The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film begins in an unnamed war-torn European city in the late 18th century (dubbed “The Age of Reason” in an opening caption), where, amid explosions and gunfire from a large Turkish army outside the city gates, a fanciful touring stage production of Baron Münchhausen’s life and adventures is taking place. Backstage, city official “The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson” reinforces the city’s commitment to reason (here meaning uniformity) by ordering the execution of a soldier (Sting in a cameo) who had just accomplished a near-superhuman feat of bravery, claiming that his bravery is demoralizing to other soldiers. Not far into the play, an elderly man claiming to be the real Baron interrupts the show, protesting its many inaccuracies. Over the complaints of the audience, the theatre company and Jackson, the “real” Baron gains the house’s attention and narrates through flashback an account of one of his adventures, of a life-or-death wager with the Grand Turk, where the younger Baron’s life is saved only by his amazing luck plus the assistance of his remarkable associates: Berthold, the world’s fastest runner; Adolphus, a rifleman with superhuman eyesight; Gustavus, who possesses extraordinary hearing, and sufficient lung power to knock down an army by exhaling; and the fantastically strong Albrecht.

When gunfire disrupts the elderly Baron’s story, Jackson cancels the acting troops’ contract because of the Baron. The Baron wanders backstage where the Angel of Death tries to take his life, but Sally Salt, the young daughter of the theater company’s leader, saves him from it and persuades him to remain living. Sally races to the wall yelling for the Turkish army to go away, and the Baron accidentally fires himself through the sky using a mortar and returns riding a cannonball, narrowly escape the Angel of Death once again. Insisting that he alone can save the city, the Baron escapes the city’s walls in a hot air balloon constructed of women’s underwear, accompanied by Sally as a stowaway. The balloon expedition proceeds to the Moon, where the Baron, who has grown younger, finds his old associate Berthold, but angers the King of the Moon, a giant with separate minds in his head and body, who resents the Baron for his romantic past with the Queen of the Moon. The death of the King’s body, and a bungled escape from the Moon brings the trio back to (and beneath) the Earth, where the Roman God Vulcan hosts his guests with courtesy and Albrecht is found. The Baron and Vulcan’s wife, the Goddess Venus, attempt a romantic interlude by waltzing in air, but this cuts short the hospitality and Vulcan expels the foursome from his kingdom into the South Seas.

Swallowed by an enormous sea creature from the play earlier, the travelers locate Gustavus, Adolphus, and the Baron’s trusty horse Bucephalus. The Baron (who again appears elderly after being “expelled from a state of bliss”) struggles with the conflicting goals of heroism and a peaceful death meeting the Angel of Death for a third time. Finally deciding to escape by blowing “a modicum of snuff” out into the sea creature’s cavernous interior, causing the sea creature to “sneeze” the heroes out through its whale-like blowhole. The Baron, young once again, sails to where the Turkish army is located but the Baron’s associates are now too elderly and tired to fight the Turk as in the old days. The Baron lectures them firmly but to no avail, and he storms off intending to surrender to the Turk and to Jackson; his cohorts rally to save both the Baron and the city. During the city’s celebratory parade, the Baron is shot dead by Jackson and the Angel of Death appears a final time to take the Baron’s life. An emotional public funeral takes place, but the denouement reveals that this is merely the final scene of yet another story the Baron is telling to the same theater-goers who were attending the theater in the beginning of the film. The Baron calls the foregoing “only one of the many occasions on which I met my death” and closes his tale by saying “everyone who had a talent for it lived happily ever after.”

An ambiguous finale reveals that the city has indeed been saved, even though the events of the battle apparently occurred in a story rather than the film’s reality. The Baron rides off on Bucephalus. As the Baron and Bucephalus are bathed in the light of the sun parting through the clouds, they apparently disappear, and the credits roll over a triumphant blast of music.


Listening to a review of Mr. Peabody & Sherman earlier this week, it was brought up about how Commander McBragg (another character from the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons) was similar to Baron Munchausen. As you can imagine, this piqued my interest and I just had to see if this was a true statement and what this big deal about The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was.

What is this about?

Writer-director Terry Gilliam puts a fantastical spin on the stories of Baron Munchausen, an 18th-century German aristocrat and renowned teller of tall tales, whose claims include a trip to the moon and being swallowed by a sea monster.

What did I like?

Fantastic. Say what you will about Terry Gilliam’s films, the guy knows how to create a fantastical world full of interesting characters and creatures. While the special effects are not the best to be seen on film, they are still enjoyable to watch, and for that reason, this film is a whole lot more entertaining than it has any business being.

Duality. From what I’ve heard and read, the Man in the Moon is known for being very duplicitous. Since the King of the Moon is apparently somewhat based on that character, it makes perfect sense for this guy to exhibit signs on multiple personality disorder. Not to mention, he’s played by Robin Williams. Who better for a character such as this? On a side note, the king was originally meant to be played by Sean Connery, but he didn’t feel the character was “kingly enough”.

What didn’t I like?

Death. Maybe it is just me, but I felt that the Angel of Death should have looked like something more than a second rate school skeleton wearing a couple of rags. Also, he just didn’t seem to serve the purpose that the filmmaker’s wanted. Maybe the parts that developed him wound up on the cutting room floor, though.

No salt. A very young Sarah Polley appears and, like just about every other little kid in just about any film, is pushy and annoying, rather than cute and innocent. Yes, she is the reason this film keeps going, aside from the Baron’s outrageous story, but couldn’t they have made her more likable? Why is it every kid has to be so damn despicable?

As much as I tried, I just really couldn’t get into The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Like Terry Gilliam’s other films, it is great to look at, but couldn’t really keep my attention. There is a decent story to be told here, but if you were to ask me, I can’t recommend this film as anything more than eye candy.

3 out of 5 stars

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