Forms an informal trilogy with director Terry Gilliam's previous films, Time Bandits (1981) and Brazil (1985). The three movies represent the three stages of Man (youth, middle age, and elderly) and the impact of imagination on each. Jack Purvis also appears in all three films.
This was Uma Thurman's first acting job, although because of the inordinate production delays for this movie, was not her debut. She also belongs to the very short list of actors who were hired on their very first audition.
Robin Williams played the King of the Moon. The credits list "Ray D. Tutto". This is the English transliteration of the Italian phrase "Re di Tutto", which means "King of Everything", which was how the King of the Moon introduces himself to the Baron. Robin Williams performed the part as soon as he arrived in England after a transatlantic flight.
Sarah Polley, nine years old at the time, didn't enjoy making The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). She recalled the experience as traumatic: "It definitely left me with a few scars...It was just so dangerous. There were so many explosions going off all around me, which is traumatic to a kid whether dangerous or not. Being in freezing water for long periods of time. Working endless hours. It was physically grueling and unsafe."
Baron Munchausen's dog is named Argos, which was the name of Odysseus' dog in "The Odyssey" by Homer. Baron Munchausen orders Argos to "stay" when he leaves for his adventure, and Argos is there to greet the Baron when he returns to the besieged city, as Odysseus' dog Argos did in "The Odyssey."
The role of the King of the Moon was intended for Sean Connery until the role was largely cut. Sean Connery didn't think it was "kingly" enough, thus the role was played by Robin Williams. Connery was also considered to play Baron Munchausen.
When Sally is changing the caption on the playbill on the equestrian statue, one of the notices already stuck there reads: 'Defence of the Republic: Cannibalism. The Public are reminded that the Eating of Human Flesh for whatsoever reason is against the law and is punishable by death or a Fine of 50,000 Guineas. People's Committee. Order 398'.
A moon city set was to have been built at Pinewood. However, since there was no money left to do this, Terry Gilliam took the sketches of the designs, and stuck them to a board. The 2D buildings were then moved forwards/backwards and left/right. The result is bizarre and effective.
Michael Palin was originally cast as the Prime Minister of the Moon but the character was written out of the film. As a consolation Terry Gilliam offered him a cameo role as a man who dies while singing a song, but Palin declined. Gilliam took the cameo role himself.
Eric Idle called the production, "A truly horrible experience and even remembering it is a bit of a nightmare." He later said of the film, "Up until Munchausen, I'd always been very smart about Terry Gilliam films. You don't ever be in them. Go and see them by all means - but to be in them, fucking madness!!!"
On the first day of shooting in Almeria, Spain, Terry Gilliam managed to get 24 seconds of footage in the can. He was hampered by gusting winds and the fact that the costumes sent over from Rome were held up at the airport due to Spanish custom workers being on strike. He managed to secure 35 seconds of footage on the second day.
The Turkish treasury guard crosses himself in a moment of despair. This is because the Turks often recruited Italian captives into their service. Even if they were officially converts to Islam, they might often revert to type in situations such as this.
During an interview for Turner Classic Movies, Terry Gilliam revealed that the producers tried to get Marlon Brando for the part of Vulcan, and that he had a very enjoyable afternoon talking with him one to one, until they were joined by the producer and Brando's agent.
According to director Terry Gilliam, Columbia Pictures opened the film in the United States with only 48 prints. He also claims that only 117 prints were in distribution, a mere fraction of of the number of prints normally ordered by a major distributor for even the most modest release.
This film became notorious for its many production problems and cost overruns. Making matters worse was the change in regimes at Columbia Pictures. The new regime, not wanting any production from the old regime to "shine", simply buried the film during its U.S. release. There were many markets, especially the smaller ones, in the U.S. where this movie was not booked at all.
Part of the reason why the production ran into lot of problems was due to the climate in Rome. Most scenes in Rome could only be shot at night. When the new regime at Columbia took over, producer Arnon Milchan, whom Terry Gilliam worked with on Brazil (1985), was fired. To this day, Gilliam blames the late Dawn Steel, former Columbia Pictures president, for 'burying the film'.
The film was over budget; what was originally $23.5 million, grew to a reported $46.63 million. Terry Gilliam, acknowledging he had gone over budget, said its final costs had been nowhere near $40 million.
The reason for the end-title card dissociating the film from "the UFA/Transit/Murnau 1942/43 motion picture" is that litigation had been taken out against the film-makers by a producer who owned the rights to the Josef von Báky version of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1943) and who claimed that Terry Gilliam's film was a remake.
According to Eric Idle when he was told to shave his head for the role he responded that he didn't want to. So, the director Terry Gilliam said that he would shave his as well. Idle agreed but when he did it, Gilliam didn't keep his promise.
As a harbinger of the film's series of unlucky incidents, the start of filming had to be postponed for a week due to Dante Ferretti's elaborate set not being ready in time. A crane collapsing into it didn't help matters, postponing the film's start by another week.
A lot of the negative press about the film turned out to emanate from the completion bond company, Film Finances. Their lawyer was Steve Ransohoff, son of producer Martin Ransohoff who was also Ray Stark's friend and partner. Stark and then Columbia head David Puttnam had an ongoing feud which many felt ultimately led to the unceremonious ousting of Puttnam from the film studio's management where he was quickly replaced by Dawn Steel.
When filming the scene with the Baron entering the Sultan's tent on the beach, John Neville (the Baron) had spent four hours in make up that morning. A miscommunication between director Terry Gilliam and the make up department resulted in Neville being made up into the 80-year old version of the Baron when he should have been at his youngest. Neville was apoplectic at the error since there was no solution but to return to make up and spend another four hours getting into the proper costume and make up.
Inside the giant fish, actor John Neville (the Baron) didn't want to manhandle Sarah Polley (Sally). To help him find adequate motivation, director Terry Gilliam let Neville know that the delays in production would postpone Neville's return home another month.
Vulcan's and Venus' ballroom uses the same set as the monastery library from 'The Name of the Rose' (1986). Sean Connery, who was originally cast as the King of the Moon, starred in 'The Name of the Rose' as a Sherlock Holmes-style monk with Christian Slater as his apprentice.
Terry Gilliam: as "irritating singer inside fish". He originally filmed an additional scene where he sat against the wall of the ship, coughing, and died almost immediately, in exactly the same manner as his cameo as the animator in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Director Terry Gilliam intended the assassination of Baron Munchausen to resemble the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. While much of this movie is intended to be general social commentary, in this scene a corrupt politician publicly slays the people's hero and escapes with no significant consequences.