Monday, 7 April 2008


The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – 20th Anniversary (1988) dir. Terry Gilliam
Starring: John Neville, Sarah Polley, Uma Thurman, Eric Idle


I personally think “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” is an overwrought mismash of cinegarbage cobbled together without any flow or consistency. But since the film has always been a love or hate film this is no big surprise. Of course the film has found its audience and the rest is history. But the most fascinating aspect of the new 20th anniversary of the Baron Munchausen film is the DVD's accompanying documentary which tells the whole story and debunks all the myths of the making of the film.

Gilliam’s films always seem to produce the best making of documentaries, “12 Monkeys” contains one of the best-ever DVD special feature making-of docs, same with Vincenzo Natali’s self-contained one-hour long doc “Getting Gilliam” about the making of “Tideland” and of course the great feature doc “Lost in La Mancha” about the famous Don Quixote disaster.

It’s 20 years later since Munchausen and the warring parties that fought the battle of this film has kissed and made up (kind of). This has allowed everyone the freedom to speak their minds and really tell what it was like, warts and all, to make “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”. It’s a great no bullshit documentary which could only occur after the film has marked its place in cine-history as one of those film failures that has now found its audience

The film was Gilliam’s first project after “Brazil” which was a famous public battle to have his director’s cut released in theatres. Through mutual colleagues Gilliam teamed up with German producer Thomas Schuly ("In the Name of the Rose") who convinced him to save some money and shoot the film in Italy. Unfortunately the minor savings were offset by the cultural difficulties working with the notoriously difficult Italians. As a result, before the film even went to camera the production was behind schedule and over budget. In the end, the film cost double it’s budget and became a black mark on Gilliam’s career.

Eric Idle, who plays the character of Berthold, is wonderfully candid about working with his good friend Gilliam, plainly saying, next to boarding school, it was the most traumatic experience in his life. Sarah Polley, who famously wrote a deriding email to Gilliam and had it published in the Toronto Star, goes on camera and speaks truthfully about the traumatic experience. But the blame game between Gilliam and producer Thomas Schuhly is the funniest interaction. According to Gilliam Schuhly’s conniving business practices made him persona non grata midway through the film. Schuly absolves himself from blame and claims from the get-go he was working to make the best film with the budget he had. It all becomes a marvelously enjoyable experience to watch conflict with a smile.

My thoughts and opinions on Munchausen-the movie aside, Gilliam is a great storyteller and his final comments sum up perfectly the whole experience. The tale of the 'Munchausen disaster' was wrapped up nicely in the eyes of the press with its box office failure. Despite it’s ‘good reviews’ the film’s fate was decided before it was even finished. This is a shame, because it now appears to be one of Gilliam's most popular films. Gilliam hardly suffered from the negative press, he has continued to make unique personal visions - with the hotly anticipated "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassis" still in production.

“The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – 20th Anniversary” is now available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a complimentary review of this release. As the producer of the DVD, I hope that Gilliam fans will enjoy our efforts and finally hear the truth about the story, once and for all. It was a passion project for all of us, and a truly great experience to work with as wonderous and generous a man as Terry Gilliam.

Jake said...

Gilliam fans will in enjoy and your efforts will be rewarded.