ⓘ The Fabulous Baron Munchausen

                                     

ⓘ The Fabulous Baron Munchausen

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen is a 1961 Czechoslovak romantic adventure film directed by Karel Zeman, based on the tales about Baron Munchausen. The film combines live-action with various forms of animation and is highly stylized, often evoking the engravings of Gustave Dore.

A digital restoration of the film premiered on 5 September 2016 at the Telluride Film Festival in the United States.

                                     

1. Plot

The film begins with footsteps leading to a pond. The camera continually moves upwards to show the flight of butterflies, birds, and a progression of historical aircraft ending with a rocket ship travelling through space and landing on the Moon.

The astronaut/cosmonaut leaves his spacecraft and sights other footsteps on the Moon leading him to an old phonograph, then a crashed rocket with a plaque reading Jules Vernes From the Earth to the Moon. Taken to a dinner table, the surprised space traveller meets the characters from Vernes book and Baron Munchausen. Inviting him to their table, the characters believe that the cosmonaut is a man actually from the Moon, and kindly treat him as a small child.

The Baron decides to take him to Earth in a fanciful airship held up by a herd of winged horses. The Baron dresses the spaceman, called "Tony" in the English dubbed version and "Tonik" in the original Czech, in 18th-century costume where they land in 18th-century Turkey, in Constantinople. Speaking in an unintelligible voice that he calls the "language of diplomacy", the Baron presents Tonik to the Sultan. However, Toniks lack of knowledge of diplomatic protocol and his falling in love with Princess Bianca, a damsel in distress held prisoner by the Sultan, leads to a series of romantic and fanciful adventures that transform the modern scientific space traveller into a hero rivalling the Baron.

Among the exciting and satiric adventures are sword and sea battles with the Turks, being swallowed by a giant fish, and ending the conflict between two warring kingdoms.

                                     

2. Cast

  • Frantisek Slegr as Pirate Captain
  • Zdenek Hodr as Nicole
  • Nadezda Blazickova as Court Dancer
  • Miloslav Holub as Enemy General
  • Vaclav Tregl as Sailor
  • Josef Hlinomaz as Spanish General
  • Karel Effa as Adjutant
  • Richard Zahorsky as Barbicain
  • Karel Hoger as Cyrano de Bergerac
  • Milos Kopecky as Baron Munchausen
  • Miroslav Homola as Chess Player
  • Jan Werich as Ships Captain
  • Rudolf Hrusinsky as The Sultan
  • Bohus Zahorsky as Admiral
  • Otto Simanek as Michel Ardan
  • Rudolf Jelinek as Tony
  • Jana Brejchova as Princess Bianca
  • Eduard Kohout as General Ellemerle
                                     

3. Reception

The film was released internationally throughout the 1960s, including a 1964 American dub under The Fabulous Baron Munchausen.

Howard Thompson of The New York Times described it as "a delectable oddity with a perky, intriguing music track," and writer Harlan Ellison termed it a "charming and sweethearted 1961 Czech fantasy filled with loopy special effects."

Cesar Santos Fontenla of Triunfo called the film "a masterpiece" and added: "the film is undoubtedly the most exciting experiment so far in animation and in combining different techniques. The Melies influence is present throughout the film, which reaches the same level of poetry as the works of that old master." Le Monde s film blog called Zemans technique "perfectly fitted" parfaitement adaptee to the Baron Munchausen stories, and described the result as "endowed with a splendid sense of humor and very inventive" dote d’un bel humour et tres inventif. The film historian Peter Hames described Baron Prasil as "perhaps catalogue from Karel Zemans Baron Munchausen and saying, "Wow, what is this?" and eventually seeing the film, and saying, "Wow, thats great," because he did what Im still trying to do, which is to try and combine live action with animation. His Dore-esque backgrounds were wonderful. The film captured the real spirit of the character.

British magazine Home Cinema Choice voted The Fabulous Baron Munchausen the best digitally restored film of 2017, defeating such films as The Thing, The Wages of Fear and Mulholland Drive.