The Adventures of Baron Munchausen—Columbia Pictures (Blu-ray)
I've always been a fan of Terry Gilliam's films. I had almost forgotten about this one as it was released in my very early teens and didn't have quite the impact on me that his earlier works did. Watching it now was an interesting ride. It just seems like these films don't hold up as well for me now as they did in my youth. The novelty has worn thin and most of the magic doesn't hold up like it used to. I'm almost afraid of what I would think of Time Bandits, which was one of my favorites growing up. This is a great tall tale film, but I couldn't help getting a bit bored half way through.
For about the first year of Blu-ray Sony seemed to be hand picking their titles based on A/V quality. It was interesting to see what they were releasing and once you popped them in it was easy to tell why. This is a bit of a departure from that stance. Gilliam has always had an interesting look with his films and he's not afraid of mixing stage props or animation into the visuals. The standard photography in this film looks great with exceptional depth and better detail than I would expect given its age, but the effects work doesn't hold up quite as well. Noise creeps in from time to time and can be a bit intrusive in some cases. The amount of film grain varies significantly as well, again showing the most issue during effects shots. Of course most of these issues are not because of the mastering, merely the production limitations of the time. But some may find offense given the relatively spotless track record Sony has been on for awhile.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and is probably more inconsistent than the video. Overall fidelity varies substantially and I would characterize this one as a thin presentation. The bottom octaves are nearly non-existent. While not a big deal it does hurt dynamic range a bit in some of the battles. The soundstage is a bit front heavy but there are times when the surrounds pick up a little bit and add some atmosphere to the mix. Dialogue can sound a bit thin at times and overall balance isn't as solid as I would hope. The score or sound effects can drown out the voices from time to time. I didn't really expect too much from this one given its age, but there is definitely some room for improvement.
Sony has included some great extras on this release. The highlight would be the new documentary on the production. This features behind the scenes footage, interviews, retrospects and more. A feature commentary is also included with the director. Rounding things out are deleted scenes, a storyboard sequence with narrative and a trivia track.
I know there is a big fan base for this film and most of Gilliam's catalog. I'm happy to see Sony taking risks on film lover's catalog titles like this and I hope to see them continue in the future. The A/V presentation isn't ground breaking, but given the production design limitations I don't think it could get much better. While it doesn’t have quite the magic it did when I was younger, this is still a fun family adventure.