To date, there have been three major film versions of Baron Munchausen – the most famous one is almost certainly Terry Gilliam’s 1988 epic which, although a box office bomb when it was first released is now recognised by many as a minor masterpiece – but it was Czech director Karel Zeman who really knew how to unlock the Munchausen magic, and it’s wonderful to see his 1961 classic finally get the blu-ray attention it deserves. In fact, this is the first time The Fabulous Baron Munchausen has ever been available on home video in the UK.
In many ways, Zeman and his co-screenwriters Jiri Brdecka and Josef Kainar stay very close to the original Munchausen stories – his explosive run-in with a Turkish sultan, his larger-than-life journey within the stomach of a whale and his cannonball ride across a battlefield to spy on enemy positions are all included in this version – but they added an ingenious wraparound device that really makes this film stand out from the pack: at the start of the movie, an astronaut named Tony steps out onto the surface of the moon and is astounded to discover there is already a trail of footsteps snaking up into the lunar dunes. Waiting for him at the summit of the dune are three characters from Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and Cyrano de Bergerac, who joyfully announces that the arrival of the Moonman is cause for some alcoholic celebration. But then Baron Munchausen (Milos Kopecky) arrives and decides to show the Moonman the delights of Earth (when the Moonman explains that he’s already from Earth Munchausen thinks he’s being ridiculous) and, travelling in a galleon towed across the stars by carousel horses, they embark on a bizarre diplomatic visit to the Turkish sultan where the Moonman falls in love with the captive Princess Bianca (Jana Brejchova) and their attempt at a rescue doesn’t go quite as smoothly as Munchausen planned. Worse still, while angry sword-wielding Turks are pursuing them across the desert, Munchausen realises that he is in love with the Princess too, and now he’s determined to teach the Moonman a lesson…
The Fabulous Baron Munchausen is a classic of fantasy cinema that completely deserves its awesome reputation. Every frame of this film looks terrific (in this new 4K restoration the colours pop off the screen) and there’s no wonder that Zeman has inspired some of our most visionary filmmakers – Gilliam, Tim Burton and Wes Anderson to name but three – who have all quite obviously borrowed from The Fabulous Baron Munchausen at some point during their careers. This is a must-own for every serious film fan and, after you’ve watched the main feature, make sure you check out the cavalcade of special features. Very highly recommended.
THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN (BARON PRASIL) / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: KAREL ZEMAN / SCREENPLAY: KAREL ZEMAN, JOSEF KAINAR, JIRÍ BRDEČKA / STARRING: MILOŠ KOPECKY, RUDOLF JELÍNEK, JANA BREJCHOVÁ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW