Friday, November 25, 2011

Time Bandits (1980)
UK --- fantasy

Dir: Terry Gilliam

This is one of my top 5 all-time favorite films. I have fond memories of watching this in the theaters, the holiday season of 1981. I was the perfect age to watch a movie like this, a children's film that didn't quite speak down to its intended audience, yet could totally entertain the adult. I'm amazed at how it stands up, and how much more I see in it as an adult, something only the Looney Tunes cartoons did for me. The film that probably gave Terry Gilliam more leeway into Hollywood, with cementing his rather odd cartoonish style of film making, "Time Bandits", was a welcome addition in a time replete of science fiction and fantasy movies. Hollywood was surfing on "Star Wars" mania, and churning out any and every kind of potential film of the ilk, including "Conan the Barbarian", "Blade Runner", "Tron", "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial", "The Road Warrior", "Escape From New York", et cetera. Yeah, "Time Bandits" could have easily gotten lost in that shuffle, had it not been so unique and came as the first in a string of Gilliam favorites.

For me "Time Bandits" is simply about the unlimited imagination of a child's mind. It is a snapshot taken from a child's perspective, from beginning to end. Though Gilliam very clearly paints his films with precision, this one is DaVinci using crayons. As Gilliam is stated to having based it on an idea about thieves who rob stuff from the past and take it to the future. The very fact it's a time travel film loosened from the confines of strict scientific rules is just refreshing as all get out. It shares in part of the films appeal, I believe. Python alum Michael Palin returns to acting duty and also helped sculpt the script. Essentially, the film is about a young boy named Kevin, who is neglected by couch potato parents who seem to barely acknowledge his existence. Kevin however, is a very imaginative kid, based simply on what's in his room.

At first, he imagines a shining knight on horse back galloping out of his closet and straight through his bedroom, or what becomes a forest and his bed in it. The very next night, Kevin awaits whatever else could possibly emerge from the wardrobe, and he is barraged by a group of midgets who appear right out of his own closet. They at first mistake him, and his glaring flashlight, for someone else, someone important. That is until they realize, he's not who they thought. They go after him and quickly realize he's just a boy, and in the scuffle happen to push one of the walls of his bedroom out. Just in time too, as the one they mistake him for, the Supreme Being, comes looking for them demanding the return of his time map. Kevin runs along with them in his bathrobe (a homage to "Hitch hiker's Guide to the Galaxy"?), and they fall into the time hole taking them to the time of the French revolution. They quickly happen upon Napoleon (played by great genre actor Ian Holm) himself, and mistaken for a troupe of performers. Napoleon is enamored with people shorter than himself, and befriends them, while the gang steal him blind. While the gang make off with the loot, they find the time portal to medieval times, and run into none-other-than some of Robin Hood's Merry Men. Meanwhile, Kevin begins to become none-too impressed with the gang of incredulous little people and their self-proposed leader Randall. Hood (played excellently by John Cleese) of course, secures their stolen goods for himself to distribute to the poor.

At this point, their arch-nemesis, Evil Genius (Utilizing Sam Peckinpah alum David Warner at his high-browed Brit-accented evil best), is seen watching the diminutive gang quarrel among themselves over the map, an item he covets for himself. Confined to the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, Evil Genius seizes an opportunity to get them to his own location, so he can obtain the map for himself. He hypnotizes one of the gang, namely Og, to convince the gang that within the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness lies "The most fabulous object in the world". However, the Supreme Being makes another appearance beseeching them for the return of the map. They find not one, but two time portals open up at the same time, and Kevin goes in the wrong one, sending him to back to ancient Greece. Now separated from the time bandits, he comes across the mythological King Agamemnon (played by Sean Connery), whom he quickly befriends as a father figure. Before long, though, the time bandits do catch up with him determined to spirit him away on their next journey, much to the reluctantance of Kevin. They end up on the SS Titanic (of course THAT Titanic),where Randall explains to Kevin his desire to seek out the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness for the aforementioned object. The problem lies in the fact the Fortress is not located on the map. When the Titanic sinks and the gang is out on the ocean, Randall surmises the only way to reach it is to simply believe, and sure enough a whirlpool opens (caused by Evil Genius) sending them into the time of legends where they come upon giants, trolls, and eventually the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness. The confrontation between Kevin and the time bandits ends up with them losing the map to Evil Genius, and needing to relie on their wits to escape the clutches of Evil.

"Time Bandits", in my opinion, is the film that probably put Terry Gilliam (pardon the pun) on the map. He cemented his visual style of low camera angles, shot in wide screen, multiple celebrity appearances, and a protagonist that the viewer may not feel all that comfortable in trusting by the time the credits roll. Though Gilliam would return to the sub genre of time travel with 1995's "Twelve Monkey's" starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, this film didn't quite take the scientific aspect so serious. It even features ex-Beatle, George Harrison's theme song on the end credits, which has his usual catchy guitar riffs and some interesting lyrics if you pay attention.

Gilliam has since claimed "Time Bandits" as the first in his trilogy of ages as "Time Bandits" is about childhood, "Brazil" is about middle-aged, and "The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen" is about old age. For me, one of the little enjoyable little tidbits I noticed about the film is David Warner. An actor who, back then was taking many villainous roles just because. I had first seen him in this film. Later on, I had seen him in "Time After Time" when it aired on television, and then of course "Tron". What's significant about these roles is he went from playing Jack the Ripper in "Time After Time" which resulted in him being stuck in "infinity", then going to play Evil Genius in "Time Bandits", in which his character states at one point the need to master computers, in which he will in "Tron" as Dillinger/ Master Controller. Hmmmm. Yeah, I leave it up to interpretation. Taking cues from legends, myths, fairy tales, and children's literature, Terry Gilliam evokes everything from "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe", "The Wizard of Oz", and "Alice in Wonderland". With all that added there are full touches of humor that can be enjoyed by the child and the adult, and a non-scientific, care-free journey throughout time, "Time Bandits" is an enjoyable family film.