The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Servant: You abandoned me here. You swine! You toddled off with that old queen of tarts and left me here to rot in a parrot cage for 20 years. After wasting half my life, you expect me to just forgive you and follow you to the ends of the earth?

Baron: Yes.

Servant: Oh. All right.

I suppose Terry Gilliam must be the most underrated writer/director in history. He's never in the discussion when people debate about the greatest living directors. Damned if I know why. He's made only nine films, but all of them are pretty damned good, and three of them are in the all-time IMDb Top 250.

Here is his directing resumé:

  1. (8.40) - Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  2. (8.00) - Brazil (1985)
  3. (7.90) - Twelve Monkeys (1995)
  4. (7.40) - Fisher King, The (1991)
  5. (7.30) - Meaning of Life, The (1983)
  6. (7.00) - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
  7. (6.90) - Time Bandits (1981)
  8. (6.70) - Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The (1988)
  9. (6.04) - Jabberwocky (1977)

He is also credited as a writer in all of those films except The Fisher King. There is not a bad film on the list. There is nothing even close. Even the disappointments are worth one's time, and even the worst moments of the disappointments are impossible to fast-forward through, for fear one might miss a visual or comic gem.

To me the key issue about Gilliam is not just that he is a funny man with an astounding and unique imagination, but that his body of work is a celebration of mankind.


Uma Thurman is naked, but covered by her hair and hands. One of her nipples can be seen.

On the surface, one might assume the opposite, that Gilliam is cynical to the point of despair. His imaginary worlds are all dystopic. They are chaotic and dehumanizing places ruled by the brutal and corrupt. All his humor seems to derive from a view that the only way for the human spirit to cope with chaos and hopelessness is with laughter. Underneath that veneer, however, Gilliam inevitably sees the brighter angels of our nature. His societies may be vile, perhaps as an extension of the real societies that we build, but his individuals can be noble, and willing to fight against monstrous odds, even at great personal peril. When I watch Gilliam's films, I always get a sense that we humans have failed, but that we should not have, that we should have been much more, and might yet be if we can suppress that portion of our DNA that still belongs to the territorial apes we once were.

Terry Gilliam is what Jonathan Swift or Cervantes would have been if they had lived in a time when artists created movies.

Gilliam has made great films but Baron Munchausen, to be honest, is not such a great film. It is one of Gilliam's most tepid offerings, and one of his most confusing and silly. Yet it is still a good film because there is just so much to enjoy. There is Gilliam's astounding visual invention. There is Uma Thurman's beauty, Eric Idle's comic timing, Sara Polley's childish adorability, and a marvelously theatrical lead performance by John Neville. There is the celebration of our ability to dream, the condemnation of irrational authority and power wielded cynically, the recognition of the power inherent in forgiveness, and in hope. Most of all there is the ubiquitous notion that the individual is important, that he cannot normally win a victory over the ruthless, soulless power of entrenched demigods, but there is great nobility and value in the fact that he tries.

And sometimes, no matter how quixotic his quest, he may even prevail.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 3/4.

  • It was nominated for four Oscars.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C or C+. It's a targeted niche film, not for everyone, but if you like fantasy movies and Gilliam's films, it is at least a good one, and not so far from great.

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