“…Gilliam fearlessly brings the logic of children’s literature to the screen. Plunging headfirst into history, myth, legend, and fairy tale, Gilliam sends his characters—a boy and six good-natured if rather larcenous little persons (i.e. seven dwarves)—careening through time-twisting interactions with Napoleon, Robin Hood, and Agamemnon (played, respectively, by Ian Holm, John Cleese, and Sean Connery). The landscape is populated by the giants, ogres, and sinister crones of legend and fairy tale, all in the service of Gilliam’s weird, ecstatic vision.”–Bruce Eder, “Time Bandits” (Criterion Collection essay)
DIRECTED BY: Terry Gilliam
PLOT: 11-year old Kevin is largely ignored by his parents, who are more interested in news about the latest microwave ovens than in encouraging their son’s interest in Greek mythology. One night, a gang of six dwarfs bursts into his bedroom while fleeing a giant floating head, and Kevin is swept up among them and through an inter-dimensional portal in their scramble to escape. He finds that the diminutive and incompetent gang is tripping through time robbing historical figures using a map showing holes in the space-time continuum of the universe that they stole from the Supreme Being; things get complicated when Evil devises a plan to lure the bandits into the Time of Legends in order to steal the map for himself.
- Time Bandits is the first movie in what is known as Gilliam’s “Trilogy of Imagination” or “Trilogy of Dreams.” It deals with the imagination in childhood; the second movie, the bleak Brazil (1985), with adulthood; and the third, Baron Munchausen (1989) with old age. Gilliam did not intend from the beginning to make three films with similar themes; he only noticed the connection between the three films later, after fans and critics pointed it out.
- Gilliam began the script in an attempt to make something marketable and family-friendly, since he could not find anyone interested in financing his innovative script for Brazil. The success of the idiosyncratic Time Bandits allowed Gilliam to proceed making imaginative, genre-defying films.
- The film was co-written by Gilliam with his old Monty Python’s Flying Circus mate Micheal Palin, who is responsible for the snappy dialogue.
- Ex-Beatle George Harrison helped finance the film, served as executive producer, and is credited with “songs and additional material” for the movie. Only one Harrison composition is featured, “Dream Away,” which plays over the closing credits.
- Gilliam shot the entire movie from a low angle to give an impression of a child’s-eye view of the world.
- Sean Connery was not originally intended to appear in the final scene, but was meant to appear in the final showdown with Evil. The actor’s schedule did not allow him to appear when the battle was being shot, but Connery suggested that he could play a role in the final scene. His second, quite memorable, role consists of two shots, filmed in an afternoon.
- A low budget release, Gilliam’s film cost about $5 million to make but grossed over $42 million.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The avenging floating head of God appearing out of a cloud of smoke.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As an utterly original blend of history, comedy and theology wrapped in Monty Pyhton-eque verbal sparring and presented as a children’s fable, Time Bandits starts with a weird enough design. As the film continues and the bandits journey from history into myth, the proceedings get more mysterious and existential, until the flick winds up on a shatteringly surreal climax that is bleak enough to supply the most well-adjusted of kiddies with years of nightmares. As the tagline says, it’s “All the dreams you’ve ever had—and not just the good ones.”
Original theatrical trailer for Time Bandits
COMMENTS: Sandwiched between the Biblical parody of Life of Brian (1979) and the Continue reading 37. TIME BANDITS (1981)