the adventures of baron munchausen

The mainstream media will often refer to Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen as a financial flop. True, as is his wont, Gilliam went way over budget, and shooting was troubled from the start. But what is rarely mentioned is the fact that the summer this film was released was also the summer of the first Batman movie. That Hollywood-backed blockbuster monopolized the multiplexes, and Munchausen ended up playing in relatively few theaters. It never had a chance. More's the shame, as this is one motion picture that demands to be seen on the big screen.

Based on a children's book, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a big, beautiful mess. Visually stunning - and this before CGI - the set pieces are often breathtaking, with moments of beauty that only the cinema can provide. The scenes of Venus (a young and nubile Uma Thurman) arising from her shell, or dancing with the Baron in mid-air amongst cascading fountains, are worth the price of admission. One can enjoy these moments on the small screen, but when seen larger then life the effect is nothing short of transporting.

Not surpisingly, the mood is rather Python-esque: light and ludicrous with a twisted logic. John Neville is suitably dashing in the title role. The rest of the cast, including Eric Idle, Oliver Reed, Jonathan Pryce, Valentina Cortese, and an uncredited Robin Williams, are obviously having a blast. They're as over-the-top as one would expect in what is essentially a fairy tale. Nine-year-old Sarah Polley is the sole voice of reason here, in a surprisingly mature performance.

As retold by Gilliam, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is more than just "hot air and phantasy" (to quote a character from the film). It is a spiritual allegory. Ever the visionary, keenly aware of archetypes and the power of film, Gilliam has created a fable of empowerment, of remembering one's true self and embracing one's gifts for the betterment of all. Symbols and mythology need not be understood by the intellect for their meanings to be grasped on a deeper, subconscious level. That is the highest ideal of art, and in that respect Terry Gilliam is a true artist.

[Screencaps via]


  1. I've always loved this movie! As a kid my dad had it on VHS and watched it repeatedly (as he was wont to do -he'd become obsessed with a movie and watch it daily for months). I recently watched it on netflix and was just blown away. I saw what my dad liked in it which I had never noticed as a kid.

  2. My brother-in-law raves about it, and we have been waiting in vain for an opportunity to see it on the big screen at somewhere like the BFI for what seems like ever... One day. Jx