Saturday, August 02, 2014
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Directed by Terry Gilliam and written by Gilliam and Charles McKeown, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is the story of a 18th Century German nobleman and his many adventures as it is told in a whimsical fashion where many wonder if they’re true. The third part of a trilogy based on the ideas of imagination, the film is a sprawling tale where a man tries to fight against forces while coming to terms with his own drawbacks as a hero as he is played by John Neville. Also starring Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Uma Thurman, Oliver Reed, and Jonathan Pryce. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a spectacular and absolutely adventurous film from Terry Gilliam.
The film explores the world of a famous German nobleman during the Ottoman Wars of the late 18th Century where he is a man known for his great adventures where he returns to save a town ravaged by war as he felt responsible for being the one that caused all of it. With the help of a young girl named Sally (Sarah Polley), Baron Munchausen would travel through different worlds to retrieve the men who had helped him in his many adventures yet is battling age and the new realities of his quest as it plays into the idea of fantasy vs. reality. Especially as Munchausen is trying to tell this story of his adventures while a young girl wants to know if anything he is saying is true. All of which plays into a man wanting to die as he deals with a world that is becoming more complicated as there are forces who have other ideas about conflict and such.
The film’s screenplay by Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown definitely play into this idea of a man wanting to live a life that no longer exist as the men who had been with him in his adventures now live very different lives without the powers they once had. The film begins with theater actors led by Sally’s father (Bill Paterson) who tell Munchausen’s story until the real Munchausen appears to reveal that the reason this small town is at war is all because of a wager that Munchausen won which upset the Turkish sultan Mahmud I (Peter Jeffrey) who wanted to cut Munchausen’s head off. Once Sally realizes that the man who claims to be Munchausen is real, she would stowaway in his hot-air balloon to help him retrieve his old friends for the film’s second act.
Yet, the fast-running Berthold (Eric Idle), the strongman Albrecht (Winston Dennis), the midget with strong ears and wind-power in Gustavus (Jack Purvis), and the sharpshooter Adolphus (Charles McKeown) aren’t the same as they share a sense of resentment towards Munchausen as they reluctantly join him. Throughout the course of the film, Munchausen would face many challenges that plays into mythical figures of the universe such as a delusional moon-king (Robin Williams), Vulcan (Oliver Reed), and all other things that would tempt Munchausen into believing he’s young and still part of the world until he would anger the wrong people and put himself and Sally into situations that would test their will. Especially as it comes to the climatic confrontation with the Turkish army where Munchausen is still caught up in his idea of defeating the Turkish in such a way that it almost seems unreal and more of a fantasy.
Gilliam’s direction is quite lavish in the way he tells the story as it opens up with scenes of an 18th Century town being destroyed where people are watching a performance of Munchausen’s story in this theater that is on the verge of collapse. It is part of this world that Gilliam sets up where he definitely infuses a lot of dark humor into the film where it’s very offbeat as well as fanatical considering how troubled Munchausen is as he wishes for death due to his old age. Adding to that feeling of death is the presence of the Angel of Death who would appear to reveal that it’s Munchausen’s time to go only to be evaded by many circumstances. Much of Gilliam’s compositions include a lot of wide shots and medium shots plus some stylish usage of some crane shots and visual effects that play into this world that is extremely off-the-wall in terms of what the universe is like.
Gilliam’s approach to set pieces definitely showcase that sense of a world that is quite strange where he plays with the idea of mythological figures like Vulcan and Venus (Uma Thurman) as Munchausen would charm the latter much to the dismay of the former. There is a sense of a world where it does have this idea of nostalgia and fantasy that Munchausen seems to try and hold on to where he becomes oblivious to what is happening in the real world thinking it will be okay for a while. The film’s third act would definitely play into that idea of reality vs. fantasy as it is this constant struggle that Munchausen would face as he would deal with the realities of war and death in a manner that only Munchausen would do no matter how fanatical he can be. Overall, Gilliam crafts a very sensational and whimsical film about a heroic man dealing with aging and living up to the idea of fantasy.
Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno does brilliant work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography with its usage of lights for some of the war sequences set at night as well as some of the interior settings and a chilling scene inside the body of a sea monster. Editor Peter Hollywood does excellent work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts to play into the film‘s humor and action sequences. Production designer Dante Feretti, with set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo and supervising art director Massimo Razzi, does phenomenal work with the set designs from the lavish staging of the moon city as well as the European town that Munchausen needs to protect as well as the stage play and other sets as it‘s one of the film‘s major highlights.
Costume designer Gabriella Pescucci does fantastic work with the film‘s lavish costumes from the ragged period clothing of the people of the town as well as the costumes made for the stage shows as well as Munchausen‘s uniform. Hair/makeup designer Maggie Weston does superb work with the different aging makeup that Munchausen would endure in his journey as well as the look of the younger versions of his gang. Special effects supervisor Richard Conway does terrific work with some of the film‘s visual effects with the movement of the moon-king‘s floating head as well as some of the shots set in outer space. Sound editor Peter Pennell does superb work with the sound effects as well as the layering of sounds in the battle scenes and other lavish sequences. The film’s music by Michael Kamen is amazing for its bombastic score that is quite triumphant at times in its orchestral setting as well as comical to play into the film’s humor.
The casting by Francesco Cinieri, Irene Lamb, and Margery Simkin is just incredible as the film features some cameo appearances from Sting as a soldier, Terry Gilliam as an irritating singer, Ray Cooper as a functionary for the city official, Alison Steadman as an actress with a baby, and Robin Williams in an un-credited appearance as the delusional yet funny the King of the Moon. Bill Paterson is terrific as the theater company leader who is also Sarah’s father as he struggles to get his play on Munchausen going. Charles McKeown, Jack Purvis, and Winston Dennis are excellent in their respective roles as Adolphus, Gustavus, and Albrecht as well the actors who would play these characters to add to that sense of fantasy vs. reality. Valentina Cortese is wonderful in a dual role as Queen Ariadne who is a former lover of Munchausen as well as a stage actress that is in love with Munchausen. Peter Jeffrey is superb as the Sultan Mahmud I who starts a war only because of a wager he lost to Munchausen.
Uma Thurman is amazing in a dual role as the young actress Violet who is trying get some attention as well as the role of Venus whose beauty is indescribable as she is charmed by Munchausen. Oliver Reed is fantastic as the eccentric yet hot-tempered fire god Vulcan who welcomes Munchausen only to be upset when Munchausen gets to dance with Venus. Jonathan Pryce is great as the very smarmy city official the Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson who wants to maintain order in the city as he is also someone that represents the dark realities of the world. Eric Idle is brilliant in a dual role as Berthold and the actor who played him as a man who can run with great speed as he loses him memory for a short time only to feel resentful towards Munchausen for abandoning him.
Sarah Polley is phenomenal as Sally as this young girl who would join Munchausen in his adventure as she would be this person who would try to ground him into reality and also make him not give up. Finally, there’s John Neville in a remarkable performance as the titular character as an aging hero who is caught up in living in a world that no longer exists while wishing for death due to the harsh realities that he’s dealing with as it is a truly astonishing performance from Neville.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a tremendously extravagant and incredible film from Terry Gilliam. Armed with a great ensemble cast as well as amazing technical work from its crew, the film is truly a visual feast filled with dazzling set pieces and images. Especially as it’s backed by this compelling story revolving around the ideas of reality vs. fantasy as a man deals with age and death. In the end, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a dazzling and exhilarating film from Terry Gilliam.
Terry Gilliam Films: Jabberwocky - Time Bandits - Brazil - The Fisher King - 12 Monkeys - Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas - The Brothers Grimm - Tideland - The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus - The Zero Theorem - The Auteurs #38: Terry Gilliam
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I haven't seen too many of Terry Gilliam movies, but of the ones I've seen I quite like Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Wow the cast is pretty good here, interesting to see Oliver Reed in it too.
I'd have to give this one a shot!
This is one of Gilliam's great films as it was also his most extravagant as the film was a major box office flop. Yet, it is so funny and full of wonderment that only Gilliam can do.
This is one of Gilliam's best and most under-appreciated films. I had the pleasure of seeing this on the big screen when it first came out and the Moon sequence was incredible! Still love taking this out and watching it every so often. In some ways, it harkens back to TIME BANDITS - it has that loose, fun yet poignant in parts feel to it.
@J.D. Lafrance-It is an amazing film that I wish had an audience that was able to see this. It was out-of-this-world but so fun to watch. Gilliam doesn't get enough love.
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