“Your reality, sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever.”
For the absolute hell that the production of the film turned out to be, you really don’t see any of that tension on the screen. Terry Gilliam turns in his most whimsical creation despite the behind the scenes troubles.
A little personal history first, I saw the poster for the Adventures of Baron Munchausen and was immediately captivated by it at my cinema. The proposed time period at the bottom of the poster came and went but the film never materialized at the theater. When you hear how many prints actually made it out at the time, you’ll understand why it never came.
I believe they sent out about 400 and Terry Gilliam says that even the art house feature has about 1000 sent out. Not only was it not widely shown, but it nearly put the brakes on Gilliam’s career and earned him a label as being a difficult director and one that was not good at handling money. For all that, you don’t see any of the difficulties on the screen, and the film is a fantastic, whimsical treat.
The movie takes place in the Age of Reason and begins on a Wednesday. A European city is under attack by the Turks, but the show must go on as the Henry Salt (Bill Paterson) and son players are putting on a play. Well, it’s really Henry Salt and daughter as Sally Salt (Sarah Polley) is going around town and scratching out “son” and putting the true state of family affairs on the posters.
The players are putting on a play about the fictional adventures of the always-truthful Baron Munchausen. The play is interrupted by an old man claiming to be Hieronymus Karl Frederick Baron von Munchausen (John Neville). The Baron begins to relate the real reason that the Turks are attacking the city in that the Baron succeeded in raiding the treasury of the Grand Turk (Peter Jeffrey) and taking every bit of gold out of it thanks to his superhuman companions.
The Baron’s tale is interrupted by cannon fire and he goes backstage to die. Young Sally interrupts the icy hand of death before it can claim the Baron; convinces him to go on living; and save the city. To do so he must find his companions: Berthold (Eric Idle), the world’s fastest man, Adolphus (Charles McKeown), a sharpshooter with extraordinary eyesight, Gustavus (Jack Purvis), a little person with extraordinary hearing and tremendous lung capacity, and Albrecht (Winston Dennis), the world’s strongest man.
The Baron sets off in a balloon made out of ladies undergarments and begins his adventures to find those companions. He encounters the King (Ray D. Tutto aka Robin Williams) and Queen (Valentina Corteseas) of the Moon; the god Vulcan (Oliver Reed), the goddess Venus (Uma Thurman); and various other obstacles before he can return and save the city from certain doom.
This may be Terry Gilliam’s finest productions and features less of the downbeat references that populate most of his movies.
Baron Munchausen is full of whimsy, fantasy, bright colors, and fabulous characters. None is as fantastic as the Baron himself as played, with a twinkle in his eye, by the grand John Neville.
Sarah Polley also shines as Sally Salt and has grown into a fine director in her own right – even if the film put her off acting for a time. There are several fantastic sequences. I love the scene where the Baron rides the cannonball and the moon sequence is also a hoot.
It’s a wonder that it turned out as good as it did but the results speak for themselves. This 20th anniversary edition goes far in explaining the story behind the production and features a great selection of special features to commemorate the event.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Disc one contains a commentary with director Terry Gilliam and co-writer/actor Charles McKeown.
Disc two has the glorious 72-minute “The Madness and Misadventures of Munchausen” that chronicles the troubled production history. It’s a great documentary for anyone who wants to know what happened behind the scenes. Next are 30 minutes of storyboard sequences with introductions by Gilliam and McKeown and they provide voices for the storyboards as well.
The disc also features 3 minutes of deleted scenes - including the director’s cameo. Finally, there are previews for other Sony DVDs, but criminally no trailer for the Baron himself.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen only gets better with the retelling. This new edition has a rousing selection of special features that will show you the chaos behind this singularly entertaining film.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (20th Anniversary Edition) is now available at Amazon. As of yet, there is not a release date for this version of the DVD in the UK. Visit the DVD database for more information.