THE TERRY GILLIAM FILES // "MUNCHAUSEN" (1989)
MUNCHAUSEN Market Research
Two recruited-audience screenings of MUNCHAUSEN were held in late October 1988, in Paramus, N.J., and Garden City, Long Island. Audience members were asked to fill out questionnaires following the film, and the National Research Group compiled and studied the surveys.
Moviegoers in attendance ranged from 15 to 49 years of age (although the majority of those who filled out questionnaires were under 25). The Paramus (defined as "middle class") and Garden City ("upper middle class") audiences were both 51% female and 49% male. There were 182 walkouts, and a total of 781 questionnaires completed. There were also focus groups conducted with about 20 audience members after each screening for more detailed comments.
The importance of an "excellent" or "very good" rating from the total audience is key to the director's ability to control the final editing of the film. Gilliam's contract with Columbia stipulated that if the audience to those two categories combined were lower than 55%, Columbia would reserve the right to final cut, and could demand any alterations they saw fit. The total in Paramus and Garden City were 49% and 51%, respectively.
The special effects and settings were the highest-rated elements. Among choices for "favorite character," the Baron was the overwhelming victor, followed by Sally ("because she's cute"), Berthold and the King of the Moon. Death and Venus were also high scorers.
Favorite scenes were the first run by Berthold, the cannonball ride, the stormy arrival on the Moon, the King of the Moon's detachable head, Death's appearance, and Venus' entrance and dance scene. In the focus groups, many remarked that Adolphus and Gustavus' dialogue in the cabin inside the whale was hard to follow.
The story was described as "different" or "original" most often, as well as "too slow in spots," "not my type of movie," and "confusing." Many audience members were confused by the Baron coming back to life. The picture's length was chosen as the main reason why audiences didn't score it better.
Excerpts From Questionnaire Responses [all quotes proudly sic ]:
"What would you tell your friends about this movie?"
Female, 15-17: "It was the worst! MOvie I have ever seen! It took to long to finish."
How would you describe the film?
Male, 21-24: "You have to have a basic understanding of Traditional thought as opposed to logical thought to get an understanding of how the two interact. Visually it was a good movie, and I would recommend it on just the idea of saving the town through fantasy. But for the most discerning movie goer, they might want more history."
If you did not rate the movie 'excellent,' please indicate why you did not?
Female, 18-20: "More Sting!"
Why did you rate the ending the way you did?
Male, 25-29: "The hero should always get laid at the end, like James Bond."
Female, 21-24: "The little girl kept saying 'Look!' so many times. It was very redundant."
Who was your favorite character?
Female, 21-24: "The one who kept saying, 'What did you say?'"
What, if anything, did you find confusing about the movie?"
Male, 21-24: "If there are no virgins left, wasn't the little girl a virgin?"
Would you take your children to see this film?
Male, 18-20: "No, might scare them from going to the movies in the future."
Out of the 738 respondents who answered the questions, "Do you have children in your household between 5-12?" only 1 out of 7 replied 'yes." The Long Island parents appeared more concerned about the movie's violence and risque material. Though most weren't parents, many in the audience categorized the film as "a children's film."
In conclusion, the research suggested that tightening the film, particularly in the beginning before the real Baron is introduced, "would likely enhance both the comedy and sense of action/adventure."
"Furthermore," the report continued, "trims in some of the most memorable sequences ... such as the 'real harem,' on the Moon, with Vulcan and in the fish would make these sequences stand out even more."
Note was made in the report that evidently none of the members who took part in focus groups had ever heard of the character of Baron Munchausen.
copyright 1992, 2009 by David Morgan
All rights reserved.