Time Bandits (1981)
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Kevin (Craig Warnock), a young boy, is whisked away from his product obsessed parents when six dwarfs burst into his room one night and, in a moment of panic, take him with them as they try to escape the Supreme Being by fleeing through a magical portal. These dwarfs, Kevin soon thereafter learns, are former employees of the Supreme Being who, having stolen from him a map showing a number of passages through time, plan to enrich themselves by using the map to rob wealthy individuals living at different periods in history.

Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits is an inventive, charming film filled with a number of engaging, light-hearted adventures which are frequently enlivened with a pleasant and clever sense of humor.

Over the course of the movie, the protagonists travel to a variety of historical and mythical locations and meet a number of real and fictional individuals. These people and places are generally presented from Kevin's awed perspective, which gives them a wonderful magical quality. Nevertheless, the director's depictions of such distant lands and famous persons are, at the same time, often incisively witty. Napoleon (Ian Holm), for instance, is shown to be a long-winded, insecure bully who is entertained only by the sight of small things hitting one another. Agamemnon (Sean Connery) is revealed as a kind and gentle man who accepts Kevin as though he were his own child, and Robin Hood (John Cleese) is presented as an ineffectual buffoon leading a gang of brutal hoodlums. The viewer, seeing how these persons, whose lives and accomplishments are so familiar from historical and mythic accounts, are exposed as being completely different from his conceptions of what they would be like, will probably find much at which he can laugh.

Such feelings, however, do not prevent him from enjoying a real sense of excitement and adventure throughout the whole of the movie. Even though the heroes he meets are not what he thought they would be, such a realization does not keep him from being thrilled by meeting them. In fact, there is hardly a moment of the movie that is not simultaneously enchanting and exhilarating.

Time Bandits' final act is particularly suffused with a rousing sense of wonder and excitement. Consequently, even if such emotions have not already been kindled in the viewer's heart, they certainly will be stirred up before the film has arrived at its conclusion. Gilliam, having taken the moviegoer on a journey through history, continues on, in this last section, to the world of the supernatural and so gives the viewer the chance to be thrilled by and to laugh at the realms of myth and religion.

Having left the lands of men behind them, by taking a leap of faith from a piece of flotsam from the Titanic into the icy waters of the North Atlantic, and having thence travelled to the time of legends, Kevin and his companions encounter a number of fabulous entities, including an anthropophagous but gullible ogre with a bad back, a giant as tall as a skyscraper, and God's archenemy, the Evil Genius (David Warner), who cannot understand why his good counterpart invented slugs and parrots instead of computers and lasers. Like the historical figures to whom the viewer has already been introduced, these quizzical beings, and the strange places they inhabit, are, at once, bewitching and absurd. They are, as a result, truly engaging.

Finally, I should note that while Time Bandits is not Gilliam's most distinguished film visually, it is always a pleasure to look at. The director has filled his cinematic world with a vast array of outlandish costumes and odd places. At different points, he reveals to the viewer visions of an Italian city devastated by war, of a quaint Greek town nestled upon a hill, and of a quirky Medieval forest that seems to owe more to modern conceptions of that time than to anything else. His designs for the time of legends are, however, even more lovely than are those employed for these various historical places. The mountainous giant who rises up from the broad, misty sea upon which the ogre's cluttered, ragged ship is sailing and lifts that vessel upon his head as though it were a hat, the tiny thatched house of a family of trolls, upon which the giant treads, the vast desert littered with the skeletons of enormous monstrosities through which the heroes trudge, and the Evil Genius' gloomy, cavernous Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, which, as ominous as it is, is made of Legos, are all delightful, fantastic, and peculiar.

Time Bandits may not be a work of genius, but it is consistently entertaining, exciting, and humorous. It is certainly worth watching.

Review by Keith Allen

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