If anyone were to benefit from the Terry Gilliam treatment, then it would surely be the erratic and imaginative world of Baron Munchausen. Dawning in its first moments in The Age of Reason, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen settles itself immediately into the craftsmanship of the Karel Zeman classic, while also reimagining the world of the titular protagonist and his merry band of misfits. But as the real Munchausen staggers up the stage to spin his story, he fends off the Angel of Death and others who wish to see him dead. It is a story that, if told straight, dreams of darker themes and deadly occasions with detail usually reserved for the harshest and hardest of stories. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen layers that well, but never forgets that comedy is at its heart.
But it is the comedy that lingers too frequently and lasts all too long. Beheadings and blowing away soldiers would make for enjoyable interludes, but they are relied upon to tell the tale of Baron Munchausen. Neville is phenomenal in this role, and the blur of past and present makes for a mighty stylistic choice. How far the enchanting Baron can get on hot air and fantasy relies on how willing an audience is to suspend their disbelief. Gilliam films desire and crave that necessity, but in return, it is kindled and cared for with intensity and strong, consistent craftsmanship. He has an eye for detail in places we cannot go. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen has utilised a nice blur of practical and computer-generated effects, each looking relatively strong when separated. Scenes of climbing a rope through space with Eric Idle or the almost Dwarven-like volcano communities look remarkable and are defined with that often-marvellous Gilliam charm.
Those moments on the moon are masterful. Seeing a city suddenly spring to life and the bombastic soundscape clutter the once-silent surroundings is a fascinatingly controlled contrast to make, but Gilliam makes it with artistry in his heart. Robin Williams’ inclusion here is perfect for the whimsy and unique scope of these scenes and these famous faces appearing in smaller capacities give a broader link to wider audiences. Or, at least, it should have been the key to crafting a remarkable connection between audience and actor. The film bombed. It is too creative for its own good, too whimsical and stunning a film to compete with the standards of the mainstream box-office draws of the time. Creativity was not shunned, just artistic expression on this level, and on this budget, is doomed to fail.
Visuals that strike as suspenseful and charming, Gilliam casts his net wide and provides an incredible selection of provocative, imaginative moments. His sets are frequently busy. Gilliam has that desire to confuse and confound an audience not with a neglection of story or a weird visual style, but with cluttered set designs that offer majesty and momentous detail in the dark corners and brilliant backgrounds. By all means a disastrous production, a box office bomb, but a work of remarkable genius. “He likes to create chaos,” Eric Idle said of Gilliam and his time on set. True, but that chaos is seen on-screen and off, that is the beauty of his works, but also the painful reason as to why he does not reap the rewards of his efforts until new generations have looked upon them with kinder eyes.