Monday, 1 September 2014

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (1988)

Only Terry Gilliam...

I was a child when The Adventures of Baron Munchausen came out and I recall being very excited about watching it. When I finally got round to it, I must admit its baroque bloatedness did alienate me a little in places, but I was still somewhat besotted by it.

Twenty Six years on and watching it with adult eyes rather than that of a child, I still feel more or less the same. I'm not alienated as such, but the faults and errors are readily apparent within the otherwise boldly beautiful structure. As with a lot of Gilliam's work it's nearly but not quite, hampered almost inevitably by bad luck and mismanagement from the studios. If ever a film would benefit from a director's cut it's this one.

Some of the miss-steps include not having enough emotional contact with the town that is besieged throughout. We're no sooner introduced to it than we rush headlong into the visiting acting troupe (headed up by a fabulous Bill Paterson as Henry Salt) and their wrangling with Gilliam's in joke towards financiers played (far too OTT) by Jonathan Pryce. The main problem with the piece is I think its pacing, everything feels like its working against the clock leaving us breathless in all the wrong ways by Gilliam's bold creative imagination. The film needed time to breathe, time to allow the ideas and concepts to grow and flourish. 

Some of the highlights though are of course the fabulous set and costume design, the cinematography and the direction as well as the sheer charm of so many of the set pieces. Richard Neville was something of an infrequent screen presence, preferring the theatre to the big screen, which is a real shame as he holds everything together wonderfully here and it is perhaps his elusive yet familiar nature that nails the Munchausen character. He's ably supported by the talented beyond her years presence of Sarah Polley as Sally Salt and the pair have a real chemistry both loving and fractious that's a joy to watch.

An epic such as this needs big characters and Gilliam pulled out all the stops bringing us the likes of fellow Python Eric Idle, a very young Uma Thurman, Oliver Reed (who, at the time, was at his most fun for ages) and the late Robin Williams - or Ray D. Tutto, 'king of everything' as he was credited.

Warning: Sting is also in it. But only briefly. Phew.

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