Time Bandits

"Dead? No excuse for laying off work."

Time Bandits is probably Terry Gilliam's most purely enjoyable film.

Written by Gilliam with his fellow Python Michael Palin, Time Bandits is the first chapter of what the director himself has called his Trilogy of Imagination, which also includes Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. All three are about the "craziness of our awkwardly ordered society and the desire to escape it through whatever means possible." Each film focuses on these struggles and attempts to escape them through imagination by characters at different stages in their lives; a thirty-something in Brazil, an elderly man in Baron Munchausen, and a child in this film.

That child is eleven-year-old Kevin. He's a history fanboy living a rather dull suburban life with parents who only care about having a better electric oven than their neighbours. One night a group of diminutive thieves sneak into his bedroom via his wardrobe (how Narnia of them). They used to work for the Supreme Being, fixing holes in the fabric of the universe, but then decide to go into business for themselves. They stole his map of those holes and are using it to roam the space-time continuum looking for rich people to relieve of their valuables and drag poor Kevin along with them.

For its first half, Time Bandits is a film in search of a story. Kevin and the bandits wander from time zone to time zone meeting famous actors playing famous historical figures such as a height-obsessed Napoleon (a fantastic Ian Holm, who sadly passed away today), Robin Hood (John Cleese, channelling every member of the Royal Family on a Royal visit), and King Agamemnon (Sean Connery, who sounds as Greek as haggis).


It isn't until David Warner’s Evil is introduced that some semblance of an actual plot starts to emerge. He wants the map so he can escape imprisonment in the appropriately named Fortress of Ultimate Darkness and remake the universe in his own technology-obsessed image. In a film full of scene-stealers, Warner easily waltzes off with the entire film.

Along with that unmistakable Python sense of humour (toned done a bit for the family audience), Gilliam’s visual flair is all over this film. The time-hopping nature of the film allows his imagination to run rampant, especially in the final act where Kevin and the bandits face-off against Evil in his fortress. Gilliam throws everything at the screen that his budget will allow: cowboys, knights, tanks and spaceships. It is all childhood fantasy brought to life. He even turns his villain into a merry-go-round because why the hell not?

Amazingly, the film even manages to get away with having a literal deus ex machina at the end. Just when it looks like Evil is about to triumph, the Supreme Being shows up and saves the day. Of the many different screen depictions of God, Time Bandits has to feature my favourite. In the early part of the film, the almighty appears simply as a scary floating head, chasing after the bandits for stealing his map. But in his true form he's nothing more than a doddering old civil servant, the type of bloke who won’t let you bunk off work just because you happen to be deceased, wonderfully played by Ralph Richardson.


Notes and Quotes

--Palin and Shelley Duvall pop up in a few time zones as a couple who just can’t seem to catch a break, regardless of what era they are in.

--Thanks to the financial backing of George Harrison (who also provided the catchy theme song), Gilliam was able to make the film he wanted without the type of studio interference he would later face making Brazil.

Evil: "If I were creating the world I wouldn't mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o'clock, Day One!"
(accidentally zaps one of his minions)
Evil: "Sorry."

Randall: "Do you want to be leader of this gang?"
Strutter: "No, we agreed: No leader!"
Randall: "Right. So shut up and do as I say."

Evil: "Oh, Benson... Dear Benson, you are so mercifully free of the ravages of intelligence."
Benson: "Oh, you say such nice things, Master."
Evil: "Yes, I know, I'm sorry."

Supreme Being: "I should do something very extroverted and vengeful to you. Honestly, I'm too tired. So, I think I'll transfer you to the undergrowth department, brackens, more shrubs, that sort of thing... with a 19% cut in salary, backdated to the beginning of time."
Randall: "Oh, thank you, sir."
Supreme Being: "Yes, well, I am the nice one."

Four out of four evil merry-go-rounds.

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

2 comments:

NomadUK said...

It's hard to think of a (nominally) children's film with so many great actors in it. Excessive talent just exuding all over the place. Absolutely brilliant.

magritte said...

I'm a big Terry Gilliam fan. Brazil is a contender for my favorite film and Twelve Monkeys would probably be in the top 20. And so I was a bit put off by your comment that Time Bandits is probably his most purely enjoyable film, but somehow I've never actually seen it. I guess I need to add it to my list.