Friday, March 2, 2018

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen; fantasy / grotesque; USA, 1988; D: Terry Gilliam, S: John Neville, Sarah Polley, Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Jack Purvis, Charles McKeown, Winston Dennis, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams, Sting

18th century. During a siege of a coastal city on the Balkans by the Ottoman Empire, a group of theatre actors is performing a play of the adventures of Baron Munchausen. Their play is interrupted when Munchausen, now an old man, appears on stage himself and tells the audience about his adventures: he won a bet against the Turkish sultan because his friend, superfast Berthold, managed to run a 1,000 miles to Vienna and back and get a bottle of great vine, and thus Munchausen's crew, which included Gustavus, Adolphus and superstrong Albrecht, took all the gold from the treasury. An 8-year old girl, Sally, believes Munchausen and goes an a trip from the Moon up, a Volcano up to the stomach of a giant fish to find all of Munchausen's crew and bring them back to the city where they stop and banish the Ottoman army. Back in reality, Munchausen demands the gates to be opened, and the Ottoman army is indeed gone. He then rides with his horse and disappears on the horizon.

One of the most expensive movies from the 80s with a budget of around 40 million $, this fantasy extravaganza is at the same time one of the most bizarre movies of the said decade, achieving a mixed result—some moments are playful and creative, some are just plain indecipherable or 'autistic'—yet all identify Terry Gilliam's instant trademark 'Felliniesque' style as an auteur. A loose remake (or reboot) adaptation of von Baky's '43 classic "Munchhausen" and K. Zeman's '62 version "The Fabulous Baron Munchausen", Gilliam's film gives a more bitter and dark edition of the stories, completing his informal "Trilogy of Imagination" in which the people try to find a way out from the cruel, damaging world through escapist fables (the first two films being "Time Bandits", which showed this theme from a child's perspective, and "Brazil", which showed it from a grown-up man's perspective) by displaying the title hero at an old age, who finds a new esprit, a rejuvenation of some sort, to live in these therapuetic fairy tales in which he undergoes a transition from a useless man at deathbed (the leitmotive of a skeleton with wings, a personification of Death, appears several times in the story) to a hero who matters in society.

The middle part of this cult film strays too often into pointless episodes (as refreshing as Robin Williams' cameo is as the floating head of the Moon King, his segment is superfluous to the narrative), some of which really are too bizarre and may strain the efforts of the viewers to understand them, yet the opening and the closing act rise to the ocassion and offer a few comical moments. Eric Idle almost steals the show as the superfast Berthold, who ignites the most laughs: one of the highlights is the finale in which a Turkish soldier shoots at Munchhausen, yet Berthold starts running at such a speed that he is at the same pace as the bullet, then tries to grab it with his bare hands, but it rotates too fast, so he runs to a piece of armor and intercepts the bullet by bouncing it off the metal object. The special effects of dust left behind after his running are also amusing, especially in the scene in which Berthold trips and falls off a hill. Another great moment involves Gustavus, who puffs and blows out dozens of Ottoman soldiers in the wind, whereas superstrong Albrecht swings and catapults three ships at the said army. The sequence in which Munchausen flies on a cannon fired from the city, flies over the Ottoman soldiers, and then jumps on to a Ottoman cannon to fly back behind the city walls, is also exquisite, and more of such moments with a punchline would have been welcome, yet it still brings across its message about the triumph of imagination over the powers of grey routine, in its own weird way.


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