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Category:    Home > Reviews > Fantasy > Legend > Comerdy > The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – 20th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray + DVD/Sony)

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – 20th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray + DVD/Sony)

 

Picture: B+/B-     Sound: B/B-     Extras: B     Film: B+

 

 

There are tall tales and then there is The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.  From the crazy mind of Terry Gilliam (Monty Python) comes one of the strangest and most interesting tales that anyone could ever imagine.  The film has a brilliant cast with John Neville headlining as the Baron (he also appeared briefly in The Fifth Element), Eric Idle of Monty Python fame as the world’s fastest runner, Jonathan Pryce as one of the film’s bureaucratic villains, Robin Williams as a giant floating head being (really what else could the guy play?), and Uma Thurman as the Goddess Venus and one of the Baron’s love interests who turns out to be quite a bad choice.  Terry Gilliam is an amazing director with a plethora of great films to his credit.  Gilliam has a great and imaginative sense of stylistic direction that has made him both critically and publicly acclaimed with such films as Monty Python and the Holy Grail (co-directed), Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and (the film reviewed here) The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.  The film is infamous for going extremely over budget and nearly wrecking Terry Gilliam’s reputation with all the major studios.  The chances Gilliam took on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen proved worthwhile in the end (though not very profitable in theaters) by making him one of the most innovative directors whose risks with special effects, storyline, and music has allowed him to create some of the most memorable films of all time.

 

The storyline of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a complicated one that people will have to see to believe.  The film is often shown on television and many people have probably viewed the film in pieces or its entirety and never quite knew what it was.  The film starts in an unnamed, war ridden city in the late 18th Century.  Never to be one to lose a chance at ironic humor, Gilliam placed a subtitle at the beginning of the film that states ‘The Age of Reason’ as war explodes around the city.  As the war continues, a production of the play Baron Munchausen’s Life and Adventures is being performed in the city’s playhouse, while the city’s head official The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson (Jonathan Pryce) looks on to ensure the city stays in a state of uniformity and unexceptionality.  Horatio Jackson insists so heavily on unexceptionality that he orders the execution of a soldier (a guest appearance by Sting) who just committed a particularly heroic act (as to keep all the soldiers on the same level for morale reasons).  During the performance of the play an elderly man shamelessly interrupts claiming that the play is a disgrace and that he is the real Baron.  After a slight scuffle the Baron gains the theaters attention as he begins to narrate the true events of his encounter with the Turkish Sultan and the reason for the current war.  It is in the telling of the Turkish tale that we meet the Baron’s unique cohorts.

 

The Baron’s friendly cohorts include Berhold the world’s fastest man (Eric Idle), Adolphus a man with amazing sight (Charles McKeown), Gustavus a dwarf with extraordinary hearing and lung power (Jack Purvis), and Albrecht the world’s strongest man (Winston Dennis).  The Baron’s tale is interrupted by the plethora of cannon firer around him and the people of the theater soon disperse for fear of death.  The Baron promises to bring the people of the city reinforcements and salvation as he barely escapes from Horatio Jackson’s band of soldiers in a hot air balloon made out of woman’s knickers (I told you the film was interesting).  The Baron soon discovers that he has a stowaway on his hot air vessel when a little girl named Sally nearly falls to her death.  The Baron agrees to take Sally along on his quest to find his old friends and save the city.  From this point the Baron and Sally embark upon a great adventure to find his friends that takes them to the moon where they meet the insane moon king (Robin Williams), the palace of the Goddess Venus (Uma Thurman), the belly of an enormous sea creature, and into a few more odd instances that could only be described as a dream.  The story of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is very circular and reminiscent of epic tales like the Odyssey, but even more imaginative with its fantastic sense of style and odd humor.

 

Gilliam’s films always infuse some degree of social commentary on war and other politically oriented agendas.  An example of this in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen occurs when the Roman God Vulcan tells the Baron and Sally about a ‘new kind of bomb’ he invented that kills all of the enemy, their family, wives, children, and even sheep in one foul swoop.  Sally comments that the bomb is ‘horrible, horrible’ device, but the Vulcan responds that the good part is you never have to see a single one of those people die.  The bomb is a social commentary on such unspeakable occurrences as nuclear war and mans’ desensitization to death.  Even more classic than the moral undertone of Gilliam’s film is Eric Idle tongue in cheek responses throughout the film.  In the case of God’s claim that you will never have to see the enemy die Idle classically responds with ‘What’s the fun in that?’

 

The film is excellent and whereas it is quite unique and has managed to claim the status of a ‘cult classic,’ this reviewer believes that the film has managed to transcend its status as a ‘cult film’ and move into the area of pure classic.  With some artistic choices and special effects that are still unrivaled to this day The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was an ambitious venture by Terry Gilliam that will live on as fresh as the day it was made for quite some time if not forever.  Just remember, ‘everyone who had talent for it lived happily ever after.’

 

Without eliciting any fables or tall tales both the Blu-ray and DVD releases of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen are quite good in the areas of picture, sound and extras.  The picture is presented in a 1.85 X 1 Widescreen in both the Blu-ray and DVD releases, but the 1080p image on the Blu-ray definitely has a clearer and brighter color display with a crisp image that highlights the special effects and imaginative art direction of the film quite well.  The sound on the Blu-ray version is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround that is boisterous and displays the explosive action of the film nicely while only occasionally seeming to project too heavily from the front.  The DVD release of the film uses a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround that is nice but does not compare to the Blu-ray release.  The extras are almost identical on both the DVD and Blu-ray releases including such features as Commentary with Director Terry Gilliam & Co-writer/Actor Charles McKeown that was very entertaining and insightful, The Making and Misadventures of Munchausen: An all-new 3 part documentary on the making of the film, Storyboard Sequences with all new performances by Terry Gilliam & Charles McKeown, Deleted Scenes, and available ONLY on the Blu-ray release the Marvelous World of Munchausen Enhanced Graphics & Trivia Track.  All of the extra features are amazingly done, with a great rewatchable quality.  The Blu-ray release of this particular film is definitely worth picking up based on all three technical features of picture, sound, and exclusive extras being far superior than the DVD alone.

 

Terry Gilliam’s films could have entire series of books written on them to analyze the huge array of social commentaries and moral undertones that are dispersed throughout, but at the same time his films have the ability to be pure fantasy fun as well. Though the film was a complete box office flop that almost sunk Columbia pictures and Gilliam’s career, over time the film has gained extreme cult and critical status.  The film is imaginative with amazing special effects and scenery that in many ways has not been beaten by any modern day fairytale adaptations to this day.  Unlike some, this reviewer feels Gilliam went far on hot and fantasy…

 

‘I’m Baron Munchausen!’

 

‘Wow that sounds nasty!  Is it contagious?’

 

 

-   Michael P Dougherty II


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