Shock, PG, 126 Mins
Co-writer/director (and former Monty Python member) Terry Gilliam had just emerged from the whole David and Goliath battle for his Brazil (1985) when he began work on this hopelessly chaotic filming of the exploits of a character no one had heard of back in 1989, and while Rudolf Erich Raspe’s 1785 creation (very vaguely based on a real person) might well have a filmic past, audiences wanting another Die Hard or When Harry Met Sally… could well have been forgiven for not knowing or caring about the guy. And although there are stars-of-sorts here (either on the way up or down), featuring theatre legend John Neville as your top-billed name wasn’t a good idea as well, no matter how much he looks like the titular liar, braggart and confabulator.
The elderly Munchausen arrives at a European town somewhere in the 18th Century (and ‘The Age Of Reason’ on a Wednesday, in a Life Of Brian-like gag) and finds the Turks attacking and much of the population watching a theatrical show about his own life (and note that a chief financier and petty pen-pusher here is played by Jonathan Pryce, star of Brazil and now very much a cog in the soul-sucking ‘System’). This leads to a ‘The World’s A Stage’-type set-up that doesn’t properly work wherein the Baron insists that the cast and employees of the theatre are all ex-friends and figures in his past (and future?) adventures (a touch of The Wizard Of Oz, perhaps?), and he takes Sally Salt (future indie star/director Sarah Polley, nine years old during filming) and pals Berthold (Eric Idle, another Python), Adolphus (co-writer Charles McKeown), Albrecht (Winston Dennis) and Gustavus (Jack Purvis, one of Gilliam’s Time Bandits) off for more.
The Baron, Sally and the magical quartet thereafter manage a trip to the Moon (where Robin Williams has a silly cameo as the King and is credited as ‘Ray D. Tutto’), wind up down a volcano where the jealous Vulcan (Oliver Reed) takes great offence when the Baron flirts with his wife Venus (Uma Thurman, very young and pretty much nude at times, of course), and more. And Gilliam plays up the anything-goes nature of the narrative by throwing in appearances from a shrieking Death puppet, continually having our heroes realise that they’re not really in danger (so why should we care?) and undercutting everything with a vein of Pythonesque-wannabe humour that makes this feel something like an anti-epic and an anti-family-film, which is bizarre. But not in the way that the director intended.
However, what truly sunk this Munchausen at the time was the sheer lunacy of the production: the expense, the pre-CGI FX (too many of which now look dated and blurry) and endless disasters that led to everything spiralling wildly out of control on the set and turning potential audiences against it in advance (see, say, Waterworld, just for starters – or, then again, don’t). It took years for Gilliam to get over the whole experience – although he still suffers from Munchausen syndrome.
(Bonus Features: commentary by Gilliam and co-writer/co-star/Gilliam chum Charles McKeown, storyboards and deleted scenes)