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Terry Gilliam
John Cleese, Sean Connery, Craig Warnock, David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Malcolm Dixon, Mike Edmonds, Jack Purvis, Tiny Ross
Writing Credits:
Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin

All the dreams you've ever had - and not just the good ones...

In Terry Gilliam's fantastic voyage through time and space, a young boy named Kevin escapes from his gadget-obsessed parents to join a band of time-traveling dwarves. With a map stolen from the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson), they delight in plundering treasure from Napoleon (Ian Holm) and Agamemnon (Sean Connery)--but the Evil Genius (David Warner) is watching every move! With a darkly playful script by Gilliam and Michael Palin, Time Bandits is all at once a giddy fairy tale, a revisionist history lesson, and a satire on technology gone awry.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Stereo

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 3/30/1999

• Audio Commentary by director Terry Gilliam, co-writer/actor Michael Palin, and actors John Cleese, David Warner and Craig Warnock
• Time Bandits Scrapbook
• Theatrical Trailer

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Time Bandits: Criterion Collection (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 24, 2003)

I'd like to share a little story with you. At the risk of escalated expectations, I believe it clearly to be the Greatest Story Ever Told.

My friend Kevin's father Onions (actually, his name is "John" but we refer to him as "Onions" for obscure reasons that will remain that way) actually originated this tale. One day during dinner, Onions informed the gathered flock that while in times past he did not enjoy the flavor of the condiment called "mustard," in the present day he most clearly does delight in a little savory sauciness. Onions said, and I quote, "I didn't used to like mustard, but now I do."

It still brings a little tear to my eye...

Anyway, I mention this epic simply to introduce the notion that tastes and feelings tend to change over time. We all know this, so why must I belabor the obvious and waster time? Because I love what we affectionately refer to as The Mustard Story and because I couldn't think of any better way to introduce my review of Time Bandits.

When I saw that film theatrically in the fall of 1981, I really liked it, and I continued to enjoy Bandits on video after that. However, it never became one of my all-time favorites, so I went long stretches during which I didn’t watch the movie. I recently decided to give it a reappraisal. Based on that viewing, I decided that overall, it offers a fun and fairly entertaining but rather spotty film. Certainly it possesses an clever and wide-open plot, as it tells the tale of a group of would-be thieves who use doorways into different time zones to plunder the riches of the past.

Actually, that brief synopsis tells you both less and more of the situation. "More" in that it implies that Time Bandits actually has a plot. It doesn't, really. The time-travelling setup exists mainly as an excuse to get our principals to interact wackily with famous denizens of other lands and eras. Oh, it attempts something of a plot in that our heroes are occasionally threatened by The Supreme Being and need to escape him. In addition, a being who embodies evil - called the Evil Genius, actually (David Warner) – tries to capture them, but the story elements seem somewhat half-hearted.

When I say that my synopsis doesn't really offer a full picture of the story, however, I mean that it doesn't inform you of the richness of the movie's background. You see, the heroes to whom I refer are not just everyday, ordinary time-travelers. No, they're a group of six dwarfs; the seventh, Horseflesh, died before the start of the events in the movie. They’ve worked since the beginning of time as assistants to The Supreme Being (Sir Ralph Richardson), and they took charge of trees and shrubs. However, they received criticism for some poor work so they steal a map that shows "holes" in the universe, which exist because creation was something of a botched job.

These holes let our group hop in and out of different time periods, and they've decided to use this advantage to get stinking rich. Thus begins their attempt to become proper criminals, and there's your title!

Also along for the ride is Kevin (Craig Warnock), a young boy into whose bedroom the bandits inadvertently arrive one evening. He's a bright child whose dim, materialistic parents seem to stifle him. As such, he clearly doesn't miss them as he cavorts through time, especially since he's a wee history buff.

As I mentioned earlier, clearly this premise offers a wealth of opportunities, both comic and adventure. Early in the film, humor strongly dominates as our group rob Napoleon (Ian Holm) and then encounter Robin Hood (John Cleese). Admittedly, the structure of the film to this point resembles glorified sketches, not surprising considering the Monty Python pedigree behind it. Also not surprisingly, this portion of the film - up through the first 45 minutes or so – consistently entertains and delights. The section in Sherwood Forest provides probably the movie’s strongest sequence.

But then Kevin gets separated from his mates when he chooses the wrong time gate and he ends up in ancient Greece. Happy coincidence for Kevin, since we already know that he digs Agamemnon (Sean Connery). Guess onto whom Kevin literally falls when he arrives? We then get a somewhat extended segment where Kevin enters into that society and becomes adopted by Agamemnon.

This is where the movie starts to falter. This segment seems to serve very little purpose in the film. Ultimately, the bandits find Kevin and take him with them, against his very strong wishes to the contrary. Now removed from his dream existence, Kevin clearly resents and dislikes his old comrades, but that factor plays virtually no role in the plot; Kevin sulks for a scene and then the action resumes as if nothing ever happened.

So what was the point of the whole Agamemnon thing, other than to give the movie an excuse to feature Connery? I have not a clue. Virtually nothing interesting happens during this segment. Actually, I feel astonished to see how short this part of the film is. I always thought it went on forever, and it certainly seems that way when I watch Time Bandits. In actuality, however, it only occupies 13 minutes of screen time. 13 minutes!? Seems like a lot more than that.

Once that misery ends, the film becomes more entertaining, but by then, it's lost lots of momentum and the remaining material isn't quite strong enough to buoy it back to its previous levels. Time Bandits lurches toward the inevitable confrontations at its climax, and it offers some nice bits of humor along the way, but the whole enterprise seems a little tedious and worn out by the time the film finally does end.

Oh well, at least the first 45 minutes entertain well enough to largely make up for the rest. There's some terrific material and wonderful performances in there. Ian Holm and John Cleese do some hilarious acting as Napoleon and Robin Hood, respectively, and the film portrays a fantastically skewed view of history. I won't even bother to relate some of the comic bits, because they won't translate at all to the printed page, but suffice it to say that there's some great work going on during the early parts of Time Bandits.

The main redeeming aspects of the later parts of the film come from actors as well. We see David Warner's hammily sadistic portrayal of the Evil Genius throughout the movie, but he gets most of his work toward the end. Ralph Richardson offers a wonderfully crusty portrayal of The Supreme Being as well. Too bad there wasn't more of interest happening around them.

As the primary cast, the group of small actors provide fine performances. It's really very nice to see these "vertically challenged" folk getting actual roles to play instead of functioning as glorified props. David Rappaport's great as "leader" Randall, and be sure to note Kenny "R2-D2" Baker as Fidgit (that's what I meant by the "prop" crack). As young Kevin, Craig Warnock's perfectly fine if somewhat lifeless; he neither hurts nor really helps the film, which is actually pretty good for a child actor; many of them actively harm the flicks in which they appear.

Interestingly, Sean Connery's performance probably represents the low point of the film, though I don't blame him. His entire segment is such a disaster and he's given such weak material with which to work that I doubt there was much he could do.

I can’t say that Time Bandits lives up to my childhood memories of it, and the movie certainly seems rather erratic. However, it includes a lot of great material. Despite the slow points and the bad scenes, enough of the film works well that I think it’s good overall.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

Time Bandits appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture displayed a mix of concerns that made it less than satisfying much of the time.

Sharpness looked acceptable much of the time, but quite a few exceptions occurred. Some of the lack of definition stemmed from the non-anamorphic transfer, while other issues came from the source material or from some mild edge enhancement. Whatever the causes may have been, the movie seemed rather ill defined much of the time, though many parts seemed fine. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but print flaws turned into a pretty large problem. Various examples of grit, specks, blotches, marks and general debris showed up throughout the movie, and the defects became more noticeable toward the end; the shots in the Fortress of Ultimate Evil looked rather grainy and messy.

The palette of Bandits tended toward a rather ruddy appearance. The movie had a rusty look and went for a reddish tint. Within those limitations, the colors looked decent. They never came across as excellent, but the hues generally seemed reasonably distinctive. Black levels were fairly dense and deep, but shadow detail appeared limited. Lots of smoke showed up throughout the movie, and this meant it often seemed murky and hazy. Low-light sequences tended to be somewhat dense and thick. Time Bandits wasn’t an unwatchable affair, and a number of scenes were quite attractive. Nonetheless, the image seemed lackluster at best.

The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Time Bandits seemed superior to the picture, but it still demonstrated a mix of flaws. Except for the fairly well defined stereo music, the soundfield appeared virtually monaural much of the time, but it opened up pretty nicely for the action sequences. Those sequences displayed good spread to the sides and reinforcement from the rear when appropriate. For example, the Battle of Castiglione showed nice delineation and placement of effects, and the wind effect when the Supreme Being chased the guys seemed involving.

Audio quality was generally good but could be rather erratic. Speech demonstrated some edginess, and I also noticed a bit of bleeding to the sides, especially during the conversation between Kevin and Randall on the Titanic. However, most dialogue was reasonably distinct, and the voice of the Supreme Being demonstrated very nice bass response. Music sounded pretty bright and dynamic and also showed good clarity. Effects varied. At times, they seemed thin and a bit harsh, and louder elements like explosions featured some distortion. Still, dynamics appeared fairly good across the board, and most of the effects were acceptably clean and accurate. Overall, the audio of Time Bandits featured too many flaws to merit a grade over a “B-“, but it often exceeded my standards for audio from a flick released in 1981.

The Criterion release of Time Bandits ports over features from the original laserdisc release. We get an audio commentary with director Terry Gilliam, actor/co-writer Michael Palin, and actors Craig Warnock, John Cleese, and David Warner. All of them were recorded separately for this edited track.

Gilliam dominates the track as he covers many components of the production. Actually, he goes over pretty much everything; from sets to stunts to effects to the origins of the story to the script to working with the actors, it’s all here. Gilliam tosses in a lot of great stories from the set as well and makes his part fun and entertaining. Warnock shows up the second highest amount of time and he gives us a nice “kid’s eye” view of the proceedings. Palin lets us know how he and Gilliam collaborated on the script and provides a few other details about the flick. Warner and Cleese give us some notes related to their parts and help flesh out the commentary. Overall it’s a very solid and informative discussion.

Also included on the DVD is something called a Time Bandits Scrapbook. This essentially features a bunch of still photos from the shoot plus some production materials and designs, all of which is presented as a running piece instead of frame by frame. It lasts three minutes and 10 seconds. I’m not wild about the presentation – stillframe galleries work better in my opinion – but there’s some good material here.

Finally, the DVD offers a surprisingly good trailer. Yeah, I know that almost every DVD tosses in a trailer - so what? Not many are as interesting and entertaining as this one. It's in a satirical vein and its irreverence reminded me vaguely of Rob Reiner's "cheese-rolling" promos for This Is Spinal Tap. Very nice! The set ends with a booklet that includes brief notes from Bruce Eder.

In the end, although I clearly find fault with the film, I enjoy Time Bandits enough that the movie comes recommended. It sags at around the mid-point, but it still packs enough lively and amusing material to merit a look. Unfortunately, the DVD displays problematic picture quality along with erratic but generally acceptable audio. The extras seem minor, though a very good audio commentary adds to the set. Fans of Time Bandits will find this to offer the best version of the movie on DVD, but the film definitely could use a remastering.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0333 Stars Number of Votes: 30
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