|cast: Craig Warnock, David Rappaport, John Cleese, Sean Connery, Ian Holm, and David Warner
director: Terry Gilliam
106 minutes (PG) 1981
Time Bandits, despite being over 20 years old, has hardly aged. Yes, the computer graphics and fashions have dated, but the film is still fresh, imaginative, and as wonderful as it was all those years before.
It is one of those curious beasts, which appeals to both children and adults: it has no bad language or nudity, so Great Aunt Maude could watch it comfortably, and it also doesn’t patronise children: the main character, Kevin (played by Craig Warnock, who seemed to disappear from acting, which is a shame), is portrayed as quite possibly more intelligent than his parents. It is essentially a Grimms’ fairytale, but given a modern day setting, and is second only to Brazil when it comes to an incredibly bleak and downbeat ending (which isn’t surprising considering both films are directed by the superb Gilliam).
The film’s central premise, which was thrashed out by writers Gilliam and Palin in Gilliam’s kitchen (as stated in the informal and informative interview with the two men on the disc), concerns the young Kevin – whose bedroom wardrobe is a gateway to another dimension (a hint of C.S. Lewis, there) and from that wardrobe the Time Bandits emerge – a group of dwarfs, led by the enigmatic Randall (David Rapparport) – who worked for the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson) and decided to ‘borrow’ the Star Map (which detailed all the interconnecting points in the Universe) for some old fashioned plundering.
Kevin inadvertently teams up with these bandits, who are not only pursued by the Supreme Being, but also the Evil One (David Warner, wearing the very Giger-esque headpiece and quite possible the best devil on screen). Encompassing a journey from ancient Greece, onboard the Titanic, and ending in an unexplained fabled land of giants, Gilliam crams the running time with plenty of laughs, knowing nods, wonderful characterisations and performances, and into a film for all the family to enjoy.
Warner’s Evil One is decidedly scary, even for big kids; Richardson portrays the Supreme Being as a public school headmaster to a tee; Sean Connery is Sean Connery, even if he is playing Agamemnon; John Cleese’s portrayal of Robin Hood as a slightly condescending man is wonderful; and Ian Holm’s turn has a height-obsessed Napoleon holds his own against the other acting heavyweights in this film.
How George Harrison and Denis O’Brien (of Handmade Films) managed to acquire Connery or Richardson for this low-budget, silly film is quite beyond me, but they definitely add a touch of kudos to the production, and definitely elevates it, thus allowing more people to view Gilliam’s superb visual sense and imagination. The film has many wonderful design features, especially the Evil One’s lair made up of various pieces of toy paraphernalia from Kevin’s bedroom, which begs the question whether the film is purely a figment of his mind, or something else?
Overall, the film is a wonderful piece of cinematic fantasy, directed by a true visionary in Terry Gilliam. It is actually a great sister film to Brazil, with the basic similarity being the erosion of individualism and the rise of commercialism – the classic example being Kevin’s parents sitting on chairs covered in plastic sheeting, and glued to a television game show. This is a worthwhile purchase – more so if you’re a fan of Gilliam – but any fan of fantasy cinema should watch it.
On the DVD side, you get a pristine re-mastered 2:35.1 widescreen print and sound; a commentary from director Gilliam (with Craig Warnock); the aforementioned informative interview with Gilliam and Palin; a couple of trailers; a storyboard of a deleted scene, plus a few more bits and pieces.