The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - 1988, UK and US release in 1989 (Fantasy/Adventure/Comedy)
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Screenplay by Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown, based on the book by Rudolph Erich Raspe
Starring John Neville as the Baron, Eric Idle as Berthold, and Uma Thurman as Rose/Venus.


The 18th century: In a town beseiged by the Turks, during a play about the legendary Baron's adventures, the theatre is invaded by a man who claims to be the Baron himself. He also boldly states that he can save the town from destruction. When nobody believes him, he sets off to save the town with his sidekicks, and has many strange adventures, travelling to the moon, the centre of the earth, and the inside of a sea beast so large, people actually live there...

Why You Should Watch/Rent/Buy This:

This is a Terry Gilliam film. The plot isn't the half of it - the imaginative flights of fancy, the situations, characters and locations, all combine to entertain you with one of the most gloriously insane films you will ever see. See! the man who can run faster than a bullet, churning up paving stones as he goes... Gasp! at the incredibly strong man, who gives "all you can carry" a new meaning... Wonder! at the clearly insane King of the Moon, whose urbane head can detach itself to escape from its lustful body... Laugh! at the sheer lunacy of it all, and the delightful, matter of fact presentation of some of the most bizarre imagery committed to celluloid. Like all Gilliam's films, the movie is beautiful to look at, amazingly imaginative, full of colourful characters, and very, very, very silly indeed.

Most people are put off seeing this because it was supposedly a flop. True, there were many problems during the filming, it went over budget several times, and lost a shitload of money, but it is very, very good. Gilliam is known for having troubled shoots, but to his credit, they are never his fault. Besides, if that's the price to pay for such wonderful, crazy movies, then so be it. Filming in Rome, the days were just too hot to do anything, so they were confined to night shoots. Language barriers led to slow progress and costly mistakes. 12 huge cannons were built, but were so big, nobody could actually move them. A nervous completion guarantor (the company that insures against the film going over budget, having to pay out if it does) sent over producers to keep an eye on things, which caused more tension. Eventually, they took over, and demanded all shooting to stop in one week. Gilliam was faced with the threat of being fired, but then was forced to continue, as Columbia refused to buy the film if Gilliam wasn't the director anymore. Frantic script revisions were made, production started up again, and the crew were pushed to exhaustion until eventually, filming was completed. The original budget of $25 million had swollen to around $43-46 million (depending on who you believe). The film didn't do well, partly due to negative publicity and nervous executives who were unwilling to publicise it further. The fact that it is such a wonderfully joyous, carefree movie is even more amazing when you consider all the background trouble.

John Neville (yes, the creepy guy in the syndicate in the X Files, or The Well Manicured Man to give him his full name) is fantastic as the Baron, an old charmer who grows younger as the film progresses. Oliver Reed, in a cameo as Vulcan, gives one of his best ever performances, being over-friendly and threatening at the same time. "NICE, ISN'T IT? WE'VE JUST HAD IT DONE!" All the sidekicks are great, each has their own scene to showcase their special abilities, and all the various stories are just delightful. The scenery is lush, Uma Thurman has never been more beautiful (her entrance as Venus is breathtaking), and the screen is just so rich and gorgeous, it's like a painting. See this glorious film, own it, cherish it.

Most Excellent Movie Trivia:

Due to the script revisions (see above), the part of the King of the Moon was drastically cut down. Sean Connery, who was originally going to play the part, wasn't happy about this, so he pulled out. Robin Williams agreed to replace him, but only if his name wasn't mentioned in any promotional materials (his reason was that if people went in expecting a Robin Williams film, they'd be annoyed when he only showed up for ten minutes). He was credited as Ray DiTutto - from the Italian Re di Tutto, which means King of Everything. Jack Nicholson did much the same thing in Broadcast News - his cameo was uncredited, as he didn't want people distracted from the movie thinking "When's Jack coming up?" This sensible idea seems to have been abandoned lately, we usually know about all the cameos, jokes and plot twists of a movie from the trailer, months before the release...

The third in a sort-of trilogy that began with Time Bandits (1981) and Brazil (1985). The films represent youth (Time Bandits), middle age (Brazil), and old age (Baron).

The strange scene on the moon with the drawings of buildings moving around the characters was a beneficial result of the budget cuts - some large sets had been designed, but there was no money to build them. So Gilliam took all the drawings, stuck them to boards, and moved them around. This looks much better than a set would have, and effectively gets across the eerie feeling the scene intends. Even when the guy has no money, he can still put his mind up on the screen.

Baron Munchausen was a real person, who told tall tales of his amazing wartime exploits. The condition Munchausen syndrome is named after him, in which the sufferer pretends to be ill in order to get treatment and/or attention, sometimes harming themselves in the process.

In the film, the Baron travels to the centre of the earth, among other places. John Neville, who plays the Baron, was in a TV version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth in 1993.

Winston Dennis, who plays strongman Albrecht, was the Samurai warrior in Brazil, and the warrior that Agamemnon fights in Time Bandits. This was his first unmasked movie speaking role.

Terry Gilliam was trying to decide whether to do the film or not - eventually he thought up an image of the Baron riding his horse through a portcullis - the portcullis comes down, slicing the horse in half, but the Baron just carries on riding normally on the front half. This was one of the first things to be cut from the script, in an effort to keep costs down.

Gilliam's opinion on why, exactly, the film went wrong: "Everything you normally use models for, we built for real. Everything you normally build for real, we used models."

I spent the majority of my life thinking this movie was a fever dream. I saw this at some point in my youth and it was glorious and whimsical and I couldn't follow the plot at all but I think that was by design. A few years later and this movie is still rolling around in the back of my brain like a coked up squirrel in a hamster ball and I bring it up to somebody, probably a parent.

Me: "Remember that movie about the guy who goes to the moon and meets the floating head king?"

Parent: *Shakes head, looking awfully confused*

Me: "The main character keeps meeting death and escaping. There was the one part where the blacksmith squeezes coal into a diamond."

Parent: "I have no idea what you're talking about. Was this an animated movie? Do you remember its name?"

Me: "No, it was live action. He had a friend who was super strong and he got all of the gold in the city because he won a bet."

Parent: "Still no."

At this point I was forced to confront the possibility that I'd dreamt the whole movie up. It's not like it doesn't lend itself to that interpretation with quick jumps from one environment to another and a plot that only just holds together in the face of its own metaness. So I grew with this film trapped in a super position, too vivid to be just a dream but utterly incongruous with the real world.

Then I found it floating in the node gel, a sliver of memory cast off into the void had returned to me. I looked it up and bought a copy on the same day. It was everything I remembered and more.

Thank you E2.


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