The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Reviews
Terry Gilliam has a very distinctive style as a director which I have much admiration for. Though Time Bandits (1981) was hardly the fun experience I might have hoped it would be, I've rarely seen another of his works which has not plunged me into a world of remarkable fantasy. In the case of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the film is one which the director has clearly been building up to for a long time. Given that it has the largest budget of any of his films, the resulting epic ambitions of the film reflect a clear vision for some of the deepest reaches of the director's magnificent mind. It takes a while for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen to take off because it begins as a depiction of the late 18th century stage production based on the titular character as a means of everyone. However when the actual Baron Munchausen arrives and takes everyone on a worldwide adventure, everything changes.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is not a film which found commercial success on its original release. I would guess it is partially because it attempts to combine so many fantastical elements without any distinctive commercial hook to it. But as a fan of Terry Gilliam, I can definetely say that it is one of the director's finest films. The auteur has a distinctive taste for adventure, and he takes it to all new heights this time around with a combination of various settings. With such a zany narrative behind it, there is endless potential for Terry Gilliam to explore which he does not take for granted. The man takes us on a journey like never before through a fantasy experience which cannot be explained but must be experienced. Though the film is far more focused on spectacle magic than character development and can prove more spectacular in certain parts than others, the diverse collection of settings that the director takes us into is some of the most imaginative cinema has to offer. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a true testament to Terry Gilliam's remarkable mind.
As a means of projecting his remarkable ambitions onto the cinematic screen, Terry Gilliam takes his large budget and runs with it. Throughotu the film the scenery remains consistently sophisticated with detailed decoration. The production design and costumes are perfectly realistic with top notch dedication to creativity, and yet Terry Gilliam manages to carefully balance this with a lot of cartoony elements in how the colour scheme and visual effects are played with. There is even the use of proscenium which evokes nostalgia to the age of German expressionism, one of the most important periods in the history of fantasy cinema. This effectively ensures that The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is both a legitimate fantasy adventure and a live-action cartoon at the same time. It's an astounding achievement created by the director, and there is endless visual panache to boast about. The musical score is similarly grand because it offers a powerful feeling of big-scale adventure to assist the narrative ambitions in grasping a sense of atmosphere. Michael Kamen has consistently proved himself as a remarkable composer for works of fantasy, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is yet another reminder.
With Terry Gilliam lining up such a definitive film for many actors to jump into the specific style of, there is a very specific kind of acting he demands to accomplish bringing his characters to life. Without a doubt, everyone in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is perfectly cast.
John Neville is not an actor with a name as widely recognized as many of the other stars in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but with his natural dramatic talents and clear ability to capture the same magical curiosity as the director he captures a performance of pure brilliance. The first time viewers gain the sight of him is when he walks onto the stage of an occuring musical based on the life of his character. Interestingly enough, he plays out in the rest of the film as if it is always on a stage. His effort is a very theatrical one which uses exaggurated movements and a commanding voice tone to evoke comical melodrama, and he makes it a natural part of the character without turning it into a repetitive gimmick. Baron Munchausen turns out to be a man of adventure but also a human, ensuring that he lives up to the folk legends behind his name without being too larger-than-life to not come off as one-dimensional. John Neville leads The Adventures of Baron Munchausen with a powerful combination of theatrical and cinematic acting, and its precisely the kind of charisma needed for the star of any film as wacky as this.
However, it is Robin Williams whose over-the-top effort is pure perfection. Portraying The King of the Moon, Robin Williams' role is to play a gigantic bumbling floating head with a senseless body that he is constantly at war with. The man has a world of his own in the story, and when the film gets to his segment he completely hones it with an unapolagetic depiction of his signature performance style. It is far more than perfect for the film, it is the greatest performance that the feature has to offer. Robin Williams was born to collaborate with a filmmaker like Terry Gilliam, and it is one of the most zany yet underappreciated performances of his extensive career.
Eric Idle also proves a perfect fit. Due to his long history of work with Terry Gilliam through the creations of Monty Python and beyond, his presence is pure fan-service from the beginning. But the comedic legend refuses to take it for granted and puts everything he has into the role, creating solid comedic grace as a result. With his distinctive British voice and ability to contrast it with the serious expressions on his face, Eric Idle is a flawless comic foil in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen who supports the director's large ambitions at every turn. The two have complete faith in each other and work flawlessly as a team, and its tremendous to see that their efforts can work to such powerful extents outside of Monty Python.
It's also grand to see a young Uma Thurman in a pre-Quentin Tarantino phase giving it her all and capturing such a charming character in an unorthadox film, and Jonathan Pryce is great to see in a Terry Gilliam film once again. The young Sarah Polley also delivers a terrifically charismatic performance, being as adventurous as John Neville without resorting to childish gimmicks. These two share a wonderful interaction, and it becomes easily forgettable that she is a child because she relies on genuine dramatic spirit to carry her rather than a juvenile stance.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen takes some time to kick off, but once it does it becomes an endlessly rewarding journey through the remarkable fantasies of Terry Gilliam with stylistic brilliance, hilarity and genuine magic.
A few years later it came on TV again, and as (at the time) it was the only film I had never watched to the end I decided to watch it again. I got to pretty much the same point when again I just didn't care any more, I had to end the tedium and switch off.
This is the only film I have ever done this to twice, which shows you how bad it is, and yet it's still better than 2001: A Space Odyssey.