Film review: Time Bandits (1981), directed by Terry Gilliam
Kevin (Craig Warnock) is a boy living with his parents somewhere in suburban Britain. One evening a knight bursts in through his wardrobe … and then mysteriously disappears, as if it never happened. Next time, Kevin is ready – only to find a group of dwarves (David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Malcolm Dixon, Mike Edmonds, Jack Purvis, Tiny Ross) bursting in on him instead. They claim to be robbers and have stolen a map of time holes from the Supreme Being.
The Supreme Being is not very happy about this, and chases them through a time hole. Kevin has ended up coming with them, and finds himself stealing from the rich: Napoleon (Ian Holm), and giving to the poor: Robin Hood (John Cleese). All the while, trying to outrun the Supreme Being.
At one point, they get separated, with Kevin ending up at the court of King Agamemnon (Sean Connery), where he wants to stay. The robbers have another idea, though. Meanwhile, an Evil Genius (David Warner) wants to break free from his dark fortress and take over the world, and that map would certainly be helpful.
Also starring Ralph Richardson as the Supreme Being (when he’s finally seen in the flesh), Michael Palin (who co-wrote the film with Terry Gilliam) as Vincent, Shelley Duvall as Pansy, Jim Broadbent as a Compere and Peter Vaughan and Katherine Helmond as the ogre couple.
It seems this film is set to be re-made in 2015, from what I can gather. We’ll see how that goes. Aside from the dated special effects, there’s really not much else to improve. I mean, how can you possibly hope to improve John Cleese’s brilliant Robin Hood portrayal? It’s more akin to a royal who has no clue about the world whatsoever, and I found it very amusing. Ditto Michael Palin.
This is a kids’ fantasy adventure film, and it’s coherent, funny – in a sort of not hysterically funny but still quite amusing type way – and quirky. It’s everything Brazil wants to be but isn’t, and it’s a much better watch because of it. There was no need to yawn and look at the clock here at all.
What I didn’t like about it was Kevin as a character. The young actor was fine, even though his lines were a bit … well, repetitive. Just that he shows up in ancient Greece, takes a shine to the king, who takes a shine to him, and decides just like that that actually yeah, he’ll stay there and become the adopted prince. “Won’t you miss you friends?” the king asks. “Nah,” says the boy. Err, okay, well, I suppose he could make new ones; he’s young after all. But what about his actual parents? “Whatever.” Eh? That’s not right. Sure, they weren’t model parents by any stretch of the imagination, but they weren’t exactly the Dursleys either! Not to mention the very end of the film, which was beyond belief. No, that was a bit creepy.
Other than that, a fun little adventure film with some of that Pythonesque bizarreness to it. Fun to see Kenny Baker outside of the R2D2 getup, and I really liked the banter amongst the dwarves. Napoleon was a lot of fun too, and okay, I can see the appeal in having a kind and just Sean Connery as a dad. The explanation of what the dwarves were before they were robbers was … interesting, shall we say? Time Bandits is an imaginative twist on the age-old tale of God and Satan. Who’d a-thought it?
3.75 out of 5 time holes.