The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Nobody has had as much trouble getting a film made and distributed as Terry Gilliam. His Don Quixote project was destroyed by a deluge right out of Noah’s Ark. But his biggest troubles have come not from God, but from insane studio heads. They almost succeeded in burying Brazil. With this one, studio heads changed, and the new folks (mostly Dawn Steel) did everything they could to sabotage it, including making only 100 prints and opening it almost nowhere. The first thing a male lion does when he takes over another male’s lionesses is to kill all his offspring. I guess it makes some evolutionary sense, but you’d think humans would be smarter than to kill a project that had already become horribly expensive ($48 million, huge for 1989). But you’d be wrong. It is a business imperative, I guess, that the films already in the pipeline that were green-lighted by your predecessor be killed, at the pre-production stage, or even at the pre-release stage. No wide release, no advertising; they will do anything, including badmouthing it to reviewers. This is so you will look good and the old guard will look bad. Insane, just insane. So even though this picture got pretty good notices, it sank almost instantly, the second weekend. Which is a real shame, as it contains some of the best imagery that crazed genius has ever produced. And it was all largely done without the magic of CGI. The story is a bit muddled, but I didn’t really care, I was just floated from one fantastic scene to another. John Neville is great as the Baron, both as a young and an old man. Sarah Polley (who later went on to write and direct her own movies, and revealed as an adult that she was terrified during much of the shooting) is much less annoying than most movie children in a situation like this. And the Baron’s sidekicks, Eric Idle as the world’s fastest man (he wears leg irons, or else he wouldn’t be able to stop running) and his other henchmen and very good. Oliver Reed puts in an appearance as a hilariously jealous Vulcan. And what is he jealous of? Why, his lovely wife, Venus (Uma Thurman, in only her fourth movie role), who arrives naked in a giant clamshell. The whole movie would be worth it just for that.