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Film / The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

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"Baron Munchausen, at your service! Most of you won't remember me or my adventures. But I assure you, they are true!"

"Everyone — who had a talent for it — lived Happily Ever After."
Baron Munchausen

Terry Gilliam's fourth solo directorial effort, from 1988 (though it didn't get released in the US and UK until a few months later in '89). 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.

Earned an Academy Award nomination for Visual Effects, but had the bad luck of being nominated the same year as The Abyss.

The film is sometimes considered a flop because it went wildly over budget and didn't make a profit, but part of the reason for that seems to be that the distributors had a change of management; as usual in such circumstances, the new guys had no faith in their predecessors' product and tried to bury it with poor marketing and few screenings.


Compare Münchhausen, a more faithful take on the source material made in Nazi Germany in 1943.

Provides examples of:

  • Accidental Truth: When the Queen of the Moon's head (currently detached from her body) starts moaning in a very sensual way while they're traveling, the Baron tells Sally, "Her body is with The King, and he', tickling her feet," instead of what all the adults are thinking. The film then shows two bodies moving on the bed, the covers slip, and... the King is tickling his wife's feet.
  • Actor Allusion: In a deleted DVD scene Gilliam, as the accordion player inside the whale, falls off his chair and dies in exactly the same way that he did as the animator in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  • Adapted Out: In the original story the Baron had a fifth servant, who could hear anything at great distances. In the film he’s combined with Gustavus- the servant with wind-related powers.
  • Afraid of Doctors: The Baron is afraid of doctors. He can easily avoid the Anthropomorphic Personification of Death until the doctor comes in.
  • Anachronism Stew: Actually kind of works in the film's favor given its overall surreal nature.
  • 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).
  • "Arabian Nights" Days: The Sultan's court.
  • Art Imitates Art:
    • Many images are directly inspired by Gustave Doré's illustrations of the story.
  • As Himself: Played with. The King of the Moon, played by Robin Williams , is credited as "Ray D. Tutto". In the movie, the King grants himself the title "re di tutto", Italian for "the king of everything".
  • 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.
  • Based on a True Story:
    • 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."
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: On the Moon's surface it is perfectly breathable, and the Baron and Sally arrive there by traveling through space on a hot air balloon.
  • 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:
    • Due to his aforementioned fear of doctors, the Baron loses his cool whenever doctors are mentioned.
    • Much like in the mythology, someone getting romantic with Venus is Vulcan's.
  • 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.
    Vulcan: I mean, what?
  • 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.
  • Black Comedy: The Sultan's opera, "The Torturer's Apprentice," is nothing but this.
  • 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.
  • Blunt "Yes": When Baron Munchausen, Sally, and Berthold are about to leave the moon, and Berthold finally remembers who he is, and then why he's no longer with the Baron:
    Berthold: Hang on. Hang on! It's all coming back. I've-I've been stuck here for over twenty years, ever since you were last here on the moon. You abandoned me here! You swine! You toddled off with that old queen of tarts and left me to rot in that parrot cage, didn't you? And now you come back here, just because it suits you, after wasting half my life and expect me to follow you to the ends of the earth!
    Baron Munchausen: Yes.
    Berthold: (Beat) All right.
  • The Burlesque of Venus: Venus is introduced emerging from a giant clam pulled out from the pond in her home in Vulcan's volcano, where she is quickly dressed by her ladies-in-waiting.
  • 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. Lampshaded by Sally and the Baron, after listening to his head spouting nonsense ("I think, therefore you is"):
    Sally: Your friend's gone funny.
    Baron Munchausen: So it would seem.
  • Cold Ham: Death has no lines, but is every bit as hammy as the rest of the film.
  • Compelling Voice: The Baron has a way with words, whether telling a story or making demands.
    Mr. Salt: Open the gates, dear friends, and let’s seize the day! Nothing destroys a man as ignorance and conformity! Grasp the mantle!
    Baron Munchausen: (critically) No, no, no. Quite wrong. (assumes a stance, sword forward) OPEN THE GATES!
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • Despair Event Horizon: When trapped inside the whale, the Baron becomes quite elderly, and completely gives up on the idea of escaping and decides just to play cards with his old friends. He's not snapped out of it til he finds his horse waiting for him in the middle of the ocean.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: The Baron always has his eyes for women, even if they're married to gods.
    Baron: Beautiful ladies... beautiful ladies!
  • Elephants Are Scared of Mice: The Baron deals with the Grand Turk's War Elephants by shooting mice at them, which sends the whole herd into a panicked stampede through the Turkish camp.
  • Empathic Shapeshifter: The Baron's age depends on how he feels.
    Sally: You look different, younger.
    Baron Munchausen: (brightly) I always feel rejuvenated by a touch of adventure. For heaven's sake, don't you get any younger or I'll have to find a wet nurse.
  • Everyone Has Standards: As the Sultan plays his organ — which is powered by captives trying desperately to avoid being stabbed — the Baron looks more and more horrified.
  • 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. Except for one coin.
  • Fanservice: Uma Thurman stepping out of a giant clamshell naked, à la Sandro Botticelli's painting "Birth of Venus".
  • Gainax Ending: Out of nowhere, after the climatic battle, the Baron dies. Except… suddenly we cut back to the theater of the beginning, where the Baron has apparently been telling the whole story (from which point exactly it was the Baron's narration is unclear, since the theater crew was featured in the story, somehow). That would be pretty confusing on its own, but afterwards, when the crowd opens the gates of the city, they find the remains of the battle that was allegedly only a fiction of the Baron at this point. Except since the theater crew was involved in the story and yet doesn't seem to remember it since they don't believe the Baron until he shows them what lies outside the gate, it can't just be that the story was entirely true all along. To boot, the baron then rides off into the distance, bows, and disappears. Don't ask.
  • 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.
  • A God Am I: The King of the Moon, "Re di tutto."note Literally "King of Everything".
  • Gratuitous Italian: Courtesy of the King of the Moon, to be expected from a guy who calls himself "Re di tutto".
  • 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.note 
  • 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.
    • Vulcan, fittingly enough for the God of Fire, displays this along with some High-Pressure Emotion when Venus takes the Baron for a dance.
  • Happily Ever After: "Everyone — who had a talent for it — lived happily ever after."
  • Immodest Orgasm: Parodically Subverted because a child was present. The Queen of the Moon, whose head was with Sally and the Baron, starts making those noises. At Sally's question, the Baron hems and haws, and tells her that the King is tickling her feet. The Blatant Lie turned out subverted: the King really was tickling her feet.
  • 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 of Cerebus: Death, in all its terrifying glory.
  • 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.
  • Medley Overture: The main theme plays over a black screen for 15 seconds, then over the Columbia logo for additional 30.
  • The Münchausen: The legendary character upon whom the film is based is the Trope Namer.
  • Naked on Arrival: Venus; in fact, the scene where she appears is 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.
  • No Kill Like Overkill: The RX Intercontinental, radar-sneaky, multi-warheaded nuclear missile, which kills the enemy, the enemy's families, and all of the enemy's animals for good measure.
    Baron: What does it do?
    Vulcan: Do? Kills the enemy.
    Baron: All the enemy?
    Vulcan: Aye, all of them. All their wives, and all their children, and all their sheep, and all their cattle, and all their cats and dogs. All of them. All of them, gone for good.
  • 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 Münchhausen 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.
  • Perilous Old Fool: The Baron when he is first introduced. It's clear to the theater actors that he is frail, senile, and off his rocker when he announces that he will save them all from the Turkish siege.
  • Pet's Homage Name: Baron Munchausen's Cool Horse is named Bucephalus.
  • Public Domain Character: Baron Munchausen.
  • Punny Name: Gustavus
  • Putting the Band Back Together: One by one, the Baron re-encounters the members of his old crew and convinces them to join him for one last adventure.
  • 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.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Definitely a theme— skewed heavily in favor of Romanticism via the Baron.
  • Rule of Cool: 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: The ship-looking stage prop the Baron and Sally used as basket for the hot air balloon navigates through the Moon's sandy surface upon arriving.
  • 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: The Baron's crew aren't moved by the Sultan executing him, but when he states, "This isn't a joke! It's a wager!", they all snap to immediately.
    All: A WAGER?
  • Shout-Out: The Sultan's "organ" 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. The Sultan's instrument probably owes far more to the Melnibonean music form, since both involve torturing slaves.)
  • Shown Their Work: The Sultan's harem comes off as Fan Disservice, showing the Sultan to be a Chubby Chaser. This is quite accurate to the period, however. Likewise, the seriousness of the Baron's wager is appropriate for the day, if handled as Comically Serious.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: In the Baron's tale, Jackson's wardrobe becomes darker and darker until he's swathed in a black cloaked outfit.
  • Slapstick Knows No Gender: The heroes are all subjected to comical violence, Sally included.
  • 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.
  • Super Speed: Berthold is able to run at ridiculous speeds, able to reach Vienna from Turkey and make it back within an hour (while getting a nap in, at that.)
  • 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 with one solitary coin lying on the floor.
  • 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: (squeezes a lump of coal into a diamond) A diamond. For you, my precious.
    Venus: (pets along his face) How sweet. (passes it to one of her servants) Another diamond.
    (her servants pass it down the line, and the last looks annoyed before tossing it into a large pile of diamonds)
  • War Elephants: The Grand Turk uses elephants, some carrying cannons on their backs, to propel his war machines. The Baron gets them to back off with the strategic use of mice.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: 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.
  • World of Ham: Everyone here is a ham (on Earth, beyond Earth, and the afterlife, it seems), there's just different degrees of haminess, seeing how it's a story being told by one of the biggest hams.
  • 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?
  • Would Hurt a Child: Pretty much every unsavory character the Baron and Sally encounter is at least rough with her; the King of the Moon specifically tells one of the heads of his three-headed mount it can have her "because you are my favorite."


Video Example(s):


The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Venus' introduction

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / TheBurlesqueOfVenus

Media sources:

Main / TheBurlesqueOfVenus