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.
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.
Provides examples of:
- Absurdly High-Stakes Game: The Baron offers the Sultan his own head as a wager if he doesn't get him a better tasting bottle of tokaji within an hour, and the Sultan offers him all the riches of his treasury the Baron's strongest man can carry as a reward if he succeeds. The Baron manages to avoid his execution Just in Time due to Berthold deciding to take a nap near Belgrade.
- 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's...um, 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 hes 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.
- Alliterative Name: Sally Salt.
- 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.
- Avengers Assemble: A big chunk of the movie is dedicated to Sally going on a quest with the Baron to reunite his super-powered companions in order to fight off the invading Turks.
- The King of the Moon gets like this if you mess with his wife.
- The Baron himself with his sword in the theater.
- True to mythology, Vulcan loses his shit when the Baron flirts, dances and kisses with his wife Venus.
- Based on a True Story:
- 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.
- The Bet: The Baron earned the ire of the Sultan for beating him at one. He had found his tokaji bottle average and offered to get him a better tasting one within an hour, if he failed, the Baron would've allowed the Turk to cut his head. The Sultan accepted and decided to raise the stakes on his part by promising the Baron to take all the riches his strongest man can carry had he won. Berthold was sent to Vienna to take a bottle from Empress Catherine's court and almost came late for falling asleep near Belgrade. The Sultan respected the promise and opened the treasury for the Baron, but was horribly offended by Albrecht being able to carry everything he had.
- 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.
- Chess with Death: A variation. Inside the sea monster, Sally notices to her horror that the Grim Reaper has joined the card game of the Darkest Hour-stricken Baron and his friends.
- Clockwork Creature: Sybil, the King of the Moon's three headed bird creature. 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 lets 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.
- Crapsack World: The movie is set in the "Age of Reason" and focused on helping a nameless European city that is under constant bombardment from the Turks. The town's Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson tries to negotiate with the Turks to bring an end to the chaos, but he himself is a cynical monster who orders one of his heroic soldiers dead for being "too brave" because it'd demoralize the others that aren't as good as him. The high-fantasy places the Baron takes Sally to are also populated by monsters and dangerous crazies.
- Creator Cameo: Gilliam, virtually unrecognizable, as a man playing an accordion inside the sea monster.
- 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!
- Description Cut: On three different occasions, the Baron tries to reassure Sally that the town is "perfectly safe" or in "no immediate danger". Cue to showing the town's Darkest Hour with the Turks aggressively firing and trying to ram the gates open.
- Despair Event Horizon: When trapped inside the sea monster, 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 his trusty Cool Horse Bucephalus makes his entrance and reunites with him.
- Digging to China: In retaliation for having flirted with his wife Venus, a furious Vulcan throws the Baron and his friends into a whirlpool that sends them across the Earth (from Mt. Etna, where Vulcan's place is located) and makes them resurface on the other side, somewhere in the South Seas.
- Disney Death:
- The Baron is briefly believed to have died when Sally and the others are sneezed out of the sea monster, before the Baron pulls himself and Bucephalus out of the water.
- Happens again after Horatio Jackson shoots the Baron dead, but that's revealed to be a story the Baron himself is telling, explaining it was one of the many times he had died.
- Distracted by the Sexy: The Baron always has his eyes for women, even if they're married to gods.Baron: Beautiful ladies... beautiful ladies!
- Easy Amnesia: When the Baron and Sally find Berthold on the Moon, he doesn't recognize him or even remember his own identity. After they avoid the King of the Moon and Sybil's attack, Berthold finally gets his memory back.
- Elephants Are Scared of Mice: Sally and Gustavus deal with the Grand Turk's War Elephants by shooting a mouse 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".
- Foreshadowing: Early on in the film Sally's father and his theater company are putting on a Baron Munchausen show and in it they display a stage production of the adventure in which the Baron got swallowed by a Monster Whale but managed to escape by making the monster sneeze with some snuff. Which is exactly what the real Baron will do later to get his friends out of the sea monster.
- 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.
- Hanging Up on the Grim Reaper: Sally fends off the Grim Reaper on two separate occasions when it tries to get the Baron during his lowest points.
- Happily Ever After: "Everyone — who had a talent for it — lived happily ever after."
- Hat Damage: The Baron chops half of the Sultan's turban off at the beginning of the final battle.
- Holy Backlight: After Sally rescues the Baron from the Grim Reaper, he opens his eyes and sees her with a light casting behind her, along with the wings belonging to a stage prop that makes her look like an angel. An audible Ethereal Choir hammers the symbolism further.Baron Munchausen: Am I dead?
Baron Munchausen: ... Blast!
- 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.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Adolphus is capable of pulling off some truly ludicrous shots from great distances thanks to his inhuman sight. He demonstrates both when he sees that Berthold has fallen asleep under an apple tree near Belgrade, and shoots an apple down all the way from Turkey to wake him up.
- 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.
- Knight Templar: Horatio Jackson isn't just a callous Obstructive Bureaucrat of the worst kind, he believes that those who perform better than others should be sentenced with death, such as the heroic soldier played by Sting, and the Baron, who Jackson personally snipes down during the parade despite him having saved the town from the Turks. Maybe.
- 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.
- Named by the Adaptation: In the original tall tales, the Baron's super-powered companions didn't have names.
- Nested Story Reveal: Turns out most of the movie was a story cooked up by Munchausen. Or maybe not.
- 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 wants the Baron executed this way, and neatly cuts off his treasurer's head with his scimitar when he gets Axe-Crazy upon hearing that the Baron took everything — 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. Later when the final battle begins the Baron avoids the execution once again and performs a multi-decapitation on a line of Turkish leaders while running past them on horseback.
- 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.
- Red Filter of Doom: Vulcan's realm is lit in a dark red light. Justified, as it's a fiery, industrialized Fire and Brimstone Hell-looking place located in the depths of Mount Etna.
- 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.
- Scenery Porn: The movie was made with a very high budget, and it shows, displaying everything the visual effects at the time were capable of accomplishing. The results are complex and visually rich sets and some amazing vistas such the hot air balloon above the clouds, the Moon and the cosmos, and the Baron waltzing with Venus looking like Baroque paintings come to life.
- 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.)
- The Show Must Go On: Sally's father is trying to put on a Baron Münchausen stage play but it's peppered with technical difficulties due to the rampant invasion from the Turks, with actors being forced to man the props due to the stagehands having killed themselves.Mr. Salt: We are supposed to be professionals! And we're trying to stay alive!
- 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.
- Sore Loser: The Sultan, big time. The Baron won The Bet fair and square and he took all the riches of the treasury his strongest man could carry, which is a prize the Sultan himself offered. He didn't count on Albrecht being able to carry EVERYTHING, but still.
- 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 gigantic Sea Monster, 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, which Adolphus gives to the treasurer as a tip before leaving.
- Trickster Archetype: The Baron.
- Turtle Island: The stonefish-looking Sea Monster that swallows the Baron and his posse is initially mistaken to be a volcanic island, before it rises up revealing that the "volcano" was its blowhole.
- 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.
- War Elephants: The Grand Turk uses elephants, some carrying cannons on their backs, to propel his war machines. However they're easily dealt with by the heroes through 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". In the ending, 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."