Pass the Popcorn: Baron Munchausen Turns 20

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Ladners spent time this July in Prescott to escape the summer heat of Phoenix. The Raven coffee bar has been showing the films of Terry Gilliam on Monday nights, which meant that I had a chance to visit an old friend: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Released in 1988, Baron Munchausen was one of the greatest film fiascos of all time. Budgeted at $23m, it cost more than $46m. Worse still, Columbia pictures was being sold at the time of release, meaning that they only got it out onto a handful of American screens, which translated into an $8m American box-office take, $15m worldwide.

Ooops. The only equivalent brilliant move I’ve seen was Miramax releasing The Grindhouse slasher-zombie flick during the Easter season, giving them a total box office take of me going to see it twice.

Looking back at the film now, I can only wonder: how in the world did Gilliam make this movie for only $46m? It’s many times more visually interesting than several films I could name with far larger budgets and supposedly superior technology available (yes, I am looking at you George Lucas).

Fiasco though it may have been for the studio, for a viewer, the Baron is a pure delight. I’ve seen the film included on lists such as “Cool movies no one saw” and “Children’s Films That Adults Will Love.” It’s all that, and more.

I’ve always loved the film, as the main character reminded me very much of my grandfather: German, very charming, sometimes grouchy, a flirt with the ladies, full of tall tales, and always in search of adventure. Oh, and I suppose that the massive crush I had on Uma Thurman 20 years ago didn’t hurt.

The Baron, a character out of German folklore, finds himself disgruntled to be living in “The Age of Reason.” The Baron sets forth to save a city from the armies of the Grand Turk by finding his former extraordinary servants, encountering gods and monsters and literally cheating death along the way.

The movie had an all-star cast, including small parts by Robin Williams and Sting. Columbia’s loss is your gain: Netflix it now, and did I mention that Gilliam reenacted a certain famous mythological painting?

Yeah, well, the movie is better than the painting.


2 Responses to Pass the Popcorn: Baron Munchausen Turns 20

  1. I would also suggest Brazil or Twelve Monkeys as Gilliam gems. If you get Brazil be sure that it is the director’s cut that runs 142 minutes. There is an awful studio cut that runs 94 minutes that tries to give the movie a happy ending.

  2. matthewladner says:

    Brazil is also one of my favorites. My friend Dan Twiggs used to say that Brazil wasn’t a distopian fantasy, but rather a documentary on modern life.

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