The Fabulous Baron Munchausen [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Run
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (23rd July 2017).
The Film

"Luna till now belonged but to the poets, to the dreamers, to daring fantasists and adventurers in powdered wigs, to fantasists in frock coats, and to those in bizarre helmets from the pages of the newest novels, and of course to the lovers, to them Luna was always most dear," says French novelist Cyrano de Bergerac – or, rather Edmond Rostand's characterization of him – in the literally explosive climax of the hybrid animation/live-action fantasy The Fabulous Baron Munchausen from the great Karel Zeman (The Stolen Airship), based as much on the Gottfried August Bürger translation of tall tales attributed to the real life Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Münchhausen as on the definitive illustrations of Gustave Doré. When man lands on the moon, the above is exactly what astronaut Tonik (I Served the King of England's Rudolf Jelínek) discovers when he is welcomed by Gun Club president Barbicane (The Assassination's Richard Záhorský), plate armor designer Captain Nicholl (Tomorrow I'll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea's Zdenek Hodr), and adventurer Michal Ardan (Pan Tau's Otto Simánek) – who arrived via the Columbiad space gun of Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon", Cyrano, and the eponymous Baron Munchausen who assume Tonik to be an authentic "Moonman" in spite of his protests. When the Baron decides to take "Lunatic" Tonik back to Earth to see how humans live, Tonik discovers that the Earth he left is not the one to which he returns but an exotic and fanciful world out of literary visions of the past. Landing in Byzantine Turkey, they become the guests of the Sultan (The Cremator's Rudolf Hrusínský). Tonik is mistaken for a noble knight by the Princess Bianca di Castello Nero (In the Dust of the Stars' Jana Brejchová), a prisoner of the Sultan since her ship was overtaken by pirates on the way to Venice, and she requests that he rescue her. Whereas Tonik attempts to apply his twentieth century scientific mind to the task, the Baron advises him that "A true knight never uses any means more peaceful than the sword, the dagger and a rope," and plunges both of them headlong into adventure. With the Turkish army on their tails, the Baron is able to manage their escape with the convenient appearance of the ship of comrade General Emmerle (The Princess with the Golden Star's Eduard Kohout), and then manages a literal smokescreen with the ship's cache of Turkish tobacco to escape the Turkish navy. Separated from Tonik when the ship goes down, the Baron hopes to romance the Princess himself as their lifeboat is swallowed by a sea monster which is hopefully bound for Venice. The Princess, however, only has eyes for Tonik when they are reunited at an embattled seaside citadel; and no amount of cannonball-vaulting acrobatics on the behalf of the Baron can sway her ("Why did the romance of adventure not affect her? The romance of war, duels and chivalric manners?"). Whereas the Baron has regarded Tonik's less-than-successful scientific know-how with little more regard than others who think of the younger man as a sorcerer, Tonik's idea of blasting his and Bianca's way back up to the moon with massive firepower seems suitably romantic and fantastic to the Baron to take the risk of helping them when Tonik is imprisoned to be court martialed for treason. Made without the vast financial resources of the lavish Joseph Goebbels-financed Münchhausen from Josef von Báky or the American studio backing and Italian craftsmanship of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen from the Zeman-influenced Terry Gilliam, The Fabulous Baron Munchausen is a showcase of the amazing and ambitious hand-made illusions of writer/director/designer Zeman which merge live action, animation, and deliberately fanciful backdrops through mattes, double exposures, dual-strip in-camera optical passes, and even cut-out figures of the characters in a manner that should be very familiar to fans of Gilliam's early Monty Python's Flying Circus work (as well as his more finessed animations for the troupe's later features) minus the live action elements. Although the film is widely regarded as Zeman's masterwork, it actually seems at times like a dry run for his subsequent A Jester's Tale in which Zeman's illusions were even more beguiling in monochrome than here in its mix of color and tinted black-and-white; nevertheless, the film remains as entertaining as it does technically fascinating as high definition allows the informed viewer to scrutinize Zeman's effects work.

Video

Released directly to television in a dubbed version stateside, The Fabulous Baron Munchausen was restored in 2012 by the Czech Film Archive and released on PAL DVD and 1080i50 Blu-ray with an English-friendly feature and extras. Second Run's Blu-ray comes from a new 4K restoration and the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC pillarboxed 1.33:1 presentation reveals additional slivers of information on all four sides of the frame and is brighter with slightly more vibrant colors which are pleasing but varies slightly from the earlier restoration. It is difficult to determine which is more accurate, but more details of Zeman's compositions are discernable than before.

Audio

The sole audio option is an LPCM 2.0 Czech mono track which has also undergone some cleanup and nicely conveys the scoring (with its musical accents accompanying flourishes of the animation) and the dialogue. Optional English subtitles are provided and free of any obvious errors.

Extras

In addition to carrying over extras from the Czech release – "Karel Zeman and the World" (5:05), "The Birth of a Film Legend" (5:10), "Why Zeman Made the Film" (3:46), "The Cast" (2:23), "Zeman's Special Effects Techniques" (1:49), "Karel Zeman: The Legend Continues" (3:30), and "Museum Karel Zeman" (1:17) – Second Run have outfitted their release with two insightful new extras. "Film Adventurer Karel Zeman" (101:48) is a Blu-ray edition-exclusive documentary from 2015 which structures a series of interviews with Zeman's daughter, effects artist Zdenek Ostrcil (A Jester's Tale), production manager Karel Hutecka (A Treasure on Bird Island), and other surviving collaborators on Zeman's life and career with appreciation from Gilliam, Tim Burton, animator Koji Yamamura (Satie's Parade) among others around a Czech film school masterclass in which the students are challenged to recreate effects sequences from three Zeman films using 35mm film and the same raw materials. "Baron Munchausen: Facts and Fibs" (36:11) is an enlightening new appreciation by film historian Michael Brooke who discusses the real Baron Munchausen and his penchant for yarn-stretching, as well as how his reputation was spread through Rudolf Erich Raspe who fled to England and first wrote of the Baron's tales for a German-language publication before publishing them in book form anonymously since the Baron was still alive. Since the book was published anonymously, it was freely translated and expanded upon in other countries as it made its way back to Germany and translated by Gottfried August Bürger (who the Baron unsuccessfully sued). Brooke also gives an overview of satirical works featuring the Baron as well as comics, serials, and theatrical plays before discussing the film adaptations, most notably the von Báky and Gilliam versions. The release also includes the film's theatrical trailer (1:40) as well as a booklet featuring a new essay on the film by journalist and critic Graham Williamson.

Overall

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.