one unforgettable scene, for instance, we see the Baron's ship coming to rest on the white rippling sands of the moon, as a spattering of stars--constellations of the zodiac--whirl past in a midnight-blue firmament. In another, which plunges us into the fulminating fury of Mount Etna, we see a a Botticelli-like Venus emerging tranquilly from her seashell, as handmaidens and cherubs drape her in white silk and pink satin ribbons; we then watch her levitating with the Baron in a magical waltz, as they spin heavenwards in front of Tivoli-like cascading fountains. In a third sequence, which depicts the almost unrelieved distruction of war, we see a great black-winged Angel of Death, who swoops down and kneels over the recumbent Baron, its skeletal fingers gently lifting the fire of the soul from his mouth. This image of Death, as beautiful as it is dreadful, has come straight off a seventeenth-century Italian baroque church.
Underneath the unbridled fantasy however, "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" poses a serious question: Can the creative power of the imagination survive in a world of cold--and supposedly enlightened--reason which inevitably conjures up fear of 'the other' as an excuse to inflict suffering on its peoples through wars? And if reason succeeds in stifling imagination, will the world not be a poorer place? The Baron's opening of the city gates to end the people's suffering represents an opening of the mind to the possibilities of new creative solutions to the problems of mankind.
This beautifully acted as well as darkly humorous film is sometimes disturbing to watch, but it never ceases to fascinate!
on September 25, 2010
Others have expressed disappointment with the BluRay edition of Baron Munchausen, which made me hesitate to buy it. I'm glad I overcame my hesitations. I have now watched the BluRay edition twice (once for the film itself, once for Gilliam's narration) and am looking forward to future viewings. Fine rendering of color, the image very crisp, improved sound track. The Venus scene, the climb to the tip of the waning moon, the wrecks of ships inside the sea monster -- a treat in each case to see these in BluRay. The film itself, it has been a favorite for years, but it always made me aware of the limitations of DVD. In light of wars in progress, Munchausen is more timely than ever.
on January 6, 2001
You know you're watching a Terry Gilliam movie when:
...a horse bursts unexpectedly over the camera.
...a bald giant has the strength to lift a boat (or boats).
...a midget saves (or ruins) the day.
...a Monty Python crony appears for comic relief.
...everyone speaks in near-unintelligible British accents.
...an innocent child believes in the power of adventure.
These elements, put to good use in Gilliam's "Time Bandits" (my first encounter as a child with anything related to Python) show up again here. While both movies take place in wildly imaginative fantasy worlds, "Baron" does not have any of the dark elements that tempered the Bandits' adventures. Not to worry, for its overloaded with a grand sense of fun.
You see, the world is danger. Not from the Turks, who provide the film with its fair share of loud explosions, but from the impending age of science and reason. Enter Baron Von Munchausen (John Neville), whose tall tales stretch the limits of one's imagination. He is the designated saviour, and along with young Sally (the previously mentioned innocent child), he sets out to save the world. Neville has some serious fun as the (deluded?) Baron. He is a man touched by magic, and he's going to have a good time using it till the bitter end. Sarah Polley gives a clinic on how to be the precocious child. She's first sensible, and then cute, rather than the other way around which most child actors favour. Add to that the fact that she's a Canadian (Yay!) affecting a serviceable Brit accent, and you marvel that she was only ten at the time. Eric Idle and Robin Williams also show up for the fun. The former is given ludicrous powers (he runs really fast) and less than stellar dialogue that nearly wastes his talents. The latter turns in one of his typical 1980s performances, chewing up so much scenery and (seemingly) improvising his way through his brief role that all the other actors can do is stand back and watch. His King of the Moon is entertaining, yes, but it stops the story short, to the point where the movie may have been better off without him in it.
The story, such as it were, is little more than a series of adventures (duh... the title tells us that), delicately linked together by the Baron's desire to find his old servants. It functions as little more than an excuse for Gilliam's wonderful set pieces (my favourite being Uma Thurman rising from the half-shell in a stunning recreation of Botticelli's `Birth of Venus'). As Jonathan Pryce's character says at one point, "He won't get far on hot air and fantasy." True enough, I'd say. But he'll have a grand time trying.