“They’re inviting us to defeat them. We must oblige them.”
In a town being bombarded by the Turks, a local production of Baron Munchausen’s adventures is being presented on stage. An old man in a red soldier’s uniform comes on stage interrupting the performance. He says he is the real Hieronymus Karl Frederick Baron von Munchausen (John Neville) and that the play is portraying things incorrectly. The real Baron gains the attention of the audience and tells them the true story of how the war with the Turks came about.
According to the Baron, he and the Sultan (Peter Jeffrey) had a wager. If the Baron loses the Sultan could have his head and if the Baron wins he could have from the Sultan’s treasury all that the strongest man could carry. The Baron wins the wager with the help of his comrades. Berthold (Eric Idle) the fastest runner, Adolphus (Charles McKeown) a man with superhuman eyesight, Gustavus (Jack Purvis) who has super hearing and can blow away an army and Albrecht (Winston Dennis) the strongest man. Albrecht carries away the Sultan’s entire treasury. With his treasury empty the Sultan is enraged. He wages war.
When cannon fire descends on the theater, the mayor, The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson (Jonathan Price) closes the theater. The Angel of Death tries to take the Baron’s life but he is saved by Sally Salt (Sarah Polley). Sally is the daughter of the theater troupe’s leader, Henry Salt (Bill Paterson). Sally wants the Baron to help save the town. The Baron constructs a hot air balloon out of women’s knickers. He flies to the moon with Sally as a stowaway.
On the moon the Baron runs into the head of the King of the Moon (Robin Williams). The rest of his body is with the Queen of the Moon (Valentina Cortese). The King wants to kill the Baron because he had a liaison with the Queen. The Baron finds Berthold on the moon. The Queen helps them to escape. The King, now with his head and body tied together, finds out and goes after them but ends up dead.
The Baron, Sally and Berthold end up falling to Earth and land in a Volcano where they meet Vulcan (Oliver Reed) and find Albrecht. Vulcan’s wife is Venus (Uma Thurman). Vulcan gets jealous of the Baron and Venus. He throws everyone into a maelstrom where they come out on the other side of the world in the South Seas.
They are then eaten by a monster fish. Inside the fish they find Adolphus, Gustavus and the Baron’s horse Bucephalus. Using his snuff box the Baron makes the monster sneeze. They are all expelled through the monster’s blowhole and back into the sea.
They end up back on shore near the Turks but the Baron’s companions are too exhausted to fight. The Baron surrenders to the Sultan hoping that his friends will rally and come to his aid. The companions rescue the Baron and they all save the day but The Right and Ordinary Horatio Jackson has other plans for the Baron and the angel of death is nearby.
“The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” was released in 1988 and was directed by Terry Gilliam. It is a fantasy adventure film written by Gilliam and Charles McKeown. It is considered the third in a loose trilogy of adventure films by Gilliam. The other two films are “Time Bandits” 1981 and “Brazil” 1985. According to Gilliam the three films represent the three stages of man, youth, middle age, and elderly and how imagination impacts each. “Time Bandits” is viewed through the eyes of a child, “Brazil”, through the eyes of a man in his thirties, and “Munchausen”, through the eyes of an elderly man.
Sting has a cameo as a soldier executed because his accomplishments and bravery was demoralizing to other soldiers. Sting happened to be Terry Gilliam's neighbor at the time. Robin Williams was cast at the last-minute. He was hired when the budget ran out so he was uncredited and unpaid. Of course most of his lines were adlibbed.
The production was plagued with problems. There were delays and postponements. The first day of shooting in Spain only 24 seconds of footage was in the can. On the second day Gilliam managed to get 35 seconds of footage. After the first 10 days of shooting in Italy he had 17 minutes of footage. Reportedly the original budget for the film was $23.5 million. The final budget ended at around $46.6 million. It grossed somewhere around $8.1 million.
Originally Terry Gilliam planned to have an entire herd of cows in the Vulcan set. Due to the ballooning budget he was only allowed one. Oliver Reed spent most of his time getting drunk and trying to seduce the virginal Uma Thurman. She was only eighteen at the time. Reed was fifty.
Despite all the problems and working conditions the film and the suppression of its distribution the movie has a 92% approval rating. Critics and movie goers love it. Whatever Terry was trying to do, he managed to capture on film.