Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Case Study #2


The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Probably the reason Hollywood has child labor laws now....

Terry Gilliam, the only American involved with Monty Python, has had quite a career. He's given us Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys, Brazil and The Fisher King. Every single one of these movie blew me away at the time of their release. 

I also saw The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in the theater back in '89, and was of course bowled over by the visual effects - although I didn't understand the story at all.

I realize now that in today's world, this movie would never have gotten a green light. It is based on a series of tall tales that were popular in Europe back in 1785, and I think only a European could enjoy the story. Gilliam did manage to land John Neville for the title role, who brought years of experience with him to the production. I think that Neville may be Baron's saving grace.

Principal photography commenced in 1987 at Cinecitta Studios in Rome, and things quickly went off track for Gilliam. Filming was shut down by Columbia, who knew of Gilliam's problem of going over budget. Universal had the same problem when he shot Brazil. They talked about replacing him, but Gilliam convinced the bond company to let him continue.

That, however, isn't the only reason it only made back a quarter of it's budget.

Columbia Pictures CEO, David Puttnam, gave this strange screenplay the green light, with a budget of 35 million. Then Puttnam managed to get himself fired, probably because he gave this strange screenplay the green light. 

The new studio head was Dawn Steel, who publicly dropped Baron and Gilliam like a hot rock. All oral deals were off the table, including bonuses for the effects crew. 

Things weren't looking good. Then they got worse. 

The trained horses became sick, the moon sequence was cut down - losing the interest of Sean Connery in the process - and the costumes went MIA. If it weren't for Gilliam's friendship with Eric Idle and Robin Williams, the film probably wouldn't have been finished at all.

Sarah Polley, pictured above, was nine at the time of filming. She suffered hypothermia and was nearly killed by effects explosions. She, fortunately for us, went on with her film career. Polley is now 33, an Academy Award nominee and an up-and-coming director.

Advertising by Columbia - as you would expect - was nonexistent for Baron, and the film only got a very limited release. Gilliam reported that only 117 copies of the film were made for distribution. A low-low budget indie film will usually get 400 copies, as a comparison. A wide release, between 2,000 and 3,000 copies. Pathetic.

A shame, too, Baron has one of the highest critical acclaim approval ratings I've ever seen. 

The production may have been an absolute disaster, but you should definitely see this film.

What films have you liked that were 
panned by critics?

No comments: