When a youthful astronaut lands on the moon, he finds it inhabited by a number of literary figures, including the great liar Baron Munchausen. Believing this sceptical visitor needs to learn to enjoy life, the Baron takes him on a journey to what appears to be the Earth of the Eighteenth Century. There, the two visit the Ottoman court, rescue a captive noblewoman, escape the Turkish fleet under the cover of a cloud of tobacco smoke aboard a Dutch trading ship, are swallowed by a gigantic fish, visit the bottom of the sea, invent the steam engine, relieve a besieged fortress, and more.
Throughout its duration, the film is, in fact, so absolutely gorgeous that the viewer is certain to be completely bewitched by the images with which he is being presented. Much of Baron Prásil's scenery consists of drawings or prints upon which the actors have been superimposed and through which they roam, and many of the monsters, beasts, and characters Munchausen and his companions encounter over the course of the movie are animated drawings or articulated paper cut outs. The various creatures, all done in an astonishingly unique style, are invariably strange and outlandish, and the backdrops are consistently fantastic. The sense of wonder these diverse images arouse is further enhanced by the director's having tinted the whole of the film a number of different colors. Although Baron Prásil is usually a sedate golden hue, it occasionally blossoms into vibrant blues, yellows, or greens. The result Zeman achieves with all these different elements is enchantingly beautiful.
Unfortunately, the movie is marred by the presence of the astronaut who accompanies the Baron on his travels. He is not an interesting character and seems out of place in the film. The Baron himself, however, is always a joy to watch. Milos Kopecký, who plays Munchausen, infuses his character with a roguish charm and makes the bragging, dreaming scoundrel into a likeable and memorable person.
While Zeman never really evokes any awareness that Munchausen is a hero, he does fill the film with a sense of the Baron's delight with life, his wonderful imagination, and his tremendous sense of fun. Moreover, all the various devices with which the director enlivens his movie help to stir up in the viewer an absolutely marvellous appreciation of things for the sheer pleasure they arouse. Every moment of the film, consequently, elicits that feeling of blissful happiness, of intoxication with the unique experiences of being alive, that the Baron embodies.
I should at this point note that the dialogue in the English language dub ranges from acceptable to dreadful. I do not know Czech, and I have not seen a subtitled version of the film, so I cannot ascertain the quality of the original script, but that of the dub is occasionally embarrassingly bad. While it is generally tolerable, there are numerous moments when its quality so deteriorates that it greatly impedes the movie's enjoyableness.
Zeman has, nevertheless, created a consistently engaging and jubilant film. There are few movies as visually inventive as is Baron Prásil. While the version I have seen is not a masterpiece, without having watched the Czech language movie, I cannot argue with anyone who asserts that the original is.
Review by Keith Allen
Note: Baron Prásil is available on DVD-R at Trash Palace.
Allen. All rights reserved.