RetroReviews #50: Time Bandits (1981)







Sitting down to Terry Gilliam’s second film, I found that Time Bandits was a welcome relief from the ugly environment of Jabberwocky. I’m not too keen on Time Bandits either, but its a much more entertaining film and has a much more frantic, fun-filled pace, as well as a much more lighthearted and pleasant tone.



The plot of the film really isn’t important, as the film’s “wink wink the audience” trailer makes clear. It’s really an excuse for a series of different adventures that play out like long sketch comedy pieces. The basic framing device is a young boy with an overactive imagination finds himself on a quest with a band of six dwarfs, who travel to different places and events in history folklore (mythological ancient Greece, the Napoleonic wars, Robin Hood, on board the H.M.S. Titanic, etc.) They are trying to stop “Evil”, which takes the form of an evil sorcerer and is able to manipulate time and space.



The film actually seems a bit ahead of its time, since it reminded very much of the “modern” (post-2005 Doctor Who) the way it unfolded, albeit with early 1980s special effects and film-making techniques. Sometimes I forgot I was watching a movie made back in 1981, until Sean Connery showed up as a medieval King and I reacted with “Damn, Connery sure was a lot younger when he made this movie!” For some odd reason I can’t quite place my finger on, the film seems much more modern than other fantasy films made around the same era, like The Dark Crystal or The Neverending Story.



As has become common place for a lot of Terry Gilliam movies, it’s very difficult to follow exactly what is happening from scene to scene. There’s not a lot to tie the story together, although the framing device works and the film has a nice epilogue at the end, especially when Sean Connery’s character reappears in the real world as a firefighter, and winks to the audience (I won’t give away the reason why firefighters arrive at the end of the film)



Time Bandits is appropriate for kids (and certainly told from the point of view of a child and is intended to make kids root for it), but its really aimed at adults and has some sly humor that might go over the heads of children. I really enjoy “adventures in time and space”, although I prefer ones that actually have some sort of intelligent plot, like Back to the Future. Here, it’s just harmless fluff. I’m doubt you’ll remember any of it (I have a hard time recalling what happened in the movie myself), but you’ll probably enjoy it immensely




** ½ out of ****



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