- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
f you were a certain kind of boy or young teenager in the 80s, then there’s a good chance “Time Bandits” was a very important film for you. Sure, you loved “Ghostbusters,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Goonies,” but “Time Bandits” was special in a different way because not everyone else was in on it; it was seemingly dismissed even by most adults (well, the ones I grew up around anyway). For many young people, it was our first introduction to the whacked out joys of Monty Python, even if we didn’t realize it at the time, as “Time Bandits” is not a proper Python film. But half of the six-man comedy troupe is involved in the picture, and so when we finally got around to discovering Python, we recognized John Cleese and Michael Palin from this film. Little did we know, though, that all of Python’s strange animations were the handiwork of the guy that directed this piece. Wasn’t it refreshing to not have every fact and figure at your immediate disposal way back then? You picked up information over the years while actively seeking it out. Perhaps, as “Time Bandits” hints, computers really are the playthings of Evil.
However, it’s also possible you were not a certain kind of boy in the 80’s, or that you’ve never even seen “Time Bandits.” If so, let’s lay it out there. One night, 11-year old Kevin (Craig Warnock) lies in his bed. Out of his wardrobe tumble six dwarfs on the run from God (who here is referred to as the Supreme Being). He’s their employer and they build trees for him. But they’ve stolen a powerful map from God, and now travel around through history, attempting to loot the past for riches. Kevin follows, and finds himself in all manner of incredulous situations, such as meeting Robin Hood (John Cleese) and conning Napoleon (Ian Holm) out of his wealth. At the same time, Evil (David Warner, in one of his best roles ever) watches over, secretly plotting his takeover of the world via the map, and eventually, an understanding of computers. Exactly what is The Most Fabulous Object in the World, and can the inept group of thieves procure it?
As is probably to be expected, “Time Bandits” works on two different levels. There’s the fantasy/adventure angle for younger viewers, and a sharp, comical script loaded with observations and commentary for the adults. Much of the film’s satire revolves around consumerism and greed, and the lengths to which people will go in order to satiate such desires. Although John Cleese and Sean Connery get top billing (albeit alphabetical), the film’s stars are Warnock and the dwarf actors. David Rappaport plays the leader, Randall, and the emotional backbone of the film is really the relationship between him and Kevin, which is not even remotely a feel-good sort of thing. In fact, the dwarfs aren’t even particularly nice people, and in one segment, when Kevin is separated from them in Ancient Greece, he meets King Agamemnon (Connery), who is more of a father to him than his real father ever was. The dwarfs kidnap Kevin away from his new, perfect life, because they realize he’s actually smarter than they are, and they need him to further their schemes.
“Time Bandits” didn’t seem a particularly dark movie to me as a kid, but in rewatching it today, I find myself somewhat aghast at how cynical it really is (although even when I was young I realized how fucked up and bleak the final moments of the film are). This really should come as no surprise when you consider that Terry Gilliam unveiled “Brazil,” the ultimate dark, fantastical social commentary of the 80s, a few years later. (Gilliam was even trying to get “Brazil” made before “Bandits.”) While this was Gilliam’s third film (he’d previously co-directed “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and helmed “Jabberwocky” solo), it was the first in which he indulged himself seemingly every whim and idea. Every frame of the movie is crammed with detail, from the important to the trivial, and perhaps what’s most striking about it today is that all the effects are handmade (also the name of the production company – Handmade Films). This is a CGI-free picture, from back when there was no CGI, and it’s all the better for it. It’s a tangible universe; one that you can feel and believe in.
None of this is to imply it’s a perfect film – just that it’s an ambitious and fun one. While the movie spares little time getting going, it takes forever to end, and much of the big finish, in which Kevin and the dwarfs battle Evil, goes on for far too long, and undercuts some of the intelligence the film is rooted in. When the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson) shows up, the movie somewhat recovers, but even by then it feels as though the joke has perhaps gone on for a little too long. Yet these are nitpicks from someone who’s seen it countless times, and is possibly taking it all a bit too seriously. “Time Bandits” remains Fantasy 101, and a must-see for people who enjoy this kind of fare. While you’re at it, why not share it with an impressionable 10-year-old?
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Alas, this disc is something of a mild letdown. In the extras department it offers only the trailer and what I assume is an archival interview with Gilliam. Given the price of the disc, that would be forgivable if only the transfer were better. The first reel of the film (20-25 minutes) is littered with specks, crackles, and lines. I’m only about 9 months into the Blu-ray format, but I’ve yet to see a presentation quite so shoddy in that area. Once the film gets past that first section, they become less frequent, but still intermittently present.
To be fair, the picture behind the pops and dirt is comparatively sharp and impressive – it’s just a shame there are all those distractions along the way. By no means is it unwatchable, just unfortunate. The good news is that it’s got a pretty kickin’ 5.1 DTS track (alongside an optional and less dynamic 5.1 Dolby Digital track). The DTS track is crisp, clear and thumping. Real nice. Because of its huge following, I imagine it will only be a matter of time until someone releases a prettier and more in-depth version of “Time Bandits,” although there will likely be a higher price tag that justifies whatever work goes into this theoretical release.