The Time Bandits
The Time Bandits – 1981 | 116 mins | Fantasy, Adventure, Comedy | Colour
Terry Gilliam‘s lavish, nightmarish fantasy is perhaps the most successful attempt at capturing the wild, adventurous, exciting imaginations and dreams of childhood. A rip-roaring journey through time, space and historical characters, the contrast is between little Kevin’s obsession with books and his parents’ disinterest, with total commitment to modern gadgets and a tedious life revolving round television game shows.
This heralds’ Gilliam’s celebration of the imagination with the boy’s bedroom suddenly invaded by the spirits of adventure. The powerful sequence as a knight on horseback bursts through his wardrobe is the start of almost two hours of flights of fancy, clearly embracing the childhood memories of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with the land of fantasy obtainable through your own room, while capturing the essence of imagination perfectly on film. Although overshadowed and over-billed by the starry array of impressive cameos, the real stars of the film are David Rappaport and his gang, crusading through holes in the universe, using and abusing their stolen information and clearly enjoying some major acting opportunities.
However the height of the six map-pinchers is only used in the narrative during the first historical interlude, during Napoleon’s day, with Ian Holm’s childish, paranoid leader clutching the gang to his heart as they are even smaller than him. Holm is a delight, bickering with his minions, relishing the mini scenes of violence included in the Punch and Judy show and playing the stunned, straight-faced amazement of the gang’s reworking of Me and My Shadow with utter perfection. It’s one of the highlights of the entire film, and Holm’s skilful under-playing is the icing on the cake. Of course, it’s all a trick to find favour with the great man, enter his luxurious abode and pinch all his valuables, with the deed being done as Holm drunkenly mumbles on about the various heights of world dictators.
That’s the beauty of the plan, stealing stuff and then making a quick, untraceable exit through the mists of time. The resulting skip through the decades results in a crash landing into a romantic interlude between Michael Palin and Shelley Duvall, allowing the Python to turn on the British nervousness and girl shy ramblings.
John Cleese was perfect casting for the ever-so- frightfully polite and well-spoken Robin Hood, charmingly greeting his unexpected guests and relieving them of their booty with supercilious grins and warm handshakes. The setting is wonderful Middle Ages, Gilliam’s direction brilliantly contrasts the reality of the age with Cleese’s Hood, straight out of a Kays catalogue of historical rogues, resplendent in Lincoln green, smothered with niceties and television convention, sporting an oversized, symbolically comic hat and overflowing with delicious, sarcastic lines.
In the less comically oriented section of the film, Gilliam’s talent for historical dramatics is well illustrated before the roving gang of time bandits finally track down the happy as Larry Kevin and drag him back into play. As a sort of counterbalance to the muscles and sandals antics of the Connery segment, the film incorporates a moment of pure comedy. Rappaport’s ordering of more champagne, ‘with plenty of ice!’ is followed by a camera pan onto the ship’s ring bearing the legend S.S. Titanic.
Later, Peter Vaughan’s groaning Ogre with back pains and Katherine Helmond’s sickly sweet wife add to the great roll-call of thespians, but nothing is quite as impressive as the casting for Time Bandits embodiments of pure evil and pure good. David Warner‘s charming Devil, full of dark one-liners, fiery temper and an obsession with the power of modern technology for the development of evil, is an immaculate picture of anger, furiously hitting out at any point against him and, memorably, in considering one ill-fated follower’s idea he mutters ‘Good question’. Smooth, fiendish and sophisticated, Warner’s nemesis is a very brief bit of ancient bewilderment from Sir Ralph Richardson, playing God like a smart-suited businessman, calm, cool and collected, with a fine line in ‘told you so’ observations and acts of life giving miracles. In a brilliant, throwaway mutter to himself, Richardson comments, ‘Well, I am the nice one!’ It’s a moment of class acting that will sent shivers down the spine of any devotee of pure class. If Brazil is undoubtedly Gilliam’s masterpiece, Time Bandits has to he his most fun picture.
Review© Robert Ross: Monty Python Encyclopaedia.
Terry Gilliam: Director
Norman Garwood: Art Direction
Peter Biziou: Cinematography
Hazel Cote: Costume Design
James Acheson: Costume Design
JuliÃ¡n Doyle: Editing
George Harrison: Original Music
Mike Moran: Original Music
Terry Gilliam: Producer
Milly Burns: Production Design
Michael Palin: Script
Terry Gilliam: Script
Garth Marshall: Sound Department
John Bunker: Special Effects