Terry Gilliam's fourth solo directorial effort, from 1988. It's a paean to whimsy and the irrational, and how stories are more important than "what really happened" and rationality.It is the Age of Reason, and there's a war on. Somewhere Austria-y is at war with The Grand Turk. In a city on the border of this war, a rag-tag theatre company is staging a dramatic retelling of the life of famous Tall Tale teller Baron Munchausen. The play is interrupted by the real Baron, who describes what really happened to cause this war — namely, the Turks are after him. The Baron has come to the city to die, but is convinced by Sally Salt (the head of the theatre company's daughter) to instead save the city from the onslaught of The Grand Turk, as well as the forces of reason and mediocrity. Wackiness ensues.The film is something of a Mind Screw, as the viewer is never really sure if what's happening is really happening — and whether or not that really matters. Due to a Troubled Production and a regime change at Columbia Pictures that discouraged giving it proper treatment, it was a notorious flop at the time. (The combined losses for this and Ishtar are what caused Columbia to merge with TriStar.) However, the film was a critical success and is still remembered as the final film in Gilliam's classic "Dreamer Trilogy," along with Time Bandits and Brazil.
Big Damn Heroes: The Baron and his crew may be old and decrepit and far removed from their glory days; but when they stand alone against the Sultan's entire army at the end, they do not disappoint.
Big Little Man: The Baron and friends fall on a pit and see Vulcan, the God of Fire, towering above them. It's only when he pulls them out of the pit that they see that Vulcan is a head shorter than the Baron.
Big "WHAT?!": When Sally tells Vulcan (with no small amount of spite) that the Baron is kissing his wife.
Bilingual Bonus: While Robin Williams spouts off the occasional random phrase in Italian as the King of the Moon, he was listed as "Ray D. Tutto," which in Italian (re di tutto) means "King of everything".
Bizarre Instrument: The Sultan's "organ" is attached to a cage full of prisoners, and each key pokes a certain prisoner with a given pointy object to get the right tone of scream.
This might just be a Shout-Out to Terry Jones's mouse organ from Monty Python's Flying Circus, comprising a row of mice, strapped to a board, which supposedly squeaked musically when hit with hammers.
Both are based on the Katzenklavier, a conjectural (and thankfully never realized) instrument in which nails would be driven into the tails of a series of different-sized cats in order to play a tune. Or just create an almighty ruckus and be mean to animals along the way.
Actually, the Sultan's instrument owes far more to the Melnibonean music form, since both involve torturing slaves.
Blow You Away: Gustavus possesses wind-related powers, such the ability to judge wind speed by merely listening, and being able to literally blow powerful gales.
Cool Old Guy: The Baron and all of his friends (with the exception of Sally) at one point or another.
Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover includes Venus' face alongside Berthold's and the Baron's, and it lists Uma Thurman as one of the three main stars. In fact, Venus is a One-Scene Wonder with very little impact on the plot—even if Uma Thurman is the biggest name in the cast other than Robin Williams (who appears uncredited), especially for American audiences.
Cranium Chase: The King of The Moon's head prefers to stay off its body, which fills it with animalistic urges. There is a scene with the body chasing after the flying head.
Crapsack World: The nameless European city under constant bombardment from the Turks is this.
Creator Cameo: Gilliam, virtually unrecognizable, as a man playing an accordion inside the whale.
Death Seeker: He doesn't admit it, but he enjoys death - it's implied he enjoys it because it makes for a good story.
Baron: And that was only one of the many occasions on which I met my death, an experience which I don't hesitate strongly to recommend!
Divine Date: Narrowly averted with Venus (much to the Baron's disappointment).
Exact Words: For his part of the wager, the Sultan said that the Baron could take as much of the Sultan's treasure as the strongest man could carry. Unfortunately, the Sultan did not anticipate that the Baron's strongman Albrecht would be able to carry out all of it all at once.
"You're with that little man! You told me size doesn't matter!"
Also, "I have no time for flatulence and orgasms!!"
Subverted when the Queen of the Moon's head seems to be having orgasms, and when Sally asks what's "wrong" with her, both the Baron and Berthold look at each other embarrassedly. The Baron tells her, "He's, uh, tickling her feet." Cut to the King and Queen in bed and that's exactly what the King is doing.
A God Am I: The King of the Moon, "Re di tutto."note "But you can call me Ray."(literally "King of Everything").
Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress: "Gravitational Cognizance" variant. The Baron, Sally, and Berthold are climbing down a rope from the moon to the earth. They find that the rope is too short and will leave them far too high above the earth; but the Baron produces more rope and instructs Berthold to tie it to the end so they can continue climbing down. And where did the additional rope come from? The Baron cut it from the top of the rope on which they were already climbing. They don't start to fall until Sally thinks about that for a bit.
Not exactly, however. "From the top", he spliced it til it was a thin thread, which finally broke unable to support their weight.
The Grim Reaper: The angel of death has it in for the Baron, trying many times to kill him. He succeeds. But the baron got better.
Hair-Trigger Temper: The Sultan does not take the news that his treasury has been completely emptied by his guests very well, beheading his treasurer on the spot and supposedly starting the whole war that acts as the main plot for the movie, in an attempt to kill Munchausen.
Meaningful Echo: "I have learned from experience that a modicum of snuff can be most efficacious." — Spoken by Henry Salt in his onstage portrayal of the Baron escaping from the belly of a whale; later spoken by the Baron in his actual escape from the belly of a whale.
Off with His Head!: The Sultan neatly cuts off his assistant's head with his scimitar - but it's Played for Laughs as not only is it bloodless, but the head lands in the lap of a concubine and winks at her.
Oop North: Oliver Reed affects a northern accent for Vulcan.
Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: The owners of the 1942 German film classic Munchhausen insisted that Gilliam's movie would carry a disclaimer at the end, stating that it was a new motion picture and not to be confused with the earlier one. It was also on the VHS packaging, but not the DVD or Blu-ray.
Parental Bonus: The movie manages to get away with a PG rating in spite of some pretty saucy sexual innuendo in the scene with the King of the Moon, including the King calling the Queen a "puttana" (Italian for "whore") at one point. And the adults in the audience probably found Venus'introduction a lot more interesting than the kids. Plus there's an awful lot of near nudity in the Great Turk's harem, although that's not always a bonus.
Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Vulcan and Venus. It's a bit of a Deconstructed Trope as, though Vulcan is obviously proud of his beautiful young wife, it's just as clear that they're making each other miserable. It also doubles as a literal Mythology Gag, as Venus despised being married to Vulcan/Hephaestus, and tended to carry on with Mars/Ares instead.
Vulcan: Here you are, my love. Venus: Sigh. Another diamond.
War Elephants: The Grand Turk uses elephants to propel his War Machines. The Baron gets them to back off with the strategic use of mice.
"Well Done, Son!" Guy, er... Daughter: Sally is annoyed at her father for wanting a son, demanding to know where her brother is since he insists on calling the theater "Harry Salt & Son". Later, he amends it to Harry Salt & Daughter.
Wheel o' Feet: Used when Berthold runs off to Austria for a bottle of wine.
Vulcan: Oh, this is our prototype. RX, uh, Intercontinental, radar-sneaky, multi-warheaded nuclear missile.
Baron Munchausen: Ah! What does it do?
Vulcan: Do? Kills the enemy. [snip] Well, you see, the advantage is you don't have to see one single one of them die. You just sit comfortably thousands of miles away from the battlefield and simply press the button.