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The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

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The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - 9/9/2013 9:33:20 PM   


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Joined: 30/10/2011
My shit review of 'The Adventures of Baron Munchausen'

Between his birth in 1720 and his death in 1797, German aristocrat Carl Friedrich von Munchhausen took part in Russia’s conflicts against the Ottoman Empire and upon return secured his place as the most infamous yarn spinner in history. His use of wild exaggeration when recounting his exploits has inspired the name of a medical disorder (Munchhausen syndrome) and a number of motion pictures. One such film is Terry Gilliam’s 1988 ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’.

Set in ‘The Age of Reason’, the film begins in an unnamed city that looks somewhat like a mix between Napoleonic France and blitz stricken London. Although under siege from Ottoman Turks, the government has convinced the occupants to carry on as normal. Even theaters are still in operation. At one such theater the young heroine Sally (Sarah Polley) watches on as her family perform a shambolic interpretation of the mythical Baron Munchausen’s life and times. To the surprise and outrage of all involved a man purporting to be THE Baron Munchausen (John Neville) waltzes in claiming that he has the power to end the Turkish attack. Only Sally believes him and together they set off on a globe-trotting search for the Baron’s companions, whose legendary powers are required to defeat the Turks.

This is a swashbuckling tale indeed. Much like the Odyssesy in terms of scale and themes, it feels as though Homer passed his works on to Salvador Dali for a re-write. The film is truly epic in scope, even for a Terry Gilliam film, and he incorporates all his favourite actors and comedy beats. Just like any Gilliam creation, things get progressively weirder and before long the characters find themselves fleeing before a three headed moon vulture robot driven by a headless Robin Williams. Mucnchausen’s super-team possess powers comparable to characters of Marvel/DC universes; Eric Idle’s Berthold is essentially the Flash and the others members of the company are equally endowed.

Many of the inventions used by the Baron and his merry crew are inspired; a hot air balloon made from half a tonne of blown up knickers is particularly enjoyable. What is most remarkable about this film and other Gilliam triumphs of the era (Brazil, Time Bandits) is the way in which the landscapes and leviathan sized enemies can be so real when they clearly are not. The mind boggling, CGI expanses of his modern vision ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ are unable to replicate that hand crafted romanticism and humour.
With that said. ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’ is not the director’s best work and perhaps children would engage with the magic where an adult would not, in a similar way to ‘The Never Ending Story’. Neville as the baron has charm but the multitude of kooky characters becomes wearying as their every movement is played for laughs. Moreover, one cannot help to feel uncomfortable for little Sally Salt as she travels far and wide with this troupe of dirty old men (the Baron especially has a keen eye for the younger lady).

Close observation of Sally gives the impression that she is not fully engaged with the happy go lucky nature of their quest. A bit of research has confirmed this suspicion. A few years ago actress Sarah Polley, now an adult director/writer, wrote an article explaining how traumatic her time on the film set was. Although Polley largely blamed her parents for their irresponsibility she felt that she had been heavily overworked and exposed to danger during filming. In addition, she and Gilliam had conversations in which she implored him to take more care with his future child stars, such as the lead in 2005’s Tideland. Upon a repeat viewing the suffering of Polley throughout will be difficult to overlook now that her experiences have come to light.

Light hearted and often beautiful, the adventures of the Baron drag on perhaps a tad too long and were intended to capture the imagination of a younger audience. This is not a masterpiece, unlike some of Gilliam’s works, which combine epic fantasy and comedy with more sympathetic characters and societal implications.

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