I admit that I was hesitant when I slid the Blu-ray of The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen into my player. When it was (barely) released in 1988 I saw a few clips that just didn't sell it to me. In fact, it looked a right mess and the poor performance at the box office did nothing to make me doubt my first impression of the film. Fast forward to all these years later and I now know that boffo box office results aren't always a sign of a great movie, but I still thought I was about to watch a mess. An entertaining mess, perhaps, but a mess nonetheless.
Piffle! The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen is a fantastic film. Directed by Terry Gilliam, who co-wrote the screenplay with Charles McKeown (based on the character created by Rudolph Erich Raspe), it is his usual mix of wild imagination, wonderful visuals and warped humour. Apparently, it forms a thematic trilogy after the excellent Time Bandits and the masterpiece that is Brazil, something to do with the ages of man and the power of imagination, but the most important thing to know is that it's a rip-roaring adventure full of spectacle and larger than life figures.
It is a time of war, a time of misery for the occupants of a city being attacked by a large Turkish army. It is "The Age Of Reason". For the benefit of those seeking a distraction from the war, a play is being performed that's all about the life of the adventurer known as Baron Munchausen. Unfortunately, the play is interrupted by the Baron himself, who is unhappy at the way his adventures have been adapted and proceeds to tell the audience the truth, including how he was responsible for starting the war on the city. Mind you, it's not surprising that few people believe his words when he goes on about his sidekicks - the fastest runner in the world, an eagle-eyed sharpshooter, a man with excellent hearing and the ability to exhale gale force winds and the strongest man in the world. Reality then reasserts itself as the war interrupts the Baron and he wanders off to die. Thankfully, that plan doesn't work (or it would be a very short film indeed) and so the Baron decides to save the city, meaning that more adventures are about to unfold.
This wasn't an easy movie to get made, but from what I've seen and heard over the years, few Terry Gilliam movies are. Having seen his work method, I think it's all down to the fact that he yearns to find the fastest way possible to put his constantly inventive imaginings on to film and that makes for very hard work indeed. He has it all there in his mind and you can see how fast it all wants to come out whenever he quickly sketches a new idea or a revision of the scene before him (check out both Lost In La Mancha and The Hamster Factor And Other Tales Of Twelve Monkeys to see what I'm on about). The difficulties behind the camera just don't show themselves, however, and viewers are simply left to enjoy a great final product.
The cast is wonderful, full of so many familiar faces as well as those who just fit their characters perfectly. John Neville is the Baron, the very heart of the film, and he makes for a wonderful companion and narrator throughout. Sarah Polley is only a teeny tiny girl here and she's very good in her teeny tiny girl role. Eric Idle, Winston Dennis, Jack Purvis and Charles McKeown have a lot of fun playing some rather unique characters while Uma Thurman, Jonathan Pryce, Robin Williams, Alison Steadman, Oliver Reed, Bill Paterson, Valentina Cortese, Peter Jeffrey and many others populate the screen in a variety of weird and wonderful roles.
Fans of Gilliam's films should love this one, fans of films such as Big Fish (which has quite a similiar structure) should love this one and fans of fine cinema, in general, should find plenty to enjoy. I didn't expect to say this before putting in that Blu-ray, but I highly recommend this film.