Archive for March 1989

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

March 10, 1989

Karl Friedrich Hieronymus von Munchausen (1720-1797), a veteran of the Turkish wars, became famous for the wild stories and preposterous lies he told to alleviate his post-war boredom. Terry Gilliam seems the ideal director to handle a figure like the Baron; his approach, essentially, is to ramble, show something off, and ramble some more. Like many visually-oriented spectacles, this is a big, fattening cake of a movie, with images that look terrific out of context because, of course, they have no actual context — Gilliam never quite ties them together. The film’s theme is “To hell with logic,” and that’s also Gilliam’s directorial style. As the Baron, John Neville has a gleaming smile and a courtly presence. That’s about all the character amounts to. More memorable are Eric Idle as the world’s fastest man (who outruns a bullet), Oliver Reed and Uma Thurman as infatuated deities, Jonathan Pryce as the hateful Enlightenment thinker Jackson, and Robin Williams in a truly bizarre cameo as the King of the Moon. (If you blink, you miss Sting as the soldier who’s punished for being too heroic.) As the movie goes on, it begins to seem a little too much like Gilliam’s self-defense for being a fantasist beleaguered by the powerful and unimaginative — it was his follow-up to the troubled Brazil. (This production had its own backaches, chronicled in Andrew Yule’s book Losing the Light.) The experience may be like looking at individual square inches of a vast, beautiful canvas, but some of those inches shine. Also with a very young Sarah Polley.