The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

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The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

With each passing year, Terry Gilliam’s 1988 extravaganza—considered something of a folly when it was released—looks more and more like one of the great fantasy films. Adapted from a series of folktales about an 18th-century German nobleman renowned for prodigious exaggeration, the film bursts at the seams with joie de vivre and manic energy. The key is the bravura title-role performance by John Neville, who nails the bluster (and love of the good life) that make the Baron a man who defines his era.

Indeed, the film is posited as a struggle between the Baron’s fanciful worldview and the “rational” perspective of Horatio Jackson (Jonathan Pryce), a bureaucrat charged with protecting a Mediterranean city from Turkish invaders. It’s all an excuse for a get-the-band-back-together story in which the Baron strives to locate his former servants, including a superspeedster (Eric Idle), a dwarf with amazing hearing and lung power (Jack Purvis) and a man who can see for thousands of miles (cowriter Charles McKeown). Robin Williams’s unbilled turn as the King of the Moon is too hammy by half, and the climax is a touch too conventional, but most of the film is flush with an intoxicating brand of whimsy, epitomized by a sequence featuring Oliver Reed and Uma Thurman as the gods Vulcan and Venus. The Blu-ray edition’s razor-sharp picture draws fresh attention to the detail and activity with which Gilliam loves to fill the frame, as well as tons of great stage business from the cast (including a nine-year-old Sarah Polley).

—Andrew Johnston

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