THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN
20th Anniversary Edition
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: John Neville, Eric
Idle, Sarah Polley, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, Jonathan Pryce
Director: Terry Gilliam
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 127 Minutes
Release Date: April 8, 2008
“The sultan is going to cut off my head.”
Just who is Baron Munchausen? Well, he's part man, part myth. A folk hero of yesteryear. A man who has been the center of many legends and tall tales, most of which are way too outrageous to be believed, but make for enchanting and entertaining stories nonetheless. You could say he's the embodiment of fantasy and the power of imagination over the strict and boring laws of physics and reality. I would guess it is these latter traits that attracted visionary filmmaker Terry Gilliam to the timeless subject of the good Baron.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen itself seems to be the living result of such a struggle. Gilliam, whose ideas for the film simply grew larger and more complex over time, had to battle for his vision against the studio and its fear to spend too much money on a film that might not be a hit. Terry may have won the monetary battle…indeed, the film ended up with a whopping $46 million price tag, making it the most expensive film up to that point, but lost the war when the movie failed to find an audience and died quickly at the box office. It didn't help that Columbia, which was already outraged at the final cost doubling the original budget, didn't want to throw good money after bad, and did little to promote the film.
Time, however, has been kind to Gilliam's epic vision, and twenty years later, it remains one the most perfect examples of pure fantasy on film. The story opens with a little play, on a theatre stage that resembles something out of Melies, about the Baron's adventures. Meanwhile, the Turks are laying siege to the city outside. All of this is interrupted when the real Baron (Neville, who appears to be having the time of his life in this role) shows up to tell his real story, including why the Turks are waging war. Turns out, many years back he and his servants made off with the Sultan's treasure (in a terrifically funny flashback sequence, we see how), and now, the Baron is convinced only he can stop the siege.
First, he must collect his old trustworthy servants. There's a man with extraordinary vision, the strongest man in the world, a little person with keen hearing and a powerful blast of breath, and the world's fastest man (Idle, terrific as usual). Trouble is, it's been many years, and these gallant fellows aren't all they once were, and neither is the Baron, for that matter.
But with the help of a little girl who believes in him (an adorable Polley), and by making it through a series of eye popping adventures along the way, the troupe shows up in time to save the day.
The movie is filled with imaginative and unforgettable sequences, including the king of the moon (Robin Williams, unbilled) who tends to lose his head, literally, a trip through the underworld to meet the gods Vulcan and Venus, an amazing fall through the center of the earth to the other side, a hot air balloon fashioned out of ladies' undergarments, and Idle's running scenes, which are a riot. All of this is tied together with some terrific humor, and enthusiastic performances by the cast.
If there is one complaint about the movie, it's simply that it goes on a little too long, with a couple of scenes that drag a little bit. This is, however, a decidedly minor complaint, and I think most audiences will laugh and thrill to Gilliam's epic achievement, and want to experience the amazing adventures of the Baron again and again.
This transfer is pretty good, but not as good as it could be. It’s an anamorphic widescreen image, but occasionally a little grainy, particularly in scenes where light objects rest against dark backgrounds. The colors are mostly good and intact, but there are a few places where they're a trifle muddled, like in the early theatre scenes.
The 5.1 mastering is quite nice, as there are many big, funny scenes that bring the rear channels into play. Subwoofer use is minimal.
There's a new commentary from Gilliam and co-writer Charles McKeown, which is a treat to listen to. There is also a solid new three part documentary on the making of the film, storyboard sequences with Gilliam and McKeown providing the voices, and some deleted scenes.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a lively, funny, imaginative and visually stunning epic from master director Terry Gilliam, and is a movie that has slowly found an audience over the years. It's an appealing work of pure fantasy with a great cast and a real sense of fun.