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The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen

- Attributed to Baron Munchausen There really was a Baron Munchausen. His full name was Karl Friedrich Hieronymous von Munchausen, and he lived from 1720 to 1797 and fought for the Russians against the Turks. He was, it is said, in the habit of embellishing his war stories, and in 1785 a jewel thief from Hanover named Rudolf Erich Raspe published a book in England which claimed to be based on the baron's life and times.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

The real von Munchausen apparently did not complain about this book that made free with his reputation, even though it included such tall stories as the time the baron tethered his horse to a "small twig" in a snowstorm, and discovered when the snow melted that the twig was actually a church steeple.

I remember the illustration that appeared with that story when I read it as a child: The baron on the ground, looking up in perplexity at his horse, which was still hanging from the steeple. I remember asking my father how the horse was going to get down, and my father speculating that he would have to wait until it snowed again, which seemed like a bleak prospect for the horse. And so I asked if the baron could feed his horse in the meantime by climbing up the steeple with hay. The mind of a child is wonderfully literal. And one of the charms of seeing "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" was to see some of the baron's other impossible adventures, looking for all the world as if they had really happened, thanks to extraordinary special effects.

For adults, this is a "special effects movie," and we approach it in that spirit, also appreciating the sly wit and satire that sneaks in here and there from director Terry Gilliam and his collaborators, who were mostly forged in the mill of Monty Python. They have not made a "children's movie," but children may find it fascinating, because these adventures involve castles and sultans and horses and knights and the man in the moon - subjects that seem fresh, now that the high-tech hardware of outer space is taken for granted by most kids.

Terry Gilliam's film is, in itself, a tribute to the spirit of the good baron. Gilliam must have had to embellish a few war stories himself, to get Columbia Pictures to spend a reported $46 million on this project, which is one of the three or four most expensive films ever made. The special effects are astonishing, but so is the humor with which they are employed. It is not enough that one of the baron's friends is the fastest runner in the world. He must run all the way to Spain and back in an hour, to fetch a bottle of wine and save the baron's neck. And he must be able to outrun a speeding bullet, stop it, and redirect it back toward the man who fired it.

These adventures, and others, are told with a cheerfulness and a light touch that never betray the time and money it took to create them. It's one thing to spent $46 million; it's another to spend it insouciantly. The movie begins when the baron indignantly interrupts a play that is allegedly based on his life, and continues as he tells the "real" story of his travels - which took him not merely to Turkey but also to the moon, to the heart of a volcano, and into the stomach of a sea monster so big that people actually lived there quite comfortably, once they had been swallowed.

The baron (John Neville) is accompanied on some of these adventures by his friends, including not only the world's fastest man, but also the world's strongest man, the man with the best hearing in the world, and another friend who does not have great eyesight, but owns glasses that allow him to see almost any distance. Even when he is separated from these comrades, the baron travels in good company: when a Venus appears from a seashell, she is played by Uma Thurman, the young innocent from "Dangerous Liaisons," and when the man in the moon appears, he is Robin Williams, with a detachable head that is able to spin off into the night on its own.

Some of the effects in this movie are actually quite wonderful, as when the baron and a friend return from the moon by climbing down two lengths of the same rope again and again, while the markings of a celestial globe apportion the sky behind them. In another scene, a giant feather falls softly onto a vast plain, while the baron tries to understand what strange new world he has found.

THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN starts in a fictional war-torn town during "The Age of Reason," and the screenplay delivers on its promise to examine the sometimes conflicting roles of fact and fantasy. As shells fall around them, the townspeople are distracted by a comedy troupe acting out the adventures of the big-nosed Baron, only to have the real Baron (John Neville) walk on stage and take up the narrative. Accompanied by little Sally Salt (a very young Sarah Polley) Baron Munchausen must reunite with his retinue, which includes Berthold (Monty Python colleague Eric Idle) in order to save the desperate town. But distractions and obstacles make the challenge extraordinarily difficult.

There is in my mind no director better suited to catch the weirdness and zaniness of these adventures than Mr. Gilliam. This he proved from the get go by casting Neville as the Baron. He gives life to the character beautifully with superb enthusiasm and infectious gusto.

After previously disliking most of Terry Gilliam's films, and most recently The Meaning of Life, it's nice to say that I found a film of his I thoroughly enjoyed. The film tells the wacky adventures of an 18th century aristocrat named Baron Von Munchausen, played by John Neville. In order to save his town from a Turkish invasion. Baron teams up with a girl named Sally (Sarah Polley), together they manage to escape the town via a homemade hot air balloon. They then proceed to recruit the Baron's former comrades, to do so they have travel to the moon, escape a grim reaper, and dodge getting eaten by a sea creature in the process, amongst other side quests.

To humorous waifs of this description, without fixed origin or birthplace, did Raspe give a classical setting amongst embroidered versions of the baron's sporting jokes. The unscrupulous manner in which he affixed Munchausen's own name to the completed jeu d'esprit is, ethically speaking, the least pardonable of his crimes; for when Raspe's little book was first transformed and enlarged, and then translated into German, the genial old baron found himself the victim of an unmerciful caricature, and without a rag of concealment. It is consequently not surprising to hear that he became soured and reticent before his death at Bodenwerder in 1797.

Baron Munnikhouson or Munchausen, of Bodenweder, near Hamelyn on the Weser, belongs to the noble family of that name, which gave to the King's German dominions the late prime minister and several other public characters equally bright and illustrious. He is a man of great original humour; and having found that prejudiced minds cannot be reasoned into common sense, and that bold assertors are very apt to bully and speak their audience out of it, he never argues with either of them, but adroitly turns the conversation upon indifferent topics and then tells a story of his travels, campaigns, and sporting adventures, in a manner peculiar to himself, and well calculated to awaken and shame the common sense of those who have lost sight of it by prejudice or habit.

Having heard, for the first time, that my adventures have been doubted, and looked upon as jokes, I feel bound to come forward and vindicate my character for veracity, by paying three shillings at the Mansion House of this great city for the affidavits hereto appended.

We, the undersigned, as true believers in the profit, do most solemnly affirm, that all the adventures of our friend Baron Munchausen, in whatever country they may lie, are positive and simple facts. And, as we have been believed, whose adventures are tenfold more wonderful, so do we hope all true believers will give him their full faith and credence. GULLIVER. x SINBAD. x ALADDIN. x Sworn at the Mansion House 9th Nov. last, in the absence of the Lord Mayor. JOHN (the Porter).

Some years before my beard announced approaching manhood, or, in other words, when I was neither man nor boy, but between both, I expressed in repeated conversations a strong desire of seeing the world, from which I was discouraged by my parents, though my father had been no inconsiderable traveller himself, as will appear before I have reached the end of my singular, and, I may add, interesting adventures. A cousin, by my mother's side, took a liking to me, often said I was fine forward youth, and was much inclined to gratify my curiosity. His eloquence had more effect than mine, for my father consented to my accompanying him in a voyage to the island of Ceylon, where his uncle had resided as governor many years.

Some travellers are apt to advance more than is perhaps strictly true; if any of the company entertain a doubt of my veracity, I shall only say to such, I pity their want of faith, and must request they will take leave before I begin the second part of my adventures, which are as strictly founded in fact as those I have already related.

I went there in great state by land; where, having completed the business, I dismissed almost all my attendants, and returned like a private gentleman; the weather was delightful, and that famous river the Nile was beautiful beyond all description; in short, I was tempted to hire a barge to descend by water to Alexandria. On the third day of my voyage the river began to rise most amazingly (you have all heard, I presume, of the annual overflowing of the Nile), and on the next day it spread the whole country for many leagues on each side! On the fifth, at sunrise, my barge became entangled with what I at first took for shrubs, but as the light became stronger I found myself surrounded by almonds, which were perfectly ripe, and in the highest perfection. Upon plumbing with a line my people found we were at least sixty feet from the ground, and unable to advance or retreat. At about eight or nine o'clock, as near as I could judge by the altitude of the sun, the wind rose suddenly, and canted our barge on one side: here she filled, and I saw no more of her for some time. Fortunately we all saved ourselves (six men and two boys) by clinging to the tree, the boughs of which were equal to our weight, though not to that of the barge: in this situation we continued six weeks and three days, living upon the almonds; I need not inform you we had plenty of water. On the forty-second day of our distress the water fell as rapidly as it had risen, and on the forty-sixth we were able to venture down upon terra firma. Our barge was the first pleasing object we saw, about two hundred yards from the spot where she sunk. After drying everything that was useful by the heat of the sun, and loading ourselves with necessaries from the stores on board, we set out to recover our lost ground, and found, by the nearest calculation, we had been carried over garden-walls, and a variety of enclosures, above one hundred and fifty miles. In four days, after a very tiresome journey on foot, with thin shoes, we reached the river, which was now confined to its banks, related our adventures to a boy, who kindly accommodated all our wants, and sent us forward in a barge of his own. In six days more we arrived at Alexandria, where we took shipping for Constantinople. I was received kindly by the Grand Seignior, and had the honour of seeing the Seraglio, to which his highness introduced me himself. 041b061a72


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