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(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.) “Most of you won’t remember me or my adventures, but I assure you, they are true.”
– Baron Hieronymus Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Münchhausen
I’m sure the few of you who know of this movie’s existence are jumping in your seats right now since someone on the internet is finally looking at it. I’m also sure that those of you who haven’t are scratching your heads in confusion. Allow me to elucidate –
“The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” is a fantasy film released in 1988 that is the final chapter in Terry Gilliam’s Imagination Trilogy, the previous two being “Time Bandits” and “Brazil”. These are films that deal with escaping the humdrum, conformity, and injustice of society through imagination, with each film representing the struggle to do so at different ages. Time Bandits does this through the eyes of a child; with Brazil we see it happen with a middle-aged man. Today’s film does this with an old man, or rather, several old men breaking free of the constraints of modern-day progress and performing fantastical feats to fight back against those who would force it upon them.
In other words, if you ever wanted to see a 2-hour long version of “The Crimson Permanent Assurance”, today’s your lucky day.
But first a bit of background about the man behind this movie.
Terry Gilliam – three things usually come to mind when you hear his name: that one guy from Monty Python, weird-ass director/animator, or, as Hollywood tends to peg him, the Director With the Worst Luck In the Universe. Why is that, you may ask? Things started off well-enough for him, directing some of the Python’s most beloved films (though most of the credit went to the other Terry in the group) and the financially and critically successful Time Bandits (which is a film I’ve noticed people either love or hate; My boyfriend is in the latter category so I choose not to discuss it any further).
It all started during the filming of Brazil. The studio executives started meddling with his vision, insisting that they change the ending and cut stuff out, and in the end released a version that’s considered on par with the Mona Lisa after an unfortunate meeting with a chainsaw. This resulted in the film bombing at the box office, and from there, it all went downhill. Sure, “The Fisher King” and “12 Monkeys” kept Terry afloat for a while, but “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”? A cult favorite today, but reviled back then. His Don Quixote movie? Never even got off the ground due to production troubles. “The Brothers Grimm”? Failed in everything but the casting. “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”? His lead actor DIED halfway through filming (which makes me wonder if getting lost in playing the Joker was what really killed Heath Ledger). Terry Gilliam’s reputation for being a box-office curse has preceded him so much that he was turned down by Warner Bros. executives in favor of Chris Columbus to direct the first Harry Potter film despite being JK Rowling’s first choice, something that poor Terry has never gotten over.
I bring all this up because the film we’re looking at today, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, is practically a textbook example of Murphy’s Law, in that everything that could go wrong during filming did. You could write a book on the problems that occurred; in fact, they have! There was constant fighting between Gilliam, the producers and the studio, the production went tremendously over budget, I’m certain almost every actor involved got PTSD (Eric Idle flat out said no one in their right minds should ever be in a Terry Gilliam film unless they want to be driven insane. Ouch.), and a major change in management at Columbia resulted in the film getting limited release, ensuring its total box office failure…
…which is why it’s such a miracle that this film is as amazing as it is.
I mean it. I really do love this film. It’s easily in my Top 10 Favorites, and it saddens me that it does not get anywhere near as much love and appreciation as it should. There are very few movies as creative, as funny, as adventurous, as fantastical, as occasionally heartwarming, or as flat-out insane as Baron Munchausen. Time Bandits may have a lot of nostalgic value for some, and Brazil is daring and bizarre in all the right ways, but this? For all the fiascoes behind the scenes, you could never tell by how well they pulled it off. This is one of those rare movies that somehow, subtly, worm their way into my heart by including just a little bit of everything that I adore without me realizing it until after I’m hooked. With every viewing I discover some new detail or level of brilliance. I seriously consider it one of the last great fantasy films of the 1980’s, and one that is overlooked far more than it should be. It had a decent shelf-life after being released on video, but not to the point of, say “The Princess Bride” or Don Bluth’s films, where kids growing up renting them on VHS have made them household names today. I can name the amount of people I know who are aware of this film’s existence on one hand – my boyfriend, reviewer Huey Toonmore, the cashier at the Barnes and Noble where I bought this movie who started up a conversation about it with me, and the lady behind me in line at said Barnes and Noble who joined our conversation. It’s rare when you find something that manages to stop a line for several minutes so three random strangers can discuss it, but there you go.
So I know what you’re thinking about this review after my singing of its praises and giving an overly long backstory – I wish I could say that’s the last Python reference I’ll make in this review, but I make no promises. Let’s begin.