US Release Date: 11-06-1981
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
- Craig Warnock, as
- David Rappaport, as
- Kenny Baker, as
- Malcolm Dixon, as
- Mike Edmonds, as
- Jack Purvis, as
- Tiny Ross, as
- John Cleese, as
- Robin Hood
- Sean Connery, as
- King Agamemnon / Fireman
- Shelley Duvall, as
- Dame Pansy / Pansy
- Katherine Helmond, as
- Mrs. Ogre
- Ian Holm, as
- Michael Palin, as
- Ralph Richardson, as
- Supreme Being
- Peter Vaughan, as
- Winston the Ogre
- David Warner as
- Evil Genius
This is perhaps the most commercial of all films directed by Terry Gilliam.
Time Bandits is probably Terry Gilliam's most accessible film. Brazil will always be known as his greatest artistic achievement, but for sheer entertainment Time Bandits is one of his best. It is also his only real children's movie.
Co-written by Gilliam and fellow Python-alum Michael Palin, the story centers around a young boy named Kevin who is visited one night in his room by a group of midgets who are on the run from the Supreme Being of the universe because they've stolen his map. The map contains the location of all the "holes" in the universe. These holes are portals that lead to different places and time throughout history. These Time Bandits are planning to use the map to get rich by robbing people throughout history. The Evil Genius (The Supreme Being's opposite) however, sees the Bandits and their map as his chance to to escape from the Fortress where he has been imprisoned.
Palin, along with writing, also makes a couple of appearances alongside Shelly Duvall as two star-crossed lovers, with a comic difference of course. There are other celebrities who pop up in different places through the movie. Yet another Python, John Cleese makes a quick, but funny appearance as Robin Hood. And perhaps surprisingly in such a comic movie, Sean Connery makes a short but memorable appearance as King Agamemnon.
The movie at times seems to be a series of short stories. Kevin and the Bandits visit Napoleon. They visit Robin Hood, they travel on the Titanic, they encounter an ogre on a ship. That's the problem with the movie also because not every scene flows together. It really does come across at times as a string of vignettes. They build toward a climax, but not as tied together as they could have been.
Probably because of Palin's writing, this movie has a very Python feel to its humor at times. There's a game show that is referenced a couple of times that could have been taken straight from a Python sketch, called "Your Money or Your Life." Palin's love scenes with Duvall and Cleese's Robin Hood could equally have been Python sketches as well. They're the funniest parts of the movie but they don't necessarily help the narrative.
Like all of Gilliam's movies there is some striking imagery here. The giant maze and the cages hanging above them are well done and perhaps the most memorable is the giant who rises from the ocean with the ship on his head.
With a budget of just $5 million and a box office haul of over $40 million, this is probably one of Gilliam's most commercial of all films and also one of his most entertaining.
John Cleese and David Rappaport in Time Bandits.
The small budget is very clear as some of the special effects now look down right pathetic. The glowing head of the supreme being is one of the worst, yet Gilliam's attention to detail is still fascinating. I never noticed the giant LEGOs before, implying that this was all Kevin's imagination. He is shown early on being interested in history.
The Monty Python type jokes are the best moments. As Scott wrote, Vincent and Pansy could have appeared in any number of Python films or sketches. I laughed hardest at Robin Hood's assistant, who helps him hand out Christmas presents.
Although Time Bandits has some hilarious moments and a few impressive visual set pieces, it contains as many misses as hits. The Napoleon skit's lone joke, his height insecurity, drags on a bit. Having Connery make an appearance was a stroke of genius as even my 17 year old knows who he is. However, his scenes are played straight, and the film is best when trying to create laughter.
I got the feeling Gilliam and Palin put a bunch of thoughts on paper without viewing them as a whole. The basic idea of some time traveling midget thieves, robbing famous people in history, has lots of possibilities, but Gilliam changes course half way through. At first they meet historical figures, but then fantasy creatures slip in and the story loses any sense of continuity. By the end of the film it seems certain that it is all Kevin's dream, but Gilliam then ends it with a very dark joke.
Time Bandits has many interesting things going for it, but as a whole, is not a great film. I have never been a fan of Gilliam's films. He is very determined on the look of his films, but completely lost on executing cohesive plots.
Sean Connery and Craig Warnock in Time Bandits.
I’m 30 years late to the party but I thoroughly enjoyed this silly and imaginative movie. The action starts right away and you are whisked along on a wonderful adventure where you have absolutely no idea what is coming next. Time Bandits is the perfect mix of childish entertainment for the kiddies with quirky adult humor thrown in for the grownups. Many of the visuals hold up well and the movie features a rather old-fashioned take on God and the Devil.
I laughed at Cleese’s Robin Hood on his polite quest to redistribute wealth and agree that the Napoléon Bonaparte scene drags a bit. I laughed hardest though at the cranky old ogre with the bad back and his gleefully vicious wife.
Eric you mentioned the giant LEGOs but did you notice the cowboys, Greek archers, tank and spaceship that all attack the Evil Genius at the end were all toys in Kevin’s bedroom? I think the whole movie is meant to be a boyhood fantasy. Kevin’s parents ignore him at the beginning and are shown in an unflattering light. Kevin gets his imagined revenge on them at the very end.
Both God and the Devil are played for laughs with an underlying theme that stays fairly true to Christianity. At one point the Supreme Being comments, “Back to creation. We mustn't waste any more time. They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.” The Evil Genius’s best line is when he complains about the Supreme Being’s handiwork. “Slugs! HE created slugs! They can't hear. They can't speak. They can't operate machinery. Are we not in the hands of a lunatic?”
Gilliam is a master of the visually unexpected. The scene where the Giant arises from the sea, with the Time Bandits in their stolen ship on his head, remains impressive. Gilliam mercilessly has him step on - and squash flat like a bug - a small hut with a person inside.
Apparently a sequel nearly got made in the 1990s. I would love to see what Gilliam could do with these time traveling characters today. Time Bandits may seem a bit disjointed at times but I was entertained from start to finish by this creative and clever family comedy/adventure.
Photos © Copyright Handmade Films (1981)