Time Bandits (1981)

“To be quite frank, Kevin, the fabric of the universe is far from perfect.”

Time Bandits Poster

Synopsis:
A group of six greedy dwarves (David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Jack Purvis, Mike Edmonds, Malcolm Dixon, and Tiny Ross) steal a map of time holes from their leader, the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson), and take a young boy (Craig Warnock) with them on their treasure-seeking time-travel adventures; meanwhile, Evil (David Warner) covets the map for his own nefarious purposes.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, it’s “easy to see the influence of The Thief of Bagdad, Alice in Wonderland, and, especially, The Wizard of Oz” on this comedic adventure film, scripted by Terry Gilliam “with fellow [Monty] Python alumnus Michael Palin”. Yet Time Bandits is actually “totally opposite to them in theme”, given that (in Gilliam’s own words), “it is… a reaction against kids’ films which are wonderful but have no guts because they present children with false reassurance that everything will turn out all right… You give your characters strength by having them experience some of the nastiness [of the world]. I wanted to get back to Grimm.” Peary accurately points out that despite being “extremely fanciful and ambitious” — many of the historical and/or fantastical sets throughout the film are beautifully conceived — the movie ultimately “wears you out”, and could perhaps have benefited from an episode or two being cut. What he strangely neglects to note, however, is what a disappointing cop-out the film’s denouement is, with far too many narrative threads neatly tied up and simply explained away. Despite its flaws, however, Gilliam’s uniquely creative vision is in full force here, and fans of his work won’t want to miss this pivotal early entry in his oeuvre.

Note: The “true” ending of the film — after Warnock returns home from his adventures and confronts his parents — is utterly bizarre; it will surely leave you scratching your head in wonder.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The exciting opening sequence in Warnock’s bedroom
    Time Bandits Opening
  • Impressive set designs
    Time Bandits Sets
    Time Bandits Sets2
  • John Cleese as (among other characters) Robin Hood
    Time Bandits Cleese
  • David Warner as Evil
    Time Bandits Warner

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite by a unique director.

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One Response to “Time Bandits (1981)”

  1. As is…not must-see but since there’s no option but ‘as is’…a tentative once-must for budding ffs.

    I saw this on its release. I wasn’t keen on it then, and seeing it again now hasn’t much changed my opinion. I agree with Peary that the film wears its audience out. (A kids film like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ certainly doesn’t do that – in fact, every single time I see ‘TWOZ’, it’s over before I know it! …Clearly, Gilliam hasn’t a handle on a little necessity called ‘pacing’.) While the film has a clever premise and no shortage of ideas, bringing the story to satisfying cohesion is an uphill climb without a summit.

    But that may not be a problem for younger ffs who may not mind getting lost in the whimsy of it all. I agree with Peary that the film is too long and would benefit from significant tightening. A film running 90 minutes instead of 2 hours might have made all the difference.

    Plus some better dialogue. Much of what’s here is forced. Which is why the film only comes pleasingly alive in two cases. One is, alas, too short but nevertheless quite entertaining: Cleese as Robin Hood – spirited, enjoyable and well-played. The other is Warner as Evil: wonderfully thirsty for power (in a great costume), even as he is equally bored by the incompetent staff surrounding him. Warner is in enough of the picture that his performance alone could make a watch worth it. He and Cleese also have the benefit of fun things to say. The rest cannot be said for the rest of the cast, who still try hard to make their roles seem frolicsome.

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