The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - 20th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray disc

Terry Gilliam's follow up to his much-honored Brazil was this epic fantasy that, while featuring great vision and production values, is more than a bit of a mishmash when it comes to plot.

As described by Sony: "Director Terry Gilliam (Brazil) and an all-star cast including John Neville, Eric Idle, Oliver Reed and Uma Thurman deliver this tale of the enchanting adventures of Baron von Munchausen on his journey to save a town from defeat. Being swallowed by a giant sea-monster, a trip to the moon, a dance with Venus and an escape from the Grim Reaper are only some of the improbable adventures."

And they're right. There's so much stuff here is can nearly boggle the mind, and it's told in Gilliam's trademark, near-Monty Pythonish way that's always entertaining and visually sumptuous. The man definitely has an artist's eye.

At the movie's opening, a theatrical troupe is recounting the adventures of the fabled Baron to the shell shocked residents of a town besieged by Turks, only to have the fabled Baron (John Neville) show up in person and start recounting them on his own to the troupe leader's daughter Sally (Sarah Polley). Well, kind of.

This launches Sally and the Baron off on a magical journey to find and recover a quartet of his old friends and comrades, each of whom has his own special gift. Berthold (Eric Idle) is so fast he needs to be shackled in irons to keep himself from burning up the ground like a race car peeling out from a pit stop. Adolphus (Charles McKeown) is a rifleman so sharp-eyed he can shoot better than Sean Connery's Alan Quartermain in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Gustavus (Jack Purvis) may be small, but he can hear just about anything and has breath like a hurricane (too bad there was no Listerine back then!). And Albrecht (Winston Dennis) has superhuman strength - a powerful ally, indeed.  

In their quest, Sally and the Baron visit the moon (ruled by a sometimes-disembodied Robin Williams), meet Vulcan himself (Oliver Reed) and the Baron dances in the clouds with Venus (a very young Uma Thurman), much to Vulcan's chagrin. The Baron seems to leave as many enemies in his wake as friends, and seems to get out of trouble as much through luck as design, but it works for him and eventually all ends well.

It's interesting, but a tad ponderous, appearing to kind of split the difference between Gilliam's earlier Time Bandits and Brazil, but not coming even close to tickling our "wonder bone" as much as the outrageously compelling Time Bandits did. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth watching!

In fact, it is worth watching, especially in this new Blu-ray incarnation which, while not perfect, offers outstanding picture and sound quality considering the source is now 20 years old and undoubtedly sat on a shelf at Sony, mostly profitless and forgotten, until someone smelled a buck.

Okay, that may not be fair; forgive our cynicism at Hollywood. But watch the supplements.

Anyway, the disc is presented in 1080p, at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and for the most part the video quality is spectacular. It's bright and colorful and as full of life as the movie itself. There's some noise, which is only to be expected from a 20 year old film, but overall we'd have to rate the picture as top notch, very three dimensional and compelling.

Audio is offered in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and it's pretty good, though a tad thin. There isn't a lot of surround use, which is common for the period, nor is there a lot of .1 low frequency effects channel use (also not surprising given the vintage, though disappointing given the number of explosions and the like) - but overall we're reasonably satisfied given the caveats of the movie's age.  

Extras include a commentary by director Terry Gilliam, who's always open and entertaining. This was a difficult movie for him to bring in, and he's quite up front about the challenges, human and otherwise. He's as hard on himself, or nearly so, as on others. He's joined for the commentary track by actor and co-writer Charles McKeown.

The Madness and Misadventures of Munchausen is even better, because it features interviews with many of the people involved in what very nearly became a debacle. It's quite fascinating and enlightening.

You also get some storyboard sequences, with introductions and "extroductions" by Gilliam and McKeown and some deleted scenes that, unlike most deleted scenes included on discs, would probably have worked fine if they'd been left in. Not that we'd have preferred them to have been left in; the movie's long enough as it is!

An unexpected bonus is "The Marvelous World of Munchausen," a picture in picture trivia track exclusive to the Blu-ray version that gives you overlays, photos, concept art, factoids, and the like.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
127 min, 1080p, 1.85:1, Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring John Neville, Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, Jonathan Pryce
Produced by Thomas Schuhly
Written by Charles McKeown and Terry Gilliam, directed by Terry Gilliam

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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