The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

adventures of baron munchausen poster 1988 movie
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Pure Gilliam

Not as fun or developed as Time Bandits or Brazil

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Studio:  Prominent Features/Laura Film/Allied Filmmakers

Genre(s):  Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Family

Release Date(s):  December 8, 1988 (West Germany)/March 10, 1989 (US)

MPAA Rating:  PG

adventures of baron munchausen queen of the moon valentina cortese eric idle sarah polley john neville

To the moon and beyond!!!!

A city besieged by the Sultan (Peter Jeffrey) finds performers putting on a play about the famed Baron Munchausen.  When the real Baron Munchausen (John Neville) arrives, he reveals that the war is all his fault and he intends to rectify it.  Sally Salt (Sarah Polley) accidentally finds herself tied to his adventure to reassemble his team Berthold (Eric Idle), Albrecht (Winston Dennis), Gustavus (Jack Purvis), Adolphus (Charles McKeowan), and the Baron’s horse Bucephalus travelling the world and beyond to do it.

Directed by Terry Gilliam (who also adapted the screenplay with Charles McKeown), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a fantasy adventure.  Following Gilliam’s Brazil in 1985, the film is based on the stories of Baron Munchausen by Rudolf Erich Raspe which were collected in Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of His Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia in 1785.  The film bombed at the box office but received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Makeup.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #1166).

adventures of baron munchausen birth of venus uma thurman

Great recreation of the Birth of Venus

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is the third film in Gilliam’s loose “Trilogy of Imagination” with Time Bandits (which I saw in the theater) and Brazil.  I had never seen The Adventures of Baron Munchausen but remember many (including Gilliam’s fans) feeling that it was a misfire.  While it isn’t like the other two “Trilogy of Imagination” films, it does feel like pure Gilliam.

The story is “wacky” and filled with eccentric characters.  The movie is essentially an odyssey type quest with the characters traveling through a very odd world (and space) in an attempt to rebuild Munchausen’s famous team to save the city.  Age and aging also is a big theme as Munchausen’s age and relevance seems to change…it goes on a bit too long and doesn’t feel as concise as concise as the similar Time Bandits or as deep as the adult fantasy of Brazil.

The cast is expansive and it plays a bit of a Wizard of Oz type idea.  The movie starts out with Bill Paterson portraying Munchausen as a play with actors Eric Idle, Charles McKeown, Winston Dennis, and Jack Purvis Munchausen and his crew within the play.  The real Munchausen played by John Neville shows up and the search begins for his team (who are portrayed by the same actors who played the characters in the play minus Paterson).  Sarah Polley is the “audience” who is along for the ride and famously talked about the danger she was put in while filming the movie (she did say it is still fine to like the movie and it doesn’t need to be cancelled).  The movie has Munchausen encountering Johnathan Pryce, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, and Robin Williams (there is also a small cameo by Sting).                             .

adventures of baron munchausen angel of death

Nope…nothing terrifying here…

Gilliam’s visuals continue to excel and resemble an amped up version of his Monty Python days.  It is surreal and at the same time the surreal nature is treated as complete reality.  The film also features Gilliam’s terrifying Angel of Death.  It all wraps up as a play (which also ties in with the visuals of movie).

I like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen more in that it reminds me of the fun of seeing Time Bandits for the first time more than a movie itself.  It is weird and the type of kids’ movie that isn’t afraid to scare the kids a bit.  A lot of the jokes of the movie will go over the heads of kids, but they also don’t talk down to kids like many kids movies do now…it is an unbalanced, but fun ride.  Gilliam followed The Adventures of Baron Munchausen with The Fisher King in 1991.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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