While I'm still trying to gear up and review this week's Stooge film, in and amongst a million other things I have to do, there was that time I saw the highlights of Terry Gilliam's 1988 disasterpiece "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen." Shunned by critics and the public at the time, it surely has gone on to achieve cult status, and of course the poster of which was featured prominently in the video store of his next feature, 1991's The Fisher King. It's these sort of connections that I tend to dwell upon, as loyal readers of this blog will already know, which is why it was a little disheartening to watch it again and only see those connections.
Which is why I fondly think of Munchausen as Time Bandits 2. As in Time Bandits, the audience is drawn into the story vis-a-vis a young child, Sarah Polley in this case. But she's got no Polaroid camera this time, just her plucky determination to convince the world that the Baron is who he says he is, and that he's a magnet for the fantastical, as well as the babes. At every major stop on the Baron's journey, there is inevitably a lady, and he inevitably falls in love, or at least takes up the task of pitching some woo; the lady's official caretaker gets jealous, and conflict ensues. Well, there's the King of the Moon and Oliver Reed, anyway. At least we can see the budget upgrade at work here. A $46 million and up price tag gets you an upgrade from a square cage to a spherical one... with a basement compartment, no less!
In addition to homages to Time Bandits, Gilliam expands to pay homage to all his life's work. He once animated Venus on Monty Python after a hand turned her nipple like a radio switch, but goes for the real deal here, giant clamshell rising from water and all. SPOILER ALERT: when the Baron and Sally arrive on the moon, they are greeted by large cutouts and annoying music. Gilliam himself of course pioneered the art of animation with cutouts. They were used sparingly during the golden age of cartoons, but Gilliam changed all that. And, of course, JibJab and others owe him a debt of gratitude in the computer age... The Baron's horse spins around at one point, much like David Warner's Evil did in Time Bandits in the big final battle. A battle station on the back of an elephant falls over much like the Punch and Judy show in the Napoleon sequence. The giant fish with a ship inside of it reminded me of the giant that emerged from the sea with a ship on his head. Sally, Berthold and the Baron fall back to Earth from the Moon much like Kevin and the dwarves were always falling out of the sky. I could go on and on... actually, I think that's all the similarities I can come up with. No Jim Broadbent in this one! That's different!
I guess I ultimately just wasn't in the mood, but like The Hudsucker Proxy, sitting down to watch The Adventures of Baron Munchausen for me takes a certain amount of self-discipline, and general gearing up for the task. Alas, they are already relics of a lost era of filmmaking: risky budgets, risky stories, analog mediums. Now it's all reasonable budgets, bland stories, filmed in 3D and smeary digital video, but every once in a while someone tries to do a film in a similar vein. Scorsese's Hugo is close, but Munchausen at least doesn't end up being an ad for The Film Preservation Society.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan