Rixflix A to Z: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

Director: Terry Gilliam // Columbia, 2:06, color
Crew Notables: Terry Gilliam & Charles McKeown (screenplay), Eric Idle & Michael Kamen (music), Giuseppe Rotunno (cinema.), Dante Ferretti (prod. des. - AAN), Gabriella Pescucci (costumes - AAN), Francesca Lo Schiavo (set dec. - AAN), Richard Conway & Kent Houston (visual effects - AAN), Maggie Weston & Fabrizio Sforza (makeup - AAN)
Cast Notables: John Neville, Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Oliver Reed, Charles McKeown, Winston Dennis, Jack Purvis, Valentina Cortese, Jonathan Pryce, Bill Paterson, Peter Jeffrey, Uma Thurman, Alison Steadman, Robin Williams, Sting, Terry Gilliam (cameo - irritating singer)
Cinema 4 Rating: 8

Baron Munchausen: Go away! I'm trying to die!
Sally: Why?
Baron Munchausen: Because I'm tired of the world and the world is evidently tired of me.
Sally: But why? Why?
Baron Munchausen: Why, why, why! Because it's all logic and reason now. Science, progress, 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.

Pardon me for being a dreamer of the highest order. While I am an incredible skeptic, and do not ordinarily fall for the words of con men of any sort, should even the slightest fantastical element of anything Hieronymus Karl Frederick Baron von Munchausen told me reveal itself to be true in the slimmest of ways, I would believe him wholeheartedly. Just like Sally, as soon as he is flung into the air on that mortar shell and returned safely back via Turkish cannonball, I too would be a convert for life.

I find the Baron's adventures ceaselessly fascinating, far more than, say, the adventures of a Peter Pan in far-off Neverland, because the Baron's wild tales happen to be true. At least, that is what the Baron would tell us, and he never lies. There are numerous other film versions of Munchausen, and all of them seem to turn out to have a similar appeal despite the differences in filmmaker: you either buy into all the versions, or you buy into none of them. Just as the Baron has to battle disparate versions of his exploits and then must tell them properly, so it seems he must do it all over and over again on film every 20 years or so. I daresay that Gilliam's slice may be the last variation we shall see on the screen for a good while, though, for it is generally considered to be a flop. This is highly unfortunate, as it is truly quite enjoyable. I have maintained for a while now that the Baron did indeed come to a point where the world no longer cared about him. By 1988, perhaps the pool of people who did maintain an interest in him had dwindled down to a brainiac few, who knew better than to cast aside such a rich character, if the rest of the world had moved on.

Regardless of how idiotic the public was about supporting the Baron, my group of friends and I did. We did our part. We believed that he went to the moon via balloon to visit the King and the Queen with the detachable heads; we believed that he did indeed dance with the goddess Venus into the skies and cause her jealous husband Vulcan to throw the Baron and his friends into a whirlpool; we believed that he used a modicum of snuff (which he declares to be "efficacious") to cause a giant monster-fish to sneeze his trapped party out of its bellyfull of wrecked ships; we believed that he and his four super-powered friends could battle the entire Turkish army and a shady bureaucrat to save a small city. We believed because we wanted to believe, and refuse to this day to give up the notion of a world made better and brighter by keeping such silly dreams alive.

"We cannot fly to the moon. We cannot defy death. We must face the facts. Not the folly of fantasists like you who don't live in the real world, and who consequently come to a very sticky end." - The Right Honorable Horatio Jackson (Jonathan Pryce)

In his way, Gilliam might be the last of those old school fantasists, and he may have been foretelling his own future in the movie business. Constantly at odds with Hollywood proper, despite his great successes both on his own and with Monty Python, Gilliam is now the odd man out in the industry. It is not a surprise that, over the last decade, Gilliam has also attempted his own famously ill-fated charge at adapting Don Quixote, a character with some similarities to the Baron. And it doesn't help his cause that The Brothers Grimm, which you think Gilliam could (and possibly did) direct in his sleep, was a disappointment both artistically and financially, and that his latest, Tideland, has been almost universally crucified by critics. Is Gilliam now the Baron, aging and back on his heels, desperate to prove to the world that once he was a mighty storyteller indeed?

I'm listening...

Nominated for 4 Academy Awards (1990)


After reading "Dark Knights and Holy Fools" I became a little less sympathetic towards Gilliam. Well.. maybe less sympathetic isn't the correct term, but definitely my feelings about how he got a bum deal have shifted a bit.

It seems to me he really WANTS to be the distrusted outsider, so he seems to be doing a lot of this to himself. It helps with his 'street cred', but does him no favors when he tries to get his pet projects off the ground.

That's interesting, though. I always identified with him as more Don Quixote, for obvious reasons, but I really like your Munchausen idea.

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