A hugely talented but socially isolated computer operator is tasked by Management to prove the Zero Theorem: that the universe ends as nothing, rendering life meaningless. But meaning is what he already craves.
A young boy's wardrobe contains a time hole. Through this hole an assortment of short people (i.e. dwarfs) come while escaping from their master, the supreme being. They take Kevin with them on their adventures through time from Napoleonic times to the Middle Ages to the early 1900s, to the time of Legends and the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness where they confront Evil.Written by
During a storm in a forest towards the end of the Robin Hood sequence, just as Randall says "don't rush me!", a stagehand is visible to the right of the frame operating an off-screen smoke machine. See more »
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Dad, did you know that the ancient Greek warriors ...
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At the end of the credits the scene where the Bandits have their photo taken is replayed. See more »
At least one version shown on US television cut the sequence of the knight bursting out of Kevin's closet and much of what came after that (Kevin's Dad telling him to keep the noise down, breakfast the following morning, etc.) This truncated version goes right from Kevin getting into bed to the Time Bandits emerging from the closet, but retains the rattling closet doors that announced the knight's arrival. See more »
Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits is that rare thing a kid's film that really understands and respects children. It is also, after the hotch-potch of Jabberwocky, Gilliam's first fully-fledged feature film.
Time Bandits is about the power of a child's imagination, particularly in the face of the dullness of bland TV. Kevin's family home, packed with high-tech labour-saving devices, seems cramped and puckered up, and is dwarfed by the grandeur of the historical settings. It's not an anti-technology statement as such, but more an attack on the impersonal nature of modern gadgetry, which Gilliam would come back to in his masterpiece, Brazil.
This is also a film about the problems of childhood. Kevin is ignored by his parents, and his imagination is stifled. But when he is with the dwarfs, he becomes listened to and respected. It's the antithesis of the statement "children should be seen and not heard". Gilliam also goes a long way to creating a "child's (or dwarfs) eye view", both physically, keeps his camera at waist height (making Ralph Richardson look absolutely huge) and in terms of the film's outlook. For example, most of the comedy comes from ridiculing the worries of the adult world Napoleon's anxiety over his height, the ogres mid-life crisis and, of course, Michael Palin's "problem".
The fact that the story is about time travelling allows Gilliam to flex his imagination to the greatest extent since his days as Monty Python animator. Travelling from one historical setting to another, and eventually into the realms of fantasy, Gilliam must really have felt like a kid with the biggest train set in the world (to paraphrase Orson Welles). The story is incredibly fast-paced and we never dwell too long in one era, but Gilliam still manages to cram as many ideas as possible into each setting. The fifteen minutes or so set in the middle ages is funnier than the entirety of Jabberwocky. One of the few similarities to Jabberwocky in fact is Gilliam's warts-and-all portrayal of history.
And how could I forget to mention the dwarfs? This is their picture too, and alongside the ideas about childhood this is also a rarity in that it actors with dwarfism a chance to play real characters, rather than just be body type "specialists". And there truly are some great actors among them. David Rapapport (Randall), who had the most acting experience, clearly relishes his role, but the real standout is Jack Purvis (Wally). His performance is the most powerful, and in the later scenes in particular he manages to convey so much emotion in the way he moves and the way he screws up is face.
The cast is good all round in fact. Gilliam would frequently cast against type in his later work, and while that's not quite the case here there's an eclectic mix of cameos that creates some very unusual but brilliant characters. Although it's quite small, this is my favourite Sean Connery performance he shows real warmth and fatherliness, and clearly took the role seriously in spite of it being a small part in a cheap film. Ian Holm and John Cleese vie for funniest role as Napoleon and Robin Hood respectively (by the way, for those who don't know, Cleese is basing his portrayal on Prince Phillip). And Time Bandits also ends centuries of theological debate by proving once and for all, that Ralph Richardson IS God.
When I first saw this as a kid of about the same age as Kevin himself, I was really disappointed by the ending. It's not a sad ending as such, it just makes you go "uh?" In fact this is kind of a Gilliam trademark plenty of his films end with the good guys technically winning, but with the hero ending up worse off. It's also an ending that is appropriate even though it's tough for kids to accept, because as much as anything else Time Bandits is about the end of childhood. Along his journey Kevin learns that sometimes heroes aren't all they're cracked up to be, and also that the most important thing in the adult world is money. Finally, he is abandoned and left to fend for himself the comfortable world of childhood has gone.
I'll also mention an interesting little fact about George Harrison's involvement in this film. As many people know, the ex-Beatle executive produced Time Bandits. He had various ideas about how the film should be made and frequently clashed with Gilliam. In the end, Gilliam managed to overrule him, and Harrison's only contribution to the finished product was writing the song that plays over the end credits. It's a great tune (Harrison was in my opinion the best songwriter in the Beatles), but as Gilliam points out in his commentary, the lyrics are actually nothing to do with the film. They are in fact an anti-Gilliam rant, something which the director himself only realised (to his amusement) after the picture was released.
Time Bandits is a film about a child's imagination being set free but it is really Gilliam's imagination that is being set free. It's the first time he really escapes from the shadow of Monty Python, and paved the way for future masterpieces.
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