Time Bandits (1981)

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 in Fantasy/Adventure | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Some genuinely creepy characters, mild violence, and jokes at the expense of Christianity.

Before Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, imaginative director Terry Gilliam collaborated with another Monty Python alum (Michael Palin) to write this excellent adventure, which blends the evils of Capitalism, the simplicity of Christianity, and some of the best moments in history for a one-of-a-kind quest.

The film follows six little people: Randall (David Rappaport), Fidgit (Kenny Baker, of R2D2 fame), Strutter (Malcolm Dixon), Og (Mike Edmonds), Wally (Jack Purvis), and Vermin (Tiny Ross). The group was once the entire staff of the tree and shrub department for The Supreme Being (a brilliant Sir Ralph Richardson). Shortly after getting sacked, the group stumbled across a map showing all of the holes in the imperfect universe (they only had seven days to create it, after all). These holes allow them to travel in and out of various moments in history, where they hope to become international criminals by stealing from the wealthy.

During their first trip through time, they stumble across present-day 11-year-old Kevin (Craig Warnock), who reluctantly joins them as they meet figures such as the height-obsessed Napoleon (Ian Holm), “jolly good” Robin Hood (John Cleese), and heroically kind (despite his fate) King Agamemnon (Sean Connery). Meanwhile, The Evil One (David Warner) is trapped in The Fortress of Ultimate Darkness and his only key out is the map. In order to trick the money-grubbing troupe into coming to the fortress, he boasts “The Most Fabulous Object in the World.” Once out of the fortress, The Evil One plans to recreate humanity in his image.

“If I would have created a world I wouldn’t mess around with butterflies and daffodils. I would start with lasers 8 o’clock Day One,” he says. “God isn’t interested in technology. He cares nothing for the microchip or the silicon revolution. Look how he spends his time: 43 species or parrots, nipples for men, and slugs.”

The film carries boatloads of clever religious Bandits3 jokes, and perhaps even more attacks on the society comprised of mindless, greedy Capitalists. While the adults can enjoy those, the kids will get a kick out of the fantastic sets and strange characters (including a mean ogre with a bad back and traditional English housewife). Together, parents and kids will both enjoy the unconventional story, which unfolds in a fascinating and visually compelling way (as most early Gilliam films do). But it also carries some dark moments and creepy images (as all Gilliam films do) – including a bleak ending.

While a typical film of this nature would look at the cuteness factor of the child protagonist or the little person actors, Gilliam considers those elements in a matter-of-fact fashion. It is merely through their eyes that we experience these whimsical spaces he creates, giving a purer, vulnerable, and more innocent viewpoint. After all, we couldn’t very much empathize with the gameshow-gasping, appliance-desiring adults that cover all their furniture with plastic.

It’s endlessly funny, as well, with several clever cameos.

“How long have you been a robber?” Robin Hood asks Wally.

“Four-foot one,” Wally replies.

“Good lord. Four-foot one? Well that is a long time, isn’t it?” Hood confusingly retorts.

But this film is not an all-out slapstick extravaganza typical of Python. Instead, Time Bandits is an artistic, smart, and (most importantly) fantastical adventure. It’s a shame Gilliam has been labeled a studio nightmare, what with all the missed deadlines and ever-increasing budgets. But since you’re never likely to see him with as much creative license, it makes Time Bandits that much more rare.

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