The fantastic tale of a 17th century aristocrat, his henchmen and a little girl as they attempt to save a town from defeat by the Turks. In the process they are swallowed by a giant sea-monster, take a trip to the moon, dance with Venus and escape from the Grim Reaper.

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Chris: Somebody gambled big on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and on one-time Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam. Gilliam of course directed Jabberwocky and Time Bandits before hitting the cult jackpot with his Orwellian fantasy BrazilMunchausen's projected $25 million budget ballooned to nearly twice that during filming. A filmmaker's dream can be an accountant's nightmare, but it may have been a good bet after all, because Munchausen is a cinematic, magical mystery tour, in which the real baron, played by Canadian Shakespearian actor John Neville, interrupts a tawdry theatre dramatisation of his adventures to tell the true story. It's the age of reason, a Wednesday to be exact, and the city is under siege. The ancient baron promises to save the city from the Turks, if he can just round up his equally decrepit servants. But only little Sally Salt, played by Sarah Polley, believes him. 

The epic quest takes them to the Moon, where they meet the Lunatic King, Robin Williams, typically manic in an uncredited cameo, and to the centre of the Earth, the lair of the Fire God Vulcan. Oliver Reed is hilarious as Vulcan, playing him as a cockney Igor, besotted with his beautiful wife Venus, played by Uma Thurman. They end up in the belly of a giant fish where the Baron finds his long-lost servants, and delivers the immortal line: "A modicum of snuff can be most efficacious." From there, the triumphant finale is just a sneeze away.

Baron Munchhausen is an historical figure whose past legend is that of an epic liar and teller of tall stories. Well, Gilliam and he have a lot in common. Munchhausen is a surreal masterpiece, a spit in the eye of logic and reason. It's the work of a visual virtuoso who, unlike the king of the moon, has all the time in the world for flatulence and orgasms, cinematically speaking of course. As long as he's got the time, let's hope they keep giving him the money.

Margaret: It's a magical mystery tour, as you said. [..] I think it's pretty terrific, and pretty enjoyable.

 

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Sunday 29 March, 5:10pm on SBS World Movies (now streaming at SBS On Demand)

PG
UK, 1989
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Language: English
Director: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Sarah Polley, Eric Idle, John Neville, Oliver Reed
What's it about?
The fantastic tale of a 17th century aristocrat, his henchmen and a little girl as they attempt to save a town from defeat by the Turks. In the process they are swallowed by a giant sea-monster, take a trip to the moon, dance with Venus and escape from the Grim Reaper.