I have vague recollections of seeing some, or possibly all, or Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits as a youngster but have to say; it never really stuck with me, so, beyond my more recent fascination with Gilliam’s other work, it had largely passed me by until now as it has been re-released in a newly restored, Blu-ray, version by Arrow Video.
From the start its very clear this is a Gilliam film as it has that feel that his movies, particularly the ones from the 1980s, have which is almost indefinable but comes about from the way he uses the camera, along with the slightly twisted production design and characters, to create his own universe in a way few others ever manage.
We start off the movie in the home of our hero, a young boy called Kevin, and are thrown into a contemporary (for the early 1980s) setting that has a feel of a proto-Brazil with technology beginning its take over of adult lives, while Kevin is fascinated with history and his more traditional toys which drive his imagination.
Soon Kevin is thrust into an adventure, with the titular time bandits taking in everything from Sherwood Forest and the Napoleonic Wars to Ancient Greece and a fantastical past realm of ogres, giants and evil.
While this gives the film a somewhat episodic nature, it never totally takes on the awkward nature of some other episodic films as each is linked by Gilliam’s unique style that, like many of his other films, ties things together even when some other elements may not.
What particularly struck me is how Time Bandits seems to bridge Gilliam’s work with Monty Python and his own ‘solo’ work as, not only is the script a collaboration with Michael Palin, but the film also features John Cleese and Palin on-screen, as well as having been financed by Handmade Films, the same people who put up the money for Life Of Brian.
This is counterbalanced by many of Gilliam’s own troupe of regulars starting to come together with Jim Broadbent and Ian Holm, amongst others, standing out in small roles while bigger names like Sean Connery add another level to the casting which has become another, often surprising, aspect of Gilliam’s movies.
As the film goes on the settings become more fantastical and Gilliam shows how he is one of, if not the, best at using miniatures and matte paintings, along with real locations and stage work composited to make something that is fantastic in a way few others can do and brings to the fore the idea that here we are looking into a child’s imagination as much as Gilliam and Palin’s.
This gives the film a feeling that seems to be common between both childhood imagination and Terry Gilliam’s work that is summed up by a line spoken by one of the bandits, “You’ve just got to believe it”.
In terms of the film as a whole, for me it was not entirely successful as it aims to be a family film, but I would suggest there are elements that would lose children (as they once did me) while at the same time some of the films perspective may lose many adults but, for people with the right sort of mind, it is certainly enjoyable even if it does, at times, lose coherency.
In the end Time Bandits is far from Gilliam’s most successful film, but it has a lot of what was to make his best work so good in an early form and that, combined with a lot of the charm and impressive technical nature of it, makes for something that is genuinely enjoyable on several levels at once, and it features one of the most genuinely giant feeling giants I’ve ever seen captured on-screen.