Terry Gilliam is a name I discovered primarily as a Monty Python member, which means in my teen years, it's only in my twenties that I discovered the director and in my current thirties his most famous movies, and it's always a case of half-full half-empty glass. I admire the artist, he strikes me as a real Steven Spielberg without the usual schmaltz and technical gift for sentimental manipulation but on the other hand, one ought to be a little Spielberg sometimes. I love the artist but I hate when his own artistry steals the thunder of the stories they're supposed to serve.
Gilliam is the kind of polarizing directors (actually, he is THE polarizing director) whom you don't know whether he's a misunderstood genius or a man who can't handle his talent and feels the need to kill it with special effects and overdose of extravaganza, you don't know if the effects serve the story or the opposite. I never really enjoyed his films except in the few moments where the story overcame the effects and let his writing and storytelling talent blossom. This is why I respect "Brazil" and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" but I love "The Fisher King"
now where does that put me regarding Terry Gilliam's take on the adventures of the iconic baron?
Well, this time, I have a little bias because despite the fact that it would take me twenty more years to completely know about Gilliam, I discovered "Munchausen" as a child, I can even tell you when: Tuesday January 7, 1992. I was nine, it was with my Dad and we had a lot of fun. So should I review the film or the childhood memory? I think I'll let my inner child talk for once (he might be more magnanimous than the adult). Indeed, there's something so appealing to childhood in the Baron's adventures, something that goes beyond the power of imagination, like only Disney and Spielberg could have pulled but this time, it is Gilliam, and I've got to hand it to him, his inner child inspired a great and visually stunning movie with unforgettable characters.
He didn't spoil it with any raunchy or crude material (although I could spot some adult subtleties sneaking here and there), he didn't overdo the violence, it was always handled in a close-to- comedic tone, it is in fact made as something to primarily appeal to kids. My only complaint is that the film drags a bit too long, a little more trimming and a little more clarity could have saved it but given how passionate Gilliam was in this adaptation, I knew he couldn't kill any bit of his darling. I believe most of his movies suffer from their lack of a proper editing, "Munchausen", almost gets away with it. And no matter how long it felt, while my Dad went to sleep, I finished the film till the end.
Now, I can't recollect which part stuck to my memory, if I had three in minds, it would be the sultan harem sequence with the torture's apprentice piano and the post-decapitation wink from the squire, also Berthold (Eric Idle), the hilarious servant trying to outrun a bullet. This sequence is comparable the funniest Looney Tunes and Tex Avery cartoons. Not only does he run faster than the bullet but he manages to deviate it at a nick of time, this is just something about the film, the way it combines characters with different gifts, the fastest man in the world, a dwarf with extraordinary blowing capabilities, a man of Herculean strength, Munchausen is as close to a cartoon as a film can get, and this is a real gem of fantasy film, in the same year than "Who Framed Roger Rabbit".
The casting of John Neville is top notch, as he's the perfect straight man and accentuates the comical effect by constantly staying true to his heroic and stoic nature, I also had a crush on Sally who looked exactly like a girl in my class, of course, 25 years later, I couldn't believe how breathtakingly beautifully, Uma Thurman was. Now, where was I? Oh, I forgot the third point. Yeah, I didn't get the ending, I didn't understand how come he was supposed to die in the very film he story he was relating. But it didn't prevent me to enjoy the film, it was fun, crazy and discovering Gilliam made it reconciled me a bit with the director.
I had a great time watching the second disc on the DVD and I can see what's eating this guy, he's just such a predisposition for creativity that his energy knows no bound, sometimes, the movie suffer from it, but maybe in this case, Gilliam's way of extravagant did justice to a tale that is supposed to be a hymn to imagination, even with that resignation about lying. Who cares about facts anyway when the truth is elevated with that little spark from Munchausen. Gilliam even said that the film ended up as a box-office failure, which was like the perfect conclusion to a movie made under such hellish circumstances and those who saw the bonus know, it's the kind of projects that ruined friendships indeed. But here we are, almost thirty years later, the film is still here and it's a classic, Gilliam made his baby and it will survive him, no doubt.
So, maybe it was all worth the pain after all, like one would say, sometimes Cinema should show the agony of making the film. "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" is the result of painstaking efforts, elevating Gilliam to a level of bravery similar to the one that pumps the Baron's heart, and this is the stuff great adventure movies are made of. Gilliam embrace the feel of his movies and vice versa.