Friday, January 15, 2016

Time Bandits Review

Director Terry Gilliam is known for creating some truly spectacular visuals in a time before digital special effects were possible. He's done a number of bizarrely fascinating movies including most of the Monty Python movies, Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, The Brothers Grimm and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. One of these strange movies, Time Bandits (1981), which seems to be aimed at kid audiences, was also bizarre enough that I couldn't take my eyes from it. Yet there wasn't enough actually going on to hold my interests otherwise.
Young history buff Kevin (Craig Warnock) can scarcely believe it when six dwarfs emerge from his closet one night. Former employees of the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson), they've purloined a map charting all of the holes in the fabric of time and are using it to steal treasures from different historical eras. Taking Kevin with them, they variously drop in on Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese) and King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) before the Supreme Being catches up with them. But, in the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness lies Evil (David Warner) who is also after the map and wants to use it to redo all of creation in his own dark image.
There are a variety of celebrities making appearances here, including Peter Vaughan, Shelly Duvall, and Katherine Helmond, among others. Sean Connery received top billing in the movie even though he, like most of the other celebrities, appeared only appeared for maybe twelve minutes all together. They did make fun characters, even if they were small parts.
The visuals are absolutely fascinating. The special effects are highly detailed and all were done without computers. So many of the special effect heavy scenes were mesmerizing. I couldn't take my eyes away and kept wondering how they actually did some of the effects. The way some of the special effects were done was a bit obvious, but others were so bizarre I can't for the life of me imagine how they were done without computers. Even when there aren't abstract special effects, the structure of the camera shots were also highly detailed. It makes the whole movie experience hard to look away.
The story here is pretty simple and frankly repetitive. Basically, it's just a kid and six dwarfs racing breathlessly through one set piece after another, shouting at one another. There's not really a well established goal other than avoid the Supreme Being and Evil. The story is episodic; most of the segments of the movie could be put in just about any order. In the hands of a less detailed and meticulous director, I doubt this movie would have done as well.
On the surface, this seems like a pretty kid friendly movie. Our main protagonist is a kid, the characters are wacky and fun, there's no crudity or vulgarity, in fact it remains safely in its PG rating. However, I think the bizarre visual effects and surreal fantasy elements might make Time Bandits a bit too creepy for young kids. Even innocuous scenes such as when Kevin and the Dwarfs are trapped in a cage with literally no background other than a black void in all directions would have been a bit difficult for my six-year-old self to wrap his brain around. Some of Evil's henchmen were tall figures with flowing black robes, horned animal skulls for heads and large hook-shaped arms; the costumes were simplistic, but would probably be too scary for some young viewers. I don't necessarily think this is something that should be kept from kids, but maybe wait until they're a little older and can handle creepy imagery.
Time Bandits is a remarkable time-travel fantasy whose fantastic set design and homemade special effects create a vivid, original universe, but left me feeling ambiguous. It has a great cast, but a weak characters. It has incredible visual effects and camera work, but a flimsy story in which they are framed. It seems to be intended for kids, but looks like something that would creep out kids rather than entertain them. Apparently enough snooty film critics thought that Time Bandits was important enough to add to The Criterion Collection, a video-distribution company which specializes in licensing " important classic and contemporary films" and selling them to film aficionados. I recommend seeing Time Bandits only because the visuals are so fascinating, not so much because it's good. If it sounds too weird for you, then it probably is and you're probably better off not seeing it.

What is the weirdest movie you've ever seen as far as visuals go? Comment below and tell me about it!


  1. I'm going to have to see this movie again, because of your review here. I only saw it once when I was 11, and at the time I was utterly convinced it was by far the worst movie ever made, far beyond anything that MST3K would even dare to touch. Even after The Phantom Menace came out, I remember saying to myself, "Wow, that was an awful movie, but at least it wasn't as bad as Time Bandits!" Now, it has been almost 20 years since I last saw this film, so especially after a review like this, I'm going to have to give it another try. Thanks for all your reviews, as always!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.