Director: Terry Gilliam
Production Company: HandMade Films
Time Bandits is one of those wonderful films that I started watching many years ago, and somehow never got to finish (like Pulp Fiction – it was nearly ten years before I saw how it ended). Written alongside the Monty Python films, it shares many of the hallmark characteristics (and actors) of those inimitable televisual feasts, not the least of which is their complete and utter disregard for anything making any sense at all. Little Satis has not seen any Monty Python yet, but I suspect the time is coming.
In a nutshell, Kevin is a oppressed and imaginative 11-year-old who is whisked off by a band of six time-travelling dwarves in search of treasure, and on the run from the Supreme Being from whom their time map was stolen (still with me so far?). Enter a series of irreverent clashes with famous moments and figures in history, including Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Castiglione, Robin Hood, and the sinking of the Titanic. The seven eventually end up in the Time of Legends, face off with Ultimate Evil in the Fortress of Ultimate Evil, and are rescued by the Supreme Being. Supreme Being sets things right, sends Kevin back to bed, and everything ends with a hunky-oh-it-was-just-a-dream feeling. Only…
Not giving that one away. All I’ll say is the ending to Time Bandits is one of the most paradoxical and nonsensical moments I’ve ever seen in film, and Little Satis and I were discussing for days afterwards.
It was interesting to watch this film with Little Satis, for he hasn’t grown up with the same British humor that I did. This film, along with pretty much all of the Monty Python canon, is a blend of slapstick, nonsense and subtle wit, and there were a number of times when I had to point out to Little Satis why something was funny.
The poor are going to be absolutely thrilled. Have you met them at all?
Oh you must meet them – I’m sure you’ll like them. Of course, they haven’t got two pennies to rub together, but that’s because they’re poor.
This is followed by a fellow who decks every person they give gold to – because it is necessary, actually. Dear me…John Cleese as Robin Hood couldn’t be more perfect. Then again, he couldn’t be more perfect as Napoleon’s extremely tall general; watching Ian Holm as Napoleon Bonaparte descending into a drunken stupor whilst rambling about extremely short military conquerors of the past is one of the most exquisitely funny things I’ve seen. But this was lost on Little Satis of course, because they don’t teach kids about the Napoleonic Wars these days in third grade.
There are some surprising twists in the film, and they are twists of the tiny and subtle kind. A pivotal point is when Agamemnon is talking to Kevin about finding his friends and returning home. He asks Kevin if he wouldn’t like to be with his own mother and father again, and where pretty much any other film would take the heartstring-puller “yes,” Gilliam goes for the “no; it’s much better here.”
Given the limits of technology and budget of the time, the visual effects are splendid. It helps, I suppose, that in keeping with Monty Python’s aesthetic there are many effects which are quite deliberately “obvious”, but effective nonetheless: the giant who rises from the sea with their ship on his head is, of course, simply a man with a ship on his head. Other sets – in particular the scenes in the Fortress of Ultimate Evil – are striking and impressive, and the scene in which the dwarfs swing on ropes from great iron cages above a bottomless abyss is genuinely heart-stopping.
Gilliam hits all the right notes with this gem; from slapstick and nonsense to pithy wit and genuine emotion, he directs a seasoned cast in a delightful fantasy that never takes itself too seriously, yet somehow feels as though it has a serious point to make. If only we could work out what it is…
If anyone else has seen Time Bandits, what were your thoughts about the ending? Is it genuinely impossible, or am I missing something?