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Packed with extravagant settings, props, and visual direction, Baron Munchausen is strongest when it stinks headfirst into Gillian's cinematic odd directorial style. The movie at times can be packed to the brim with charm. Unfortunately the Adventures of Baron Munchausen suffers from an over indulgent runtime and the cheekiness of the movie's tone wears thin rather quickly.
I first watched this movie when I was just a kid and re watched it just the other day, it still delivers the fantasy world even though the hellish production of this movie. A real gem, its has own unique visuals, perspective, and charm. A very well cast and the characters were performed perfectly. One of the best fantasy movie and an experience that should be shared to present and generations.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is an aesthetic masterpiece. Combining the talents of both Film visionary Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys), and a cast of Monty Python Alumni, this film creates such a surreal experience with its imaginative comedy, sets, and vibratos acting. When watching this film for the first time, I was mostly attracted to the look of it more than the plot of the film itself. Someone who would most enjoy this movie would be someone more attracted to aesthetic and comedy rather than the plot. This movie has beautifully crafted sets and backgrounds and the actor's costume compliments them perfectly. Again the plot is a little slow, and the movie has several ending, giving you the effect that it'll never end, but the performance by Robin Williams and Jonathon Price, will keep you an edge of your seat until the end.
Gosh it has been a long time since I watched this film, which I remember as a favorite of childhood. In fact it came out when I was 15! Forget about how you spell the name of those stupid bears; this could make me pause to wonder about who had edited my childhood or how bad my memory has gotten. And then wonder if I shouldn't worry less and start embellishing more!
What caused me to return to Munchausen, now, I suppose, was tangential. A Facebook conversation about cis people not necessarily being happy with their bodies / their own gendered expression reminded me of how hard I rooted for Albrecht when I was a kid (or... when I was smart and intellectually fairly well developed 15 year old). I identified, hard, even though I think his level of dysphoria (if one can use that word, now) between how people saw him and how he felt about himself was more extreme than mine, and I realized that, at the time, of course without using the word "dysphoria." He was this hulking, super-strong man who wanted to be dainty, enjoyed being seen as a midget, and seemed to feel most comfortable at some points wearing a curly wig and a (women's??) servant outfit.
I remember feeling that that was a weird thing to depict in a film, a large, strapping man who didn't feel like he fit with that, and that I felt a little bit of that too: growing into a body that should have been fit for some kind of heavy contact sport, but only being good really at heavy lifting. Feeling like my body somehow *should have been* that of a medium to small, nerdy, somewhat androgynous person; but instead, I ended up with a body that was big and tall and husky and would have been strapping if it got much exercise and instead was kind of lumpy and bearish.
I guess it was always a mix of feelings, because my personality was a bit receding; I never wanted to stand out in the crowd, to be the tallest person, to be a funny fat guy, to be a teddy bear, any of that. But then I sometimes enjoyed the "bear" identity; my first nickname, adopted in a weird kids group therapy / pillowfighting club, was "kodiak." There, I let myself go and enjoyed the size, sturdiness, and play-combat fitness of my body.
In any case, I got to thinking about Albrecht because of this conversation about relatively mild forms of gendered body expression dysphoria that do not (necessarily) result in wanting to identify with a different gender from the gender assigned at birth. Was Albrecht dealing with something like this? Was his experience a variety of trans experience? Was his situation played as a tragic trans person or only for comic relief? Was it right to think of him in this context at all? Was my teenage identification of him with some intensely felt identity problem (and to a limited extent of myself with him) at all fair, or was it some kind of weird political projection that I was doing, albeit without having, at that point, given much thought at all to the concept of transgender? (It wasn't until my early 20s that I remember being exposed to the idea of trans, and thinking about the idea that trans / transgender was a set of ideas that had much more scope than what usually got associated with the often rather dismissive notion of "transsexual.")
So I watched most of the scenes with Albrecht first, and then went back and watched the rest of the movie.
One thing I had forgotten was how Albrecht's situation was and wasn't parallel to the other three talented men in the Baron's service: an incredibly fast runner, a guy with incredibly sharp eyesight, and a guy with very sharp hearing and the ability to blow huge gusts of wind. The other three have just gotten old, and their talents have waned in accordance with normal human aging. Albrecht's situation is treated in the same fashion, but in fact, he says he has discovered himself and doesn't want to fight battles or lug heavy things anymore. The movie doesn't have much space for developing these bit characters, though, and Albrecht's dilemma is, functionally, treated as equivalent to the other three for much of the movie.
One thing that works for me (though maybe I'm reading a lot into a bit part) is how Albrecht plays it. In the early scenes, he is wearing these bright clothes that emphasize the size of his body, and he looks a bit uncomfortable. In Vulcan's court, he looks like he is trying to make himself small, to fit in, and also seems to be going through a fairly tortured debate about whether to stay and enjoy his life as a dainty midget or whether to embrace a feeling of duty towards the Baron. (Incidentally, the greatest feat of imagination, watching this movie today, is watching a scene that is supposed to include giants and puny, regular humans, with no CGI and only a very limited camera trick at the beginning. After that beginning, the movie basically says to the viewer, welp, it's all your imagination from here on out! It was actually shocking to remember that before the Lord of the Rings trilogy, options for making people look considerably different sizes on screen were fairly limited.)
In one of the final scenes, as the other talented men have rediscovered one last reservoir of their old abilities, Albrecht does the same. He lifts a huge set of chains from the sea, anchored to three wrecked ships, spins the ships around in the air, and finally throws them so that they land on the enemy. Before undertaking this feat, he pointedly grabs the curly wig off of his head and throws it down on the beach. He performs a mighty feat of strength and seems to enjoy it.
Does this mean that he has turned his back on finding himself, on being dainty? The wig is back on, albeit on a character who may be an alter-ego, in a subsequent scene. I guess I read this scene as more like how I felt when I went to pillow-fighting therapy group: oh yeah, I remember that there are things I really like about this big, strong body! I hope, and tend to think, that in subsequent days, Albrecht dedicated plenty of energy to things that made him feel dainty.
Noticing how the other characters responded to him: initially, when he explains how he has found himself as a dainty "midget man-servant," another character sums it up: "He's gone funny." From then on, however, they just let him be and let the adventure take its course. I don't think anyone asks him to do strong-man stuff or offers any further commentary on his being dainty, though of course the Baron expresses his frustration that all four of his servants have lost their old, unique abilities. Touching comedic acceptance or just lack of character development? I think I may be devoting more lines and energy to this character than the screenwriter did.
Another thing I noticed on this re-watch had to do with the two major earthly settings: generic, "Age of Reason" European city, under siege, and the Ottoman Empire, which appears as an ugly, messy, bizarre monstrosity full of the laughably absurd and grotesque torture. The European city seems to be run by an official who is a French revolution-type rationalist; his name is "the Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson," which hardly sounds French; the German Baron seems to be an old regular. We can identify with the plight of the city because it is a somehow familiar, universal plight of Europeans facing the danger of war an bombardment. There's something suspect about this, even as I love Vulcan's explanation of nuclear war.
Re: the Turk, I am wondering whether there is something subversive about this spoof Orientalism, which is over the top in all respects; whether the generally subversive veterans of Monty Python obviously had such subversion in mind, as they did with Biblical, crusader, and Arthurian themes; or whether it leaves in place the images it is dredges up to take to bizarre extremes. There's certainly nothing humanizing about its treatment of Turks, but I guess that might be a lot to ask for in a treatment of comic villains.
I also realized, in re-watching this, how much I have interwoven this movie with Quixotic themes in my head, and how this common thematic of the importance of imagination and quite possibly the truth hidden at the core of fantasy vs. "cold, hard, modern reason" formed a jumping-off place for me intellectually.
Probably worth half a star for pure nostalgia, but certainly gave me plenty to think about, now, three times as old as when I first watched it.
I still take great delight in watching this utterly confusing and sloppy movie.
This movie might honestly be the best thing ever, and the fact that I've seen it on so little "Best of" lists personally offends me.
This isn't a cult classic, it's a Classic(TM) and should be regarded as such. This film should be taught in film classes. There should be hipsters events surrounding it. It should be preserved by the American Film Institute for being culturally, historically, AND aesthetically significant.
Instead, I'm the only one I can celebrate Terry Gilliam's genius with, because nobody else wants to watch a movie an absurdist meta-film starring Robin William's gigantic head with me. Their loss. They're missing out on such a clever, creative, imaginative, innovative, and all around epic movie.
I love you, Terry Gilliam. I love you, I love you, I love you.
When Terry Gilliam could still be counted on for a (relatively) coherent cinema experience and one that was predictably visually cluttered and surreal, he made this version of the Munchausen tale (which had been filmed several times before). The Baron is a possible spinner of tall tales, which see him riding on a cannonball, visiting the King and Queen of the Moon (Robin Williams and Valentina Cortese), engaging with Vulcan (Oliver Reed) and Venus (Uma Thurman), and defeating the Turkish army with just a few friends (Eric Idle, Charles McKeown, Jack Purvis, Winston Dennis - all with special powers, such as running fast, blowing a gale, super strength, long-distance vision), and so on. The framing device is that we are in a town laid siege by the Turks at the end of the 18th century and a troupe of actors is staging a version of the Munchausen adventures when in walks the Baron himself (John Neville). He begins to regale the audience (including evil bureaucrat Jonathan Pryce) with his tales which Gilliam shows to us (leaving the stage to show us the full three dimensional experience). But at some point things become blurred and young Sarah Polley, the daughter of the leader of the actors, joins the Baron on his adventures, which do end up freeing the city (and the actors) from the Turks (or perhaps Pryce's pretense that they were really besieging the town). Although the plot is (overly) complicated, Gilliam manages to retain a sense of childlike wonder for the proceedings and Neville is an excellent raconteur/guide/hero. Perhaps there is slightly too much bombast and sameness throughout, but on the whole, an enjoyable affair.
Fabulous movie for the entire family - absolutely fantastic from the wonderful effects, to the stellar acting, uproariously funny comedy, the historical references, the vast explorations of culture and aging. Just simply wonderful from start to finish.
Great movie. While the narrative isn’t entirely cohesive, there’s a beautiful sense of imagination in the film that is matched by stellar visual effects and direction and great performances from its cast, especially Neville, Idle and Williams.