Film: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
"Baron Munchausen, at your service! Most of you won't remember me or my adventures. But I assure you, they are true!"
—Baron MunchausenTerry 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
Earned an Academy Award
for Visual Effects, but had the bad luck of being nominated the same year as The Abyss
Provides examples of:
- The Ace: Baron Munchausen.
- Afraid of Doctors: The Baron is afraid of doctors. He can easily avoid the Anthropomorphic Personification of Death until the doctor comes in.
- And You Were There: Many of the actors in the theater troupe bear striking resemblances to people in the Baron's "real" adventures (an example of Acting for Two).
- Audible Gleam: And visual, too - the Baron's toothy smile.
- Axe Crazy:
- The King of the Moon gets like this if you mess with his wife.
- The Baron himself with his sword in the theater.
- Vulcan also gets like this. Given that the Baron was openly flirting with, and then kissing, his wife (and that Venus wasn't known for being the most faithful wife in Greek mythology), yeah.
- Based on a True Story: Well, not really, but Munchhausen was a real person (who accumulated his tall tales while fighting as a mercenary, mostly for the Russians against the Turks).
- The Taglines played with this: One was "A true story. We've got the film to prove it."
- Bedsheet Ladder: Rapunzel variant. The Baron, Sally, and Berthold climb down from the moon to the earth (almost) on a rope made from a lock of hair from the Queen of the Moon.
- Berserk Button:
- Doctor?! No doctors!
- 'The Baron's kissing your wife...'
- 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' 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.
- Bloodless Carnage: Even decapitation has nary a drop of blood.
- 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.
- Butterfly of Death and Rebirth
- The Cameo: Sting shows up as the Heroic Soldier... who gets executed for being too good.
- Clockwork Creature: Sybil, the three headed bird creature on the moon. When her victims go in different directions, she splits up into three parts, revealing clockwork mechanism underneath.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: the King of the Moon, aka Robin Williams.
- Cool Horse: Bucephalus.
- 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).
- Empathic Environment: And how.
- 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.
- Famous Last Words: Averted and parodied.
Sultan: Any famous last words, Baron?
Munchausen: Not yet.
Sultan: "Not yet"? Is that famous?
- Fridge Brilliance in the sense that these are indeed famous last words. They were said by Irish rebel Robert Emmett in 1803, when the executioner asked him whether he was ready for his execution.
- Fanservice: Uma Thurman stepping out of a giant clamshell naked, ŕ la Sandro Botticelli's painting "Birth of Venus".
- Five-Man Band:
- Fridge Logic: How can the Sultan afford to wage war on the Baron for stealing everything from his treasury... if the Baron has stolen everything from his treasury?
- Gentle Giant: Albrecht doesn't really like being the Big Guy, and would rather serve tea. Or so he claims.
- Gentleman Adventurer: The Baron and his friends.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- "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 (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.
- Happily Ever After: "Everyone - who had a talent for it - lived happily ever after."
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Adolphus pulls off some truly ludicrous shots.
- It's All About Me: The Baron is so self centered, that it's actually amazing.
- Jerk Ass With A Heart Of Gold: The Baron.
- Just for Pun: (While being held in a cage by the King of the Moon) This cage isn't real! It's just a party of the King's lunacy.
- Knight Templar: Mr. Jackson
- Lampshade Hanging: "This is precisely the sort of thing that nobody ever believes."
- Large Ham: Everyone (excluding Sally), but special mention must be given to Robin Williams as the King of the Moon, and Oliver Reed as Vulcan.
- Lethal Diagnosis: The Baron is Genre Savvy enough to know a doctor's diagnosis can be lethal in fiction.
- 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.
- Ms. Fanservice: Venus.
- The Munchausen: The legendary character upon whom the film is based is the Trope Namer.
- Naked on Arrival: Venus; in fact, the scene where she appears seems to be a homage to Botticelli's Birth of Venus.
- Nested Story Reveal: turns out most of the movie was a story cooked up by Munchausen. Or maybe not.
- Nice Hat : The baron's Tricorn.
- Nipple and Dimed: A notable subversion. Although Venus' introduction shows some rather interesting anatomy at the bottom edge of the screen, the movie itself is rated PG. And did we mention that Venus is played by Uma Thurman?
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson.
- 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.
- Pet's Homage Name: Baron Munchausen's Cool Horse is named Bucephalus.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Berthold.
- Public Domain Character: Baron Munchausen.
- Punny Name: Gustavus
- The Reveal:
- It was all just a story being told in the theatre...
- It's implied that Horatio Jackson was lying about a war, just to get the townspeople to ration money and food and pocket the excess. But that would be the rational explanation.
- Rule of Cool: Absolutely everything. A waltz in the air with the goddess of love, flying to the moon in a hot air balloon, climbing constellations, riding a cannonball, etc.
- Rule of Funny: It's highly improbable that you could make a hot air balloon out of ladies' undergarments, but that doesn't mean Munchausen can't.
- Sand Is Water: On the moon, at least.
- Serial Romeo: The Baron, naturally. During the movie his fancies are such as the Russian royalty, the goddess of Love Venus, the theater troupe women, the Queen of the Moon...the list goes on.
- Serious Business: "This isn't a joke! It's a wager!"
- Venus' nude appearance is the same pose the mythological character takes in Sandro Botticelli's iconic painting "The Birth Of Venus."
- Many images are directly inspired by Gustave Doré's illustrations of the story.
- Spiritual Successor: Part of the "Dreamer Trilogy": Time Bandits represents childhood, Brazil represents adulthood, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen represents old age.
- Stealth Pun: Here Lies Baron Munchausen.
- Swallowed Whole: The Baron and Sally get eaten by a whale, only to find a functioning inn, and a few of the Baron's old friends! And his horse, somehow.
- Tall Poppy Syndrome: Mr. Jackson has Sting executed for excessive heroism, because it's demoralizing to the mediocre people of the town. He later snipes the Baron while the town is celebrating his victory, both because of this and because *he* was about to sign a treaty with the Sultan (with no assurance whatsoever that the Sultan would keep his part of the deal).
- Tall Tale: Subverted — it appears the Baron's stories were true, after all. Or are they? After all, the whole film is a Tall Tale told by Mr. Gilliam...
- Treasure Room: The Sultan's treasury. Of course, after the Baron collected his winnings from his wager with the Sultan, it wasn't so much of a treasure room as it was just a regular room.
- Trickster Archetype: The Baron
- 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.
- Where's the Fun in That?
Baron Munchausen: What's this?
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.
Berthold: Well, where's the fun in that?