Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Movie Review

If you haven't seen a Terry Gilliam film yet, you're missing out. Even when the movie itself isn't all that great, you simply can't take your eyes from the screen. I remember seeing The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) when I was young. Even as a kid I was captivated with the stunning visuals. Now that I'm more articulate than I was at six years of age, I'll tell you why this movie is so interesting.
In the 18th century midst of the Turkish Army attacking a European city, aged aristocrat Baron Munchausen (John Neville) interrupts a play that is allegedly based on his life. He continues to tell the "real" story of his extraordinary travels. Not only does the Baron claim to be the cause of the war with the Turks, but he also recounts tales of being swallowed by a giant sea-monster, taking a trip to the moon, dancing with the goddess Venus (Uma Thurman), and repeatedly escaping from the Grim Reaper. The Baron volunteers to put a stop to the Turkish assault but requires the assistance of his old friends from his adventures; Berthold (Eric Idle), the world's fastest man; Albrecht (Winston Dennis), the world's strongest man; Gustavus (Jack Purvis), the man with the best hearing in the world, and Adolphus (Charles McKeown), a rifleman with superhuman eyesight. After setting off to find them in a makeshift balloon, he discovers a nine-year-old stowaway named Sally (Sarah Polley) who was captivated by the Baron's tales. Not having enough time to return her to the city, the two set out to find help to protect the European city's people.
There really was a Baron Munchausen. He lived from 1720 to 1797 and fought for the Russians against the Turks. He is said to have had the habit of embellishing his war stories. In 1785, there was a book published in England which claimed to be based on the Baron's life and times. The book was chockfull of outlandishly ridiculous, but amusing tall tales. The fictionalized Munchausen became a literary tall tale hero whose adventures never ceased to entertain.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a tribute to the spirit of the Baron. The movie features some highly fanciful and whimsical tales that would seem extraordinary even by fairy tale standards. It's not enough that Berthold is the fastest man in the world, he must run from Turkey to Spain and back in an hour, to fetch a bottle of wine and save the Baron's neck. He must also be able to outrun a speeding bullet, stop it, and redirect it back toward the man who fired it.
That brings us to the special effects. The production cost was around $46 million which caused it to be one of the most expensive films ever made before the advent of digital special effects. The effects in Baron Munchausen were all practical effects; the sets, props, and whimsical visuals were all done from scratch, with no computer enhancement at all. That makes the often breathtaking visuals all the more fascinating to watch. Terry Gilliam films are always a visual spectacle to behold; every scene is cram-packed with mesmerizing details. He worked on the Monty Python crew as a director and some of the wacky humor makes its way into his films. Even if you don't like Baron Munchausen, you'd be hard pressed not to be taken in by its visual splendor.
The acting is fantastic. John Neville plays the Baron magnificently, portraying a man who keeps his composure in the midst of insanely outlandish occurrences and seems sensible and matter-of-fact, as anyone would if they had spent a lifetime growing accustomed to the impossible. Eric Idle is a daffy comic relief reminiscent of his Monty Python days. And for a child actor Sarah Polley was great. She embodies this childlike wonder while also becoming exasperated by the ridiculousness of the situations she finds herself in with the Baron.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a fun movie. The movie starts off slowly, and sometimes fails in terms of clarity. When you have a movie full of extravagant fantasies it's important to explain the story clearly and directly so to movie doesn't fall apart in its own excitement. Baron Munchausen comes close to doing that on occasion. The visual effects are incredible; the movie is worth seeing just for the eye candy it presents. While the movie is PG rated, there is a brief scene of nudity when we first meet Venus when she emerges from a giant sea shell similar to Botticelli's Birth of Venus painting. While I don't think it's visually explicit, it's may be a red flag for parents with young children. I highly recommend seeing Baron Munchausen, even if you don't like the movie itself, I can't imagine you wouldn't like seeing all the incredible special effects. It's worth renting, but I intend to get it on Blu-Ray.

Check out the trailer and take a look at the zany humor and special effects:

Do you have a favorite tall tale movie? One that is completely over the top and fanciful? Comment below and tell all about it!

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