Film Reviews:

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

(Terry Gilliam, UK/West Germany, 1988)

I can't help being drawn towards Terry Gilliam's films. I like them for their off-the-wall, surrealist ideas and images and anything on top of these is a bonus. There's always so much to look at in Gilliam's densely rich pictures. In The Adventures of Baron Munchausen our hero of the title travels the world, and the moon, to gather together his band of four friends, to help a besieged city.

[The Adventures of Baron Munchausen]John Neville plays the moody but charismatic Baron Munchausen who appears at a theatre production of his own life story to tell the audience how it really was. Neville's portrayal is just right, he manages to convey the many moods of the sometimes temperamental Baron through some excellent ageing make-up. Johnathan Pryce returns from Gilliam's Brazil to play a near-sighted character, who's mishandling of a Turkish attack keeps the city under siege. Assisting the Baron in his historic adventures are four unique men. Bertholdt - a man who can run as fast as a bullet, Gustavus - a midget with an incredibly powerful puff, Albrect - the strongest man in the world, and Adolphus - a man with amazing vision. The best of these has to be Eric Idle as Bertholdt, not only does he get all the best lines but his character is given scope to develop.

There are many cameo roles and appearances. Sting pops up for a few seconds as a heroic soldier. Robin Williams appears as the king of the moon in an improvised and uncredited role. However, the best cameo is by Oliver Reed as a northern-accented Vulcan, having union problems with his workers. Reed's performance is excellent, and it's a shame we couldn't see more of him. One character on which the film really hinges is young Sally Salt, daughter of the man playing the Baron in the theatre and sidekick to the real Baron in his search for his friends. Played by eight year old Canadian actress Sarah Polley, Sally Salt is responsible for keeping Baron (and the film) on his toes, constantly reminding him that they 'must get on'. Polley's acting is first-rate and her performance bodes well for her future in acting.

What else does the film have going for it? Well, the sets are wonderfully realised, the special effects are variable but well suited to the subject, the music is grandeur itself, the plot intricate and just about everything else is right on cue. There's only one thing I never feel entirely happy with and that's Gilliam's direction. For me, Gilliam's films too often fail to grip one emotionally. The characters are simply overpowered by the events happening around them. This isn't necessarily a shortcoming but it's a part of his films that always bugs me. Still, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is entertaining stuff. It's not full of laughs but when you're not laughing, you're usually smiling. Gilliam has an ability to make films that are so distinctively his, so different, that when another comes along, you'll be missing something unique if you don't go to see it. 7/10

Rob Dyer (July 1989)

See also:

Lost In La Mancha

and these earlier interpretations of Munchausen:

Aventures de baron de Munchhausen, Les (1911)
Baron Prásil (1961)
Fabuleuses aventures du legendaire Baron de Munchausen, Les (1979)
Münchhausen (1943)

A-Z of Film Reviews