And one might have expected no less -- Münchausen, after all, was born from disaster, grew via prodigious invention and prodigious plagiarism, and was stranded for some time on the nursery bookshelf along with such congenial fellows as Gulliver's Travels and Robinson Crusoe -- none of which really belonged there. There was, in fact, a "real" Baron Münchausen, whose lively tales of his experiences in the Russian army in two of its campaigns agains the Turks gained modest fame. Then came Rudolf Erich Raspé, a man of some repute as a legitimate historian, who'd landed a job watching over a collection of gold medallions, some of which were later found missing. Fleeing from his employer, he landed on his feet in England, where -- as a member of the Royal Society -- he still had some friends of note. He secured a job overseeing mines in Cornwall, and while there wrote and published the first of his Münchausen tales, later adding more. His death in Ireland in 1794 (his grave is on the estate of Muckross House, hereditary home of the Guinness family) did nothing to stop fresh editions, and more stories, from accumulating in Münchausen's name.
It was a perfect set-up for Gilliam, who could play off the idea of a "real" Baron against a theatrical one, on all kinds of levels, and pick and choose from the canonical (and not-so-canonical) stories at will. As the Baron, he cast the brilliant Canadian actor John Neville, and as his three remarkable assistants he chose fellow Python Eric Idle (Berthold), Charles McKeown (as Adolphus -- he also wrote the script), and Jack Purvis as Gustavus. Sarah Polley (as Sally Salt) and Uma Thurman (as the goddess Venus) made their film débuts here, and Robin Williams does a brilliant (and uncredited) turn as the King of the Moon. It's a fantasy about fantasy, and the politics of the repression of fantasy. In a brilliant exchange between the Baron and the "Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson" (Jonathan Pryce), the gauntlet is thrown:
Jackson: "You, sir, seem to have a weak grasp of reality!"
The Baron: "Your 'reality,' sir, is lies and balderdash, and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of its whatsoever!"