Little Wonder – A Tribute to Time Bandits

 Terry Gilliam often refers to Time BanditsBrazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen as his “dreamer’s trilogy”. All three films share a common thread of fantasy and all three leave you with the impression that the protagonist may have imagined the whole adventure. There is also a common theme of bureaucracy chasing man – Brazil is the story of a man attempting to escape the machine of bureaucracy, Baron Munchausen is battling the supposed wisdom of grown ups and in Time Bandits, evil is attempting to change the world into the very machine Brazil becomes – all calculators, digital watches and lasers, 8 o’clock, day one. Bureaucracy is after all what clips the wings of dreamers, and in Gilliam’s case his ongoing battles with the studio system are very much a case of life imitating art.

Time Bandits is undoubtedly his most sensitive attempt at creating a fantasy world; the protagonist is a child and the film is purposely shot at low angles to keep you at the same level. The story is all told from a child’s perspective. The grown ups are seen as confused, technology-obsessed automatons, seemingly more interested in their teasmaid and washing machines than their own son. It is obviously no coincidence that when later in the film we meet Evil himself (a deliciously wonderful David Warner), he is also obsessed with clogging up the world with more technology and gadgets.

Time Bandits is a story of a band of disgruntled dwarves, working in the tree/shrub department for the Supreme Being. After never receiving recognition for their work – including their latest design, The Pink Bunkadoo (“600 feet high, bright red, and smelled terrible”) – the gang decide to steal a map listing all of the holes the Supreme Being never got round to closing in time and space. Using the map they plan to get stinking rich by robbing through history. In one particular hole in time, the Bandits arrive in the bedroom of a boy called Kevin who ends up joining them on their quest. The quest takes them to see Napoleon, Robin Hood, King Agamemnon, the Titanic, an Ogre and the Time of Legends. As a boy’s own adventure it doesn’t really get much better than this.

The film is co-written by Michael Palin and Gilliam himself, and contains some wonderful dialogue, with the best lines seemingly stock piled for Evil to bark out with fury. The Pythonesque feeling of mischief and silliness is prevalent throughout the film and most of the historical meetings (barring the Agamemnon section) feel very much like wonderful sketches. Napoleon is obsessed with little things because he is short, Robin Hood is a upper class twit and the terrfying Ogre has a never ending list of ailments that preclude him from being really scary any more.

The casting is another triumph, from the Bandits themselves (with David Rappaport shining as the undoubted star he was), Ian Holm as Napoleon, John Cleese as a wonderful Robin Hood and Sean Connery as King Agamemnon. The story behind casting Connery is a comedy sketch in itself. Gilliam said in an interview that in the original script, when Agamemnon removes his helmet, the scene was described as “revealing someone that looks exactly like Sean Connery or an actor of equal but cheaper stature”. Little did Gilliam know that he would later secure Connery himself to play the part (in between rounds of golf). Michael Palin also weighs in with a couple of wonderful cameos as an unfortunate man cursed through history with “the problem”. Special mention should also go to Sir Ralph Richardson who cameos as the Supreme Being and very nearly steals the whole show.

Time Bandits is a wonderful little film that manages the tricky balance of being both funny for adults and exciting for kids. It is perfectly pitched and you cannot help but be magnetised by the wonderfully written exchanges and performances.

The film is also a further entry into the wonderful Hand Made Films canon of the early 1980s (With George Harrison producing and offering up a superb song, “Only a dream away”, for the end credits) – with such other lovely British films as The MissionaryA Private Function, The Long Good Friday and Withnail and I.

Plans were afoot in the mid 1990s for Gilliam to make Time Bandits II – the script is still available via the Wikipedia page for Time Bandits – It is probably (I say probably, but I mean definitely) a good thing that this never came to fruition. If there is one thing Time Bandits doesn’t need, it’s a sequel.

Thankfully, it can exist, untouched and untainted – only a dream away.

Originally posted 2012-04-17 20:27:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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