Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The (UK - BD RB)
Scott McKenzie takes a look at Terry Gilliam's overblown over-budget movie...
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen tells the tale of the titular adventurer, who has to try and save a besieged town from the Turkish army. With his superpower-endowed companions in tow, his travels take him for an audience with the king of the moon, a dance with Venus and into the bowels of a whale. But are his stories nothing more than tall tales and are his on screen adventures just in his mind?
Munchausen is the third movie in Terry Gilliam’s loose trilogy about the dreams of man through the ages. Starting with children in Time Bandits, then middle-age in Brazil, Munchausen focuses on the dreams and fantasies of an old man. It’s no surprise that Gilliam attempted to make a film based on the story on Don Quixote because the representation of the baron here and Cervantes’ fictional creation are very similar. Both characters are old men possibly losing their marbles who set out on wild adventures, and Gilliam uses this to blur the lines between reality and fantasy.
I’m a big fan of Terry Gilliam and I count Brazil as one of my favourite movies, but the concepts that make his 1985 masterpiece a rewarding movie don’t quite work in Munchausen. For example, the elaborate sets in Brazil served a purpose and were almost a character themselves within the movie, but here (and as he states in the extras), Gilliam didn’t have the same grasp on the budget and set design this time around. This is just one example of how the increasingly expensive movie was out of control of the man who was supposed to be the creative driving force behind the project.
I don’t want to give anything away with either movie, but where the ending of Brazil was so moving, the ending of Munchausen is confusing, leaving the viewer questioning whether some or all of the movie they just watched actually happened. It’s interesting to discover from the extras on this disc that this was a movie Gilliam made with his daughter in mind because that might be one of the reasons why Munchausen failed to perform at the box office—the combination of child-friendly slapstick action and Gilliam’s dark side worked once in Time Bandits, but he couldn’t pull it off a second time.
John Neville was convinced to return to film acting by the title role and he inhabits the character well, having a convincing relationship with the young Sarah Polley, our eyes and ears in the mad world of Baron Munchausen. Eric Idle delivers exactly the kind of performance you would expect from a Python alumnus and there are interesting appearances by Oliver Reed, a young Uma Thurman and Robin Williams. It’s when we meet Robin Williams as the king of the moon that the movie descends into pure silliness and I would expect this to be the point when viewers are either drawn into the movie or put off by it.
Munchausen is definitely worth watching though, especially for fans of Time Bandits and the Monty Python movies. It’s also no surprise that it was nominated for four technical Oscars, showing that a large amount of the money that disappeared during the making of the movie actually ended up on the screen. Gilliam’s signature themes and conventions are here and it feels like a Gilliam movie, but it doesn’t quite have the emotional punch of Brazil or the polished finish of Twelve Monkeys.
Munchausen is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen (1080p) and I’m pleased to report that the picture quality isn’t bad. I wasn’t expecting too much from a movie that’s almost twenty years old and not exactly well-loved, but it’s clear that it has been remastered, with less grain than I was expecting, although the quality of the model shots is significantly worse than the rest of the movie. The detail on this high definition release is impressive, allowing the viewer to pick out every wrinkle on the baron’s face. However, this also means that some of the dodgy blue-screen work is even more obvious.
While there is the welcome inclusion of a Dolby TrueHD audio track, the quality isn’t really there to make this a disc to show off your surround system with. The balance between dialogue, music and effects is perfectly fine, but the audio is rather muted throughout. There are plenty of explosions and while they are nice and loud, there’s not the same use of directional sound that you would expect from a movie made in 2008. On a positive note, Michael Kamen’s score is very enjoyable and is probably the aspect of the soundtrack that is best represented on this release.
The movie comes with a commentary track by Terry Gilliam and the screenwriter Charles McKeown. It’s clear as I went through the extras that the preparation for this release was a good excuse to get these two people in the same room together and the results are very rewarding. Even though they haven’t seen each other for a long time, it’s clear they enjoyed working together and they share plenty of banter. There’s lots of talk about the problems they had filming on a quickly diminishing budget and the fact that after one week of filming, they were already one week behind.
‘Madness and Misadventures of Munchausen’ is a three-part making of documentary that clocks in at well over an hour and is an excellent retrospective look at an almost-doomed movie. The interviews with Gilliam allow him to go into more detail about the changes that were made to the movie as they scaled down the costs, including the fact that Sean Connery was signed on to play the king of the moon until the screenplay was changed.
There is also a featurette that focuses on the storyboards for un-filmed scenes. This is significantly better than the slideshow of drawings you usually expect to find as DVD filler. Instead, each scene is introduced by Gilliam and McKeown and they provide narration and sound effects for each scene. This featurette is about half an hour long and is actually a lot better as an indication of what is missing from the movie than the deleted scenes themselves, of which there are only four. The trivia track rounds out the extras very well, filling in any gaps you may have missed elsewhere, but it took far too long to load on my player and I had to wait on an interminably slow progress bar to go fill up before I exited the movie and got back to the main menu.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is an interesting movie and is a great example of how no matter how much is in the filmmakers’ budget, it’ll never be enough. The movie has been cleaned up for this release so it looks and sounds pretty good. There may not be a huge list of extras here, but there is a lot of detail and they certainly enhance the viewing experience so fans of the movie should definitely think about picking up this release.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Scott McKenzie
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 7th April 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1English, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Spanish, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Hungarian
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Dutch, Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovene, Slovak, Swedish, Turkish
Extras: Commentary, Trivia Track, Madness and Misadventures of Munchausen, Storyboards, Deleted Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: John Neville, Sarah Polley, Eric Idle, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 121 minutes
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