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With: John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, Ralph Richardson, Peter Vaughan, David Warner, David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Jack Purvis, Mike Edmonds, Malcom Dixon, Tiny Ross, Craig Warnock
Written by: Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 116
Date: 07/13/1981

Time Bandits (1981)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Fall Into the Map

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After his years with Monty Python and getting little chances to direct here and there with Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python and the Meaning of Life, Terry Gilliam made his real directorial debut in 1981 with Time Bandits (not counting, of course, the Python-esque Jabberwocky).

Conceived as a "quickie" while waiting for his more expansive Brazil to get off the ground, Time Bandits is one of those rare films that succeeds as a fantasy delightful enough for children and entertaining enough for adults. It's not one of those films that dwells on clich├ęs -- i.e. learning lessons -- or anything you might have seen before.

Young Kevin (Craig Warnock) is the only one in modern-day England with any imagination. His parents and all their friends are obsessed with the latest time-saving electronic gizmos. But everything changes when six dwarves crash through his bedroom closet and whisk him away to the time of Napoleon (Ian Holm, in his first of three appearances as the great conqueror). Apparently, the dwarves work for the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson) and have stolen a map from him. The map documents the various holes in the universe through which one can travel through time. After robbing Napoleon, the band visits Robin Hood (John Cleese), King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) and the deck of the Titanic. Eventually the travelers end up in a kind of weird fantasy land, where history holds no bearing. Unfortunately, Evil (David Warner) will stop at nothing to steal the map for himself.

Gilliam's strongest point is his potent imagination and his ability to twist it into awesome reality. He's fond of shooting from startling angles, revealing as much of his vision as can possibly fit on the screen. It's amazing how the homemade special effects of this comparatively low-budget picture are still effective today -- even more so than many computerized effects.

Time Bandits was produced by George Harrison's Handmade films, which also gave us such treasures as Mona Lisa and Withnail & I. Harrison even produced and provided a song for the end credits.

Gilliam, who co-wrote the screenplay with Monty Python's Michael Palin, relies on old-time jokes to round out the adventure story, but never quite gets into the toilet. Palin, who appears in two time periods as a love-struck schmuck stuck on Shelley Duvall, hints at flaws in his physical prowess without ever getting gory. In any case, the film still made me laugh 23 years after its initial release.

In 1999, the Criterion Collection released its Time Bandits DVD with a director's commentary track. In 2004, Anchor Bay released a 2-disc DVD set with no commentary track, but with an hour-long documentary on Gilliam, a half-hour interview between Gilliam and Palin, trailers, the original screenplay available via DVD-Rom, a fold-out map, and other goodies. (The Criterion version is apparently still in print, while the Anchor Bay edition is not.) Now, in 2010, Image Entertainment has released the Blu-Ray edition, but with even fewer extras. Now we get only the Gilliam interview and a trailer. However, the picture looks quite glorious, and it comes with optional subtitles. I think I'll be keeping this edition, as well as my 2004 DVD version.

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