The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * *

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The infamous liar Baron Munchausen arrives in Vienna, currently being besieged by a Turkish army, and, claiming that he is the cause of the Sultan's anger, declares that he will save the city. To do so, however, he must first find several of his former companions, each of whom has some extraordinary ability. One is very strong. Another has keen sight. The third has acute hearing and the ability to blow strong winds, and the last can run exceedingly fast. As he sets out on his quest, the Baron discovers a young girl hiding in the balloon in which he is escaping the city, and together they make their way to the moon, Vulcan's workshop under Mount Etna, and the belly of a giant fish.

Few films are as evocative of wonder and delight as is Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The director has managed to create a beautiful, quirky, and riotous masterpiece that is certain to enthrall and even intoxicate the viewer.

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Although he has borrowed numerous elements from both von Báky's 1943 Münchausen and Zeman's 1961 Baron Prasil, the director manages to incorporate such details into a vision that is completely his own. In fact, Gilliam's unique and fascinating visual style is lavishly displayed in virtually every scene included in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Adorning his movie with a monstrous fish the size of an island, fanciful palaces, impossibly ornate weapons, a flying, three-headed, clockwork chicken, a moving paper city, animated constellations, and the like, Gilliam has fashioned one of the most visually entertaining films ever to have been made.

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The movie's characters and the actors' performances are enchanting as well. The Baron himself is a charming rogue and is likeable despite his arrogance and selfishness. Over the course of the film, he grows older or younger in appearance depending upon his world-weariness or exuberance so that his emotional states are given physical expression. Happily, John Neville's impish portrayal of the Baron throughout these changes is consistently a joy to watch. Many of the other actors also distinguish themselves and contribute to the film's charm. Peter Jeffrey's Turkish Sultan is hilariously cruel. Oliver Reed's Vulcan is a bombastic cuckold. Robin Williams' King of the Moon is a megalomaniacal lunatic, and Sarah Polley's portrayal of Sally Salt, the young girl who accompanies the Baron on his adventures, brings out all the character's vivacity, faith, and strength.

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What is more, the lively playfulness of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, by arousing feelings of marvellous delight, enables the viewer to taste the sweetness of life's pleasures. Although this rapturous enjoyment of existence is punctuated by darker moments, these serve only to accentuate the gladness of the rest. The film manages to produce a spontaneous happiness divorced from any object other than itself. It is a real pleasure.

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Like many of the director's other films, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is, unfortunately, burdened with an amorphous ending which does detract from its quality. Instead of finishing with a satisfying denouement, the movie drags on through a number of apparent conclusions, each of which is followed by another scene reinterpreting that preceding it, until a great deal of the impact of the film's ending is dissipated.

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Despite its imperfect conclusion, Gilliam has crafted a joyous and beautiful movie that is certainly worth watching.

Review by Keith Allen

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