" If I were creating the world I wouldn't mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o'clock, Day One!" -- Evil
The first image that struck a chord in me watching Time Bandits in the theater so many years ago is the opening. Seeing the blunt beginning, the map of the universe suddenly appearing on screen, then following the black squares down to the Earth and finally over the English town where we come to meet the hero, all reminded me of the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, of the glass elevator rising up and away over the mundane motif of houses crammed together over the earth.
As Wonka’s ending gave rise to thoughts of the possibilities the movie left open to Charlie and his future, the Time Bandits beginning drew me into the bland simplicity of the life of Kevin, the boy whose world opens before him in an unexpected and unusual way.
While on his extraordinary journey through time, meeting some of his heroes, Kevin unexpectedly finds some aspects of that world unappealing at best, and ultimately finds he can only control his own actions and reactions in it.
“What children’s film blows up a dog?" -- director Terry Gilliam
Time Bandits can be viewed as a simple, odd, children’s comedy from two of the famous Monty Python troupe, writer/director Terry Gilliam and writer/actor Michael Palin, but to do so does not do the film justice. Themes of greed, selfishness, obsession, the base stupidity of evil, self reliance, unconditional love, and the universal right versus wrong all come into play.
The performances are all winners in this film. Craig Warnock, whose older brother originally read for the role, is perfectly innocent as Kevin, a boy whose parents are less interested in their son than in watching the latest television game show and bemoaning their lack of the newest appliances on display there.
David Warner plays The Evil Genius, a role that he came to play under many names in his career, when he wasn‘t Jor-El in Lois & Clark, or soon-to-be shot in zero-G Chancellor Gorkon. Or
The great Ralph Richardson plays the Supreme Being, before he embarrassed the 17 or so people who paid to see Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes by sliding down stairs on a silver serving tray. I swear, I thought he actually died filming that scene. If James Lipton ever asks, when I reach the pearly gates, I expect to hear “Mr. Richardson will see you now."
Kenny Baker wears no tin can!
All the little guys, as Ian Holm’s Napoleon refers to great men of small stature, are fantastic, and unlike many fantasy films before and after this one, you can see the actors emote without make-up or masks as they play their roles!
The midgets are dressed like Parry!
When I realized Time Bandits was a Terry Gilliam film a few years ago (because who pays attention to the director’s name as a kid?), it struck me how much the movie was responsible for the style of the other films by Gilliam that I later enjoyed: 12 Monkeys, The Fisher King, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Criterion released several classic genre films, including Robinson Crusoe on Mars, The Blob, and Robocop. They provide this genre classic a good DVD treatment. The commentary track, edited from separate viewing of the film by director/writer Terry Gilliam, writer/star Michael Palin, stars Craig Warnock, David Warner, and John Cleese is informative and entertaining, but the lack of real interaction between the participants leaves it flat. (An aside to the folks at Criterion: Brazil and Fear and Loathing are in your fancy-dancy special editions. When do we get our Criterions of 12 Monkeys and The Fisher King? For extras, put the two lead actors from each film in the same room as they do them, please? Thank you.)
For more good midget action and Airplane-style comedy, see the underappreciated, under-funny Under The Rainbow, the first movie Carrie Fisher did after Star Wars but before her first breakdown. I think this is why she had the breakdown.
She admitted on The Tonight Show it was one of the worst movies she’d starred in. Chevy Chase was in it, too, but you don’t see him admitting it.
An unusually long theatrical trailer and a touching scrapbook of behind the scenes clips round out the extras. The scrapbook is dedicated to three of the film’s stars who are no longer with us: Jack Purvis (Wally), David Rappaport (Randall), and Tiny Ross (Vermin).
Here is a sample of the gang. My favorite is Jack Purvis as Wally. When Fidget meets his destiny, Jack’s acting is as real as it gets, folks. Listen to the DVD commentary for a great story involving Jack, Kenny Baker, and a degree of method acting.