Review: Time Bandits
It’s a startling image and the first of many in this much-loved Terry Gilliam film which put him on the map as a director and it’s easy to see why.
Focusing on the adventures of the boy Kevin (Craig Warnock, natural), Time Bandits follows us on his travels through history with a rambunctious band of dwarfs who have mischievously stolen a map of time from their employer, God. Like the pages of a history book come to life, the film is a celebration of a child’s imagination, but also has an earthy, wry sense of humour somewhere between Python and a live action cartoon.
The cameos are glorious. John Cleese plays Robin Hood as a kind of royal nitwit, smiling and waving off the bandits while muttering “Awful people” through his teeth. Napoleon is portrayed as a Punch and Judy loving, height obsessed maniac. Sean Connery brings all his action hero charisma to Agamemnon in a great sequence set in ancient Greece.
Another fellow Python (and co-writer) Michael Palin turns up in a very funny recurring scene with Shelly Duvall, both playing a pair of star-crossed lovers. The dwarfs themselves are pleasingly rough in nature but somehow still come across as very likeable characters, a nice contrast to Kevin’s innocence.
The film also features a great turn from David Warner as Evil. His every speech is full of sparklingly witty, quotable dialogue. Talking about God: “Look how he spends his time. Forty-three species of parrot. Nipples for men!” In a movie full of memorable characters, his is one of the most enjoyable to watch.
You can’t discuss a Gilliam film without referring to the visuals, and every frame has something interesting going on in it. From the towering gloom of the Fortress of Darkness, to the sight of a being with a boat on his head in the time of legends, Gilliam creates a believable fantasy world well before the time of CGI. Despite the involvement of Cleese and Palin this feels like a Gilliam film, not a Python one. It’s hard to explain, but the visuals and the tone will be familiar to anyone whose ever had the unique pleasure of seeing any of Gilliam’s subsequent work.
There are flashes of that Python spirit though. Kevin’s parents are particularly stupid. Materially obsessed and doing nothing but watch the TV and whine about how the neighbours have a better kitchen, they are a critique of the ’80s era Time Bandits was made in (note the plastic sheets over the furniture, a nice touch).
It’s surprisingly hard-edged for a film that includes children in its target audience. Characters are placed in real danger and history is shown in all its messy, chaotic glory in a manner reminiscent of Michael York Musketeers movies. I believe a tagline I once read sums it up well: ‘All the dreams you’ve ever had. And not just the good ones”.
A fairly informative disc, including interviews with Gilliam and Palin. It’s interesting to see how Gilliam pushed ahead with the story, while Palin fleshed out the characters. As interviewees they are affable and discursive, and Gilliam is always liable to say something interesting, or scandalous!
We also get interviews with those involved in effects and costumes and a short but sweet interview with the likeable Warner talking about his role as evil. There are the usual trailers but also an interesting feature on the restoration job for this DVD edition (don’t worry, the film grain has been left in!). Script to screen includes production notes and storyboards to show how the journey was made. All in all, a good package.