The Adventures of Baron Munchausen appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the transfer satisfied.
The biggest visual problems were likely unavoidable due to the nature of the production. Munchausen used a lot of effects shots that added a fair amount of grain to the presentation. We also saw quite a bit of smoke in the battle scenes, a factor that exacerbated the inherent graininess. That side of things could make the image a bit murky and rough at times, but again, I don’t think that the transfer could get around those issues since they resulted from the original photography.
Other than the graininess, the presentation was quite good. Sharpness usually appeared solid. A smidgen of softness occasionally marred some wide shots, but the majority of the flick looked crisp and concise. No issues with jagged edges, shimmering or edge enhancement occurred, and I noticed very few print flaws. Maybe a speckle or two materialized, but otherwise the movie seemed clean.
Gilliam imbued the film with a nice golden tone, and the image seemed rich and lush. Colors looked fairly bold and vivid throughout the movie, though skin tones were too ruddy at times. Black levels seemed deep and strong, and shadow detail appeared good, with nice clarity in the low-light shots. Due to the graininess, I debated whether the presentation deserved a “B” or a “B+”. I went with the higher grade because I thought the concerns couldn’t be avoided and the movie usually looked so good.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was decent but not great. It presented a mildly effective soundstage, with a definite emphasis on the front. The forward range offered some acceptable stereo imaging; the audio tended toward the center, but a fair amount of sound emanated from the right and left speakers. Those elements didn’t bring a lot of life to the proceedings, but they managed to contribute some zip in the action scenes. Music offered fair stereo delineation, but lines occasionally suffered from some bleeding to the sides.
The surrounds didn’t have a lot to do here. They seemed passive much of the time and only sporadically made themselves known. A few louder scenes brought out reasonably engaging material from the rear speakers, but don’t expect much from them.
Audio quality appeared dated but acceptable. Though dialogue could be a bit thin, the lines remained intelligible and without much edginess. Music was a mixed bag. Some score elements occasionally boasted decent bass, but the music usually lacked much of a robust nature.
The same went for the effects. At times they demonstrated nice life, but on many other occasions they were weak and somewhat feeble. Matters did seem to improve as the film progressed; I thought the audio appeared more impressive during the flick’s second half. Nonetheless, this was a mix of relative highs and lows that ended up with a “B-“ given its vintage.
How did the picture and sound of this 2008 Munchausen DVD compare to those of the original release? I thought both offered pretty similar audio, but the 2008 transfer demonstrated improvements. It looked tighter and cleaner than its predecessor. The old disc gave us a fairly good presentation, but the new one provided an upgrade.
While the prior DVD came with very few extras, this two-disc “20th Anniversary Edition” supplies plenty. On DVD One, we find an audio commentary from writer/director Terry Gilliam and writer/actor Charles McKeown. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss sets, locations and design, cast, characters and performances, story and social interpretation, costumes and makeup, effects and music, and the many challenges and problems during the shoot.
Gilliam seems completely unable to ever bore as a speaker, and he adds a lot of zest to this track. As usual, he relates all the movie’s difficulties with almost a perverse glee; I don’t think Gilliam’s happy unless he runs into complications. We get a good overview of a mix of issues during this consistently informative and entertaining piece.
Over on DVD Two, we begin with a new documentary called The Madness & Misadventures of Munchausen. Presented in three parts, it runs a total of one hour and 12 minutes as it gives us movie clips, archival pieces and interviews. We hear from Gilliam, McKeown, producer Thomas Schuhly, executive producer Steve Abbott, former Columbia Pictures president David Picker, Film Finances president Richard Soames, production designer Dante Ferretti, first AD Lee Cleary, US casting director Margery Simkin, UK casting director Irene Lamb, editor Peter Hollywood, production executive Joyce Herlihy, optical effects supervisor Kent Houston, and actors Jonathan Pryce, Eric Idle, John Neville, Sarah Polley, Bill Paterson, and Robin Williams.
“Madness” looks at the project’s origins and the development of the script, issues with producers, budget and financing, the flick’s crew and working in Italy, visual design and Gilliam’s take on the tale. It also goes into cast, characters and performances, continued production and money problems, conflicts between the Brits and the Italians on the set, script changes, post-production, test screenings and further intrigue along with the film’s eventual release.
If you expect the usual fluffy reminiscence here, you’ll not find it with “Madness”. Nor should you, as a production so fraught with problems needs to be told with negativity at the forefront; anything else would be completely dishonest and pointless. Heck, even with all the horror stories on display here, I don’t know if we get the full picture for what a mess the production was.
Nonetheless, “Madness” provides a wholly absorbing look at Munchausen. It certainly delves into a mix of issues, spats and breakdowns as it chronicles the absurdity of life on the film. This is a fascinating program that benefits from the presence of so many participants; I sure never expected to see Robin Williams here. Expect the show’s 72 minutes to pass quickly.
A collection of Storyboards arrives next. We get three of these: “The Baron Saves Sally”, “A Voyage to the Moon”, and “The Baron & Bucephalus Charge the Turkish Gates”. These come with intros and “afterthoughts” from Gilliam and McKeown; taken all together, the set fills 30 minutes. We see filmed renditions of the boards along with script narration and other audio bits to act out the scenes. All are good to see, as they show unfilmed aspects of the flick. “Moon” is definitely the most fascinating of the bunch since it so strongly differs from what we see in the final product.
Four Deleted Scenes occupy a total of three minutes, 34 seconds. We find “The Rules of Warfare” (0:47), “Extended Fish Sequence” (0:50), “Mutiny on the Stage” (0:52) and “Alternate Opening” (1:04). “Rules” makes a joke clearer than in the final cut, though I actually think it works just fine there; I always got the point. “Fish” and “Mutiny” offer a couple minor laughs, while “Opening” starts the film on a somewhat more elegant note. None of these are especially memorable, but they’re worth a look.
A few ads launch DVD Two. We get promos for Seinfeld Season 9, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, and The Final Season. These also appear in the Previews area.
While not quite a classic, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen offers pretty good entertainment. It suffers from a mix of problems but creates an interesting and amusing fable. The DVD provides very good picture, acceptable audio and a consistently fascinating set of extras. This release serves the film well and acts as a good upgrade over the prior “bare bones” disc.