Time Bandits (1981)

Terry Gilliam was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1940 and went to the Occidental College in Los Angeles where he got a degree in political science, but spent most of his time writing and making illustrations for campus magazines. His early inspirations included Mad magazine, which at the time was edited by a man named Harvey Kurtzmann; in fact, one of his early after-college jobs was for Kurtzmann's new humor magazine Help!, where it was during a photographic comic strip shoot that he met and first worked with famous British comedian John Cleese. Then in the late sixties, he and his family moved to England and took British citizenship, and through Cleese's connections he got a job at the BBC, as an animator on the subversive children's series Do Not Adjust Your Set.

After Do Not Adjust Your Set ended, Gilliam and three of the show's cast members collaborated with Cleese and one of his comic cohorts to produce an adult sketch comedy series.

And thus was born:

Gilliam is best known as the off-camera member of the Monty Python troupe. His main contribution to the Flying Circus was more behind-the-scenes - he made the little cut-out animations that linked the live-action sketches together. As the series went on, he eventually started appearing more and more on stage and started moving away from making cartoons, and by the time he made his directorial debut alongside Terry Jones with Monty Python and the Holy Grail, he had caught the directing bug. His first solo gig as director was the 1977 cult movie Jabberwocky, which wasn't very well received by critics and audiences but was the first of a number of movies that would go on to achieve cult status.

For the next few updates we will look at a specific trifecta in his filmography unofficially refereed to as

Nice, huh? Made it myself.

Three Terry Gilliam movies made throughout the 1980s that examine the world of imagination through the eyes of three different people.

through the eyes of a child.

through the eyes of a white-collar worker.

through the eyes of an old man.

Come with me now to a three-ring circus of fantasy, escapism, and eye-popping cinematography. Plus, if you're all real good, I'll give you a treat when we're done.

All the dreams you've ever had...and not just the good ones...

The 1980s were a golden age for sci-fi/fantasy movies. Before hobbits, teenage wizards and CG effects dominated the market, you had movies like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Tron, The Neverending Story, Gremlins, Ghostbusters one AND two, the original Indiana Jones and Conan the Barbarian movies, two of the first three Star Wars films, Blade Runner--groundbreaking films that set benchmarks for the genre and have withstood the tests of time, harsh critics and varying degrees of success at the box office to become the cult classics we know and obsess over on the Internet today.

And who better to get a piece of the action than Monty Python's in-house animator?

Produced by ex-Beatle George Harrison's movie company Handmade Films, the people who brought you Life of Brian, Nuns on the Run and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Gilliam's third ever film Time Bandits was his attempt to make a whimsical, family-friendly fantasy movie in hopes of persuading the people at Handmade to get a little film he had written titled Brazil made. He hadn't done a film in two years when shooting began, and the only studio that would distribute it was a mid-major that hadn't had a hit in a long time, so he wasn't certain it'd sell twell, but it went on to become his most successful film in America and went on to set the tone for his future films.

The film stars a young child named Kevin (young Craig Warnock), a very imaginative boy who is very fascinated with history, who lives with his parents who are more obsessed with sitting on their plastic-wrapped furniture watching corny prime time game shows, talking about fancy high-tech appliances and yelling at Kevin for making too much noise.

That night after he goes to sleep, a white knight on horseback crashes through his closet door and runs through a sylvan glen that used to be his bedroom wall.

It turns out he dreamed this.

Not much comes from this scene, as it is never brought up again for the rest of the movie.

The next night, armed with a camera, a satchel and a flashlight, Kevin goes to bed awaiting the next strange thing coming through his bedroom.

And something does.

It turns out to be six small men carrying a strange map and looking for a way out of his bedroom.

These small men are revealed to be former employees for the Supreme Being (or God or whoever you want) hired to help keep Creation running. Feeling unappreciated, they decided to steal a map of the time-space continuum and use it to travel through time holes, burgling people along the way. I can't really tell who's who amongst our merry men, but I CAN tell you that their self-appointed leader is played by notable midget actor David Rappaport, one of them is Kenny Baker, who is best known to us all as the lovable R2-D2, and another of them is Jack Purvis, of whom we'll be seeing quite a bit throughout this trilogy.

Their first stop is the Battle of Castiglione in 1796, where we meet the great French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte (Ian Holm), who is, true to the stereotype, short, but not only does he not feel insecure about it, but he's also obsessed with them. Especially when they're hitting each other with things. Naturally, he likes the bandits so much he makes them all generals.

Ehh, those other two guys are probably just compensating for something.

Next they travel to medieval England, where they meet Robin Hood and his band of--

Wait...isn't Robin Hood a fictional character?

Ehh, he's played by John Cleese, so who cares.

(Speaking of fellow Pythons, look for co-screenwriter Michael Palin appearing with Shelley Duvall a couple of times as an ill-fated couple the bandits keep running into.)

"You call me 'Little John', I'll smash yer face in."

Throughout all this, they are constantly monitored by a being known only as Evil (played by David Warner, whom you may remember was all three baddies from Tron) and his cadre of plastic-wrapped minions. Evil has harsh criticisms for the Supreme Being's designs for the universe ("Forty-three species of parrot! NIPPLES FOR MEN! SLUGS!!") and feels he would run things much better if he and his more technologically-minded...mind were put in charge. So he tricks one of the bandits to suggest they travel to his lair at the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness within the Time of Legends, where the Most Fabulous Object in the World exists, so he can steal the map and rewrite the universe to his whims.

Yeah. Fortress of Ultimate Darkness. Nothing can happen to them there, right? And hey, the Most Fabulous Object in the World. I'd say that's worth a trip.

"Wait till they get a load of ME."

Kevin gets separated from his companions and visits ancient Greece, coincidentally his favorite period in history. He arrives in time to save the life of King Agamemnon (played by Connery...Sean Connery) and the two of them hit it off really well. The king even decides to adopt him and throws a huge party to celebrate...which the bandits crash to rob him and take Kevin back with them.

Kevin's had so much fun in ancient Greece that the boat ride he and his friends have wound up on isn't doing much to lighten his now-sour mood.

Neither is the fact that the boat they're on turns out to be the Titanic.

"So, Kevin, where did you go over summer vacation?"

Right about now, Evil takes it upon himself to jump start the plot and send them through a hole straight to the Time of Legends.

From this point, things get kinda surreal.


They hijack a ship manned by Peter Vaughan dressed like an ogre and his wife from Who's The Boss, hitch a ride on a giant's head and break a giant pane of glass to reach the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, where Evil uses illusions of a brand-new kitchen set and Kevin's parents as his "Most Fabulous Object in the World" ploy to trap them and run off with the map. Kevin and company escape and steal the map back, one of the bandits gets turned into a pig, another one of them dies, and the other ones look for time holes and come back with a space rocket, a tank, some knights, some cowboys and some archers, none of which turn out to be very effective against Evil, but before HE can launch an attack of his own, he suddenly turns into stone and...explodes.

I don't think the description in the previous paragraph does that whole chain of events justice. You're gonna have to watch it for yourself to see how crazy it is.

"It's only a model."

Then the Supreme Being shows up in the form of Ralph Richardson in a fancy suit. He recovers the map, changes everything back to normal, rehires the bandits and orders them to clean up the mess, particularly all the chunks of concentrated Evil lying around. They leave Kevin behind wondering why they're leaving him behind, with a smoldering chunk of David Warner they forgot to pick up .

Then Kevin wakes up in his bedroom to find it filled with smoke and some firemen (one of whom looks very much like Agamemnon) breaking his door down to rescue him. Seems his house caught on fire while he was asleep and his parents were too concerned with saving their appliances to see to the safety of their offspring.

Kevin finds out he still has the Polaroids from his adventures in ancient Greece, as well as the one with his midget friends holding up the map.

It turns out the source of the fire was a bit of concentrated Evil in their toaster oven. Despite Kevin's warning, his parents touch it and...explode.

Yes. This actually happens.

Then the firemen just...ride off.

And then...the credits roll.

There's your metaphor: finding a turd in your fancy-schmancy newfangled toaster oven.

Time Bandits has one of the most double-u-tee-eff endings I've ever seen in a movie. Kevin's parents are obviously an argument against modern materialism, and you could say they get what they deserve in a sense, but it kinda comes right out of nowhere, and with everything else that happens, it gets a tad confusing. It's sort of implied that Kevin could probably go looking for a time hole and have his own adventures, now that he doesn't have a materialistically-grounded Mom and Dad holding him back, but it's laid out so loosely that it's hard to understand what's going on if you're watching it for the first time.

That's really the only major complaint that I have, because other than that, the movie's pretty good. The dialogue is very witty, the visuals and special effects are breathtaking, and the characters are very energetic and rambunctious. Some of it might be a little scary for the more sheltered, impressionable kids, but everyone else should have a ball.

One down, two to go...

Hey, look..."Mini" Python's Flying Circus! Heh heh...sorry.

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