Saturday, October 18, 2014

Movie Review #38: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

The third in Terry Gilliam's loose trilogy on imagination's impact on different stages of life is The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Whereas Time Bandits focused on childhood and Brazil focused on middle age, Munchausen focuses on old age. The movie is available on Netflix if you want to check it out.

Short review: after seeing Brazil, Munchausen was definitely a step down. It's a fun adventure movie that feels a bit like The Goonies or The Neverending Story (though that may be because those are all 80s movies), which is to say that it's pretty fun. To be honest, it's simply not fair to compare Munchausen to Brazil, but I can't help it. It's like watching literally any anime right after watching Cowboy Bebop: it's just going to fall short by comparison.

That said, if you're a big fan of 80s adventure movies like The Goonies and The Neverending Story, I think you'll enjoy The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.


While a German town is being laid siege by Ottoman Turks in the late 18th century, a troupe of actors are entertaining the people with a stage show based on the tall tales of Hieronymus Carl Friedrich Baron von M√ľnchhausen, when the performance is interrupted by none other than the aged Baron himself. He proceeds to tell the story of how this whole war with the Turks is all his own fault.

As the fighting outside grows more dangerous, interrupting his storytelling, he decides to go off on one last adventure to gather his old friends and bring an end to the war and save the town. This adventure takes him to many fantastic places, all while the Angel of Death pursues just a few steps behind.


I compared the movie to The Goonies and The Neverending Story before, but there's a major difference in undertone between those movies and Munchausen. They're all movies about adventure, but whereas the other two are focused on children and the promise of their youth, Munchausen is facing the end of a life, battling the will to simply give up and die.

The film kind of distracts you from this theme with the character Sally, who puts much of the film into a child's perspective. In the end, it's Sally's youthful influence that prevents the Baron from giving up on several occasions.

The movie seems to be implying that old people are only as useless as they make themselves, and as time goes on and the things they care about disappear it gets easier and easier for them to just settle in and wait for death. It also gets harder and harder to fight off despair. These are the times when Sally's influence are the deciding factor: when the Baron is on the top of his game it's hard to bring him down (sometimes literally), but when things seem impossible even to him that's when the Angel of Death approaches and Sally must fight it off.

The movie of course contains plenty of surreal elements you'd expect from a Terry Gilliam movie. There's puppetry, fantastic sets, and clever practical effects. It was pretty goofy at times, but always intentionally so.

I don't have too much else to say about the movie. It's clear to me that Gilliam had things to say about all of these stages of life (childhood, middle age, and old age), but he definitely had the most to say about middle age. Presumably that was because Gilliam was in his 40s himself when he made these movies, so the problems of middle age were most immediate to him. I'd be interested to see him tackle an "old age" movie now that he's in his 70s. I imagine his take on old age would be more fleshed out.

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