Film Review: Time Bandits
In 1981, Terry Gilliam released Time Bandits as the first installment in his “Trilogy of Imagination.” Starring John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, Ralph Richardson, Peter Vaughn, David Warner, Craig Warnock, David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Malcom Dixon, Mike Edmonds, Jack Purvis, Tiny Ross, Derek Deadman, Jerold Wells, David Daker, Sheila Fearn, Jim Broadbent, Tony Jay, Terence Bayler, Preston Lockwood, Derrick O’Connor, Neil McCarthy and Ian Muir, the film grossed $42.4 million at the box office. Winner of the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror Films, USA President’s Award, the film was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best International, Film, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Special Effects as well as the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
While Kevin is an imaginative and inquisitive child with an interest in history, his parents are shallow and materialistic and don’t share his interests. However, one night, he is visited by a gang of time-travelling dwarves who kidnap and force him to accompany them on their adventures through time. They’ve stolen a map from the supreme being that reveal the gaps in creation which allow them to visit any place or historic personality and use the power to steal all the treasure they can find. Yet, they’re being watched by the Evil Genius who has his own plans for the map and the universe.
Though an odd and bizarre film, Time Bandits is still wildly fun and quite entertaining. Here, the audience is presented with a time travel plot that’s not the usual kind, with an imaginative young boy being taken by time travelers using their ability to do so to make themselves rich. They visit some pretty interesting destinations throughout time as well, including Napoleon’s conquests, Robin Hood’s forest, and the ancient world. Also notable about this is that the film doesn’t present time itself, or an embodiment of time, as the enemy, but presents a clash between good (The Supreme Being) and evil (the Evil Genius). The ending is also pretty good, with the film initially looking like Kevin’s travel through time was going to only be a dream, but showing that it most likely wasn’t as he still has the photos of his adventure and there’s the remaining piece of Evil in his parent’s microwave oven. At the same time, the ending maybe a dream within a dream if the song that plays over the end credits (“Dream Away” by George Harrison”) is any indication.
The film does present some good characters as well, especially the Evil Genius who wants to remake the world according to his own vision of rampant materialism perpetuated by endless productivity. He has no use for anything but logic and efficiency. That’s understandable since he’s also partly machine, considering he’s able to bend his fingertips back on hinges to expose nozzles that exude magic as well as turn into an evil mechanical merry-go-round. Further, in staying true to his namesake, he inflicts some disproportionate retribution onto his minions, such as killing them for asking simple questions.
On the other hand, there’s the Supreme Being, or Gilliam’s personification of God. The Supreme Being isn’t characterized as being all-powerful and all-knowing though. Instead, he spends most of the film grandstanding and looking spectacularly impressive, but being mostly ineffectual and the Evil Genius even says that he’s a lunatic because things like slugs are pointless creations. The Supreme Being does wind up resolving everything and stating that it’s according to his plan and that he’s not “entirely dim.” He also doesn’t put much effort into his explanations, such as stating that evil exists because he thinks it’s because of free will. It would appear that Gilliam’s worldview of a Supreme Being is one that doesn’t have all the answers and is pretty useless until the end when he can mop everything up and just say he meant for all of it to happen. It’s a pretty fascinating interpretation to say the very least.
As a whole though, the film has a notable message of not letting materialism get in the way of imagination, with Kevin’s parents being a good foil for Kevin. Where they’re focused on being the most efficient of consumers and getting the best consumer products, he’s enthralled with the beauty and wonder of what he can imagine as well as the historical locales to which the dwarves take him. In the end, it’s that love of imagination and embarking on that fantastical adventure which separates Kevin from his parents as he’s able to recognize that his parents’ pursuit of the best stuff is what wound up burning their house down and causing them to explode.