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Time Bandits (1981)

March 25, 2011

8/10 Excellent Adventures

Would probably have a damn good chance of winning the Most Fun With Time-Travel Award if it hadn’t been for that damn Marty McFly.

Time Bandits is about a little boy with a vivid imagination, shitty parents, and a jones for history who finds himself on the journey of a lifetime when a gang of time-traveling dwarves walk out of his bedroom closet and take him hostage or something while on the lam from their boss, The Supreme Being. So as they jump from one century to the next with the intent of robbing blind every historical figure they meet along the way from Napoleon to King Agamemnon, an Evil Genius begins plotting a scheme to get his mitts on their time-travel map so that he can reign over all of creation like the jerk he is.

Since there are very few film makers out there who can pull off time travel, creationism and a cast led by half-a-dozen dwarves all in the same place, it should surprise absolutely no one that this here is the brainchild of Terry Gilliam. And as much as I love the guy and think he’s one of the greats, the thing about writing Gilliam reviews is that I’m starting to sound like a broken record.

A lot of it is stuff you need to see for yourself, but I’ll run it down anyway. It’s the epic set pieces, it’s the details that would drive a continuation director to take up alcoholism, it’s the Monty Python sense of humor, and it’s the feeling you’ve just entered into a gypsy funhouse that you don’t want to leave regardless of how strange things get. I’d rather not get into specifics because I don’t know how much my ranting about the brilliant way Gilliam turns a colander into a helmet will actually get people to see this, but the long and short of the matter is that it’s the whole package with this guy and each new effort is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. You know, ’cause every movie poster features a giant floating head with a pirate ship for a hat.

Alright, I’ve said enough. I love Terry Gilliam, he is a golden god, let’s move on.

So for the guy’s first jump into the world of time travel, he happens to do a damn good job with it. The reason it works is because he doesn’t get caught up with loopholes, altering the future, or any of the aneurysm-inducing hypotheticals that happen in Primer. Instead, he takes the Bill and Ted route (or vice-versa) and completely ignores cause-and-effect so that he can just have fun taking jabs at historical figures the whole time. And as much as I dug Primer, I’m a big fan of the “screw repercussions” approach to time travel when the whole idea is to just have to some fun.

So when our gang meets up with Napoleon, all he does is mope about his Napoleon complex, drunkenly rant about how all of history’s greatest conquerors were five feet or smaller, and laugh like a bastard at “little things hitting each other”. Then when our gang makes their way to Sherwood forest, Robin Hood ends up being this prim-and-proper fellow who shakes everyone’s hand like a Walmart Santa before gently asking them all, “And how long have you been a robber?” while his caveman-like band of merry man start punching out poor people for no real reason at all. Then you throw in a handful of segments with the Evil One blowing up cronies with his fingertips every time they try to point out that he’s actually not as powerful as the Supreme Being who created him, and I was flat-out howling.

There’s just a ton of great scenes that range from gut-busing to jaw-dropping and they only get more impressive as the plot continues. It’s the scene from the poster, it’s the dwarves staging a prison break like they moonlight with the crew from Cirque du Soleil, it’s the final showdown with the Evil One and the insanely inventive ways he takes out cowboys, Trojan archers, laser beams and tank shells, and then it’s the Supreme Being showing up like the British version of my grandfather and starts running train without even trying. Just some totally wild stuff.

But aside from all the “wow” factor, there’s actually a pretty cool anti-technology message that Gilliam slips in here. It’s actually pretty ahead of its time now that book stores on the outs and Kindles are taking over, and when you’ve got a story fueled by pure imagination like this, I don’t blame Gilliam for taking aim at Kevin’s gadget-crazy, TV-addicted parents. Makes me wanna kick myself for still thinking that the best Christmas present I ever got was a Sega Genesis. One can only gain so much from Sonic the Hedgehog.

And the cast is fantastic. Craig Warnock is mighty cute as our accidental time traveler, Kevin; John Cleese is steals the show as Robin Hood; Ian Holm is a rip as Napoleon; Sean Connery takes a nice little turn for the lighthearted as King Agamemnon; Michael Palin and Shelley Duvall have some choice moments as a couple divided by E.D., facial moles and male pattern baldness; David Warner is a goddamn riot as the Evil One; same goes for Ralph Richardson as the Supreme Being; and same goes for all six dwarves. Man, it is so cool that Gilliam up and cast little people as his leads. No idea how his producers gave him the go ahead with that one, but they’re absolutely perfect in the roles and the tone just wouldn’t have been the same with actors in the six-foot range.

So it’s no Brazil (then again, what is?) and some of the time periods don’t quite measure up to others, but Time Bandits is nevertheless a freaking hilarious trip through one of the most imaginative minds that ever got hold of a camera. Not sure why it took me so long to get around to this, but it definitely lives up to the cult reputation that surrounds it and it’s about as much fun as you can probably get out of a Gilliam movie.

Pretty bizarre ending though. Definitely wasn’t expecting anyone to get orphaned in the last 30 seconds.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Max permalink
    March 25, 2011 1:04 pm

    I have very fond memories of watching this movie during my childhood…Time Bandits was my pre-Star Wars “Awesome Movie”.

    • March 29, 2011 6:56 pm

      That is very, very cool, Max. If I had seen this at an impressionable young age, I’m sure I would have been obsessed with it. Great stuff.

  2. March 25, 2011 7:38 pm

    Ha! I just watched this! I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid and I was surprised at how well it held up. Totally agree about the casting, it’s superb! Great review.

    • March 29, 2011 6:57 pm

      Thanks! That’s crazy, man. Of all the movies to see at the same time. Glad you dug it, then again, I’d be surprised to meet someone who didn’t.

  3. HermioneO permalink
    April 1, 2011 5:22 pm

    Couldn’5t happen to a nicer boy.


  1. Time Bandits (1981) – What the Hell Should I Watch on NETFLIX?

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