After making the wonderful Time Bandits (1981) and Brazil (1985), former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam made this epic 126-minute fantasy which cost around $50 million to produce. It ended up losing a lot of money but is incredible to look at and made with impressive detail.
The film begins when the baron indignantly interrupts a play that is allegedly based on his life and continues as he tells the “real” story of his travels – which took him not merely to Turkey but also to the moon, to the heart of a volcano, and into the stomach of a sea monster so big that people actually lived there quite comfortably, once they had been swallowed.
John Neville plays the fabled 18th-century adventurer and liar who goes backwards and forwards in time with a ten-year-old girl called Sally (Sarah Polley) and has a select group of followers with superpowers – such as the world’s strongest man, the man with the best hearing in the world, and another friend who does not have great eyesight but owns glasses that allow him to see almost any distance.
Oliver Reed is great as Vulcan, king of the underworld, with a new ICBM missile.
The film also stars Eric Idle, Brazil star Jonathan Pryce, Uma Thurman as Venus (pictured above right) in her first film acting job, Sting (who was Gilliam’s real-life neighbour at the time), an uncredited (and unpaid) Robin Williams as King of the moon – with a detachable head that is able to spin off into the night on its own (pictured below) – and Jack Purvis (from Time Bandits).
The special effects are astonishing, but so is the humour with which they are employed. It is not enough that one of the baron’s friends is the fastest runner in the world. He must run all the way to Spain and back in an hour, to fetch a bottle of wine and save the baron’s neck. And he must be able to outrun a speeding bullet, stop it, and redirect it back toward the man who fired it.
Gilliam claimed it was the third part of a trilogy, with Time Bandits being about childhood, Brazil being about adulthood, and Baron Munchausen being about old age.
Hieronymus Karl Frederick Baron von Munchausen
The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson
King of the Moon