Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I think I’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t seen a Terry Gilliam film. Monty Python and the Holy Grail might be perhaps his most well known film, with 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Brothers Grimm being three more of his most well known films. In the midst of his impressive filmography, an unofficial trilogy was created which Gilliam and many others refer to as the “Imagination Trilogy.” Consisting of Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the trilogy focuses on three ages of man (moving from child, to middle aged man, to old man) and how those three ages look at the world through the eyes of imagination.
Time Bandits tells the story of Kevin, a young kid with a large imagination. While he is interested in ancient history, his parents are more interested in their schedules and what kind of kitchen appliances they have. One night after Kevin is sent to bed, his bedroom is transformed into a forest during medieval times when a knight on horseback jumps out of his wardrobe and over his bed. The following night, Kevin waits up to see the change occur again in order to photograph the incident. Instead of a knight coming out of his wardrobe, a group of dwarves pop out. Kevin is dragged with the dwarves through a time hole where he journeys with the dwarves through time to steal from some of the greatest treasures the world has ever seen. In his journey’s Kevin meets Napoleon, Robin Hood, and Agamemnon. He also lands on the Titanic before its fateful accident. While Kevin and the dwarves journey through time and space, they are chased by the Supreme Being of the Universe, the creator of everything. They are also chased by Evil, who believes if he has the map the dwarves use to locate the time hole, he can overthrow the Supreme Being and create the world in his image of computers and microchips.
While Gilliam is known for a distinctive, imaginative style that permeates his films, Time Bandits, perhaps more than his other films, uses that imaginative world to its advantage. There’s nothing strictly Gilliam-esque about the scenes in the past with Napoleon, or Robin hood, or Agamemnon apart from the acting and dialogue, but Evil’s fortress and design fit the style Gilliam is known for. There is also a hint of what is to come in Brazil in both the design of Evil’s fortress and the beliefs he holds.
Because the film views the story from the point of view of Kevin, the film carries a sense of child-like wonder. When we first meet Kevin, he is telling his dad about Ancient Greece and how fascinating it is, but his father responds with a comment about how great modern conveniences are. Kevin is clearly a kid who is more interested in the past and the fantastic stories of history than he is with his parent’s day-to-day affairs. When Kevin meets the dwarves, he consistently knows more than they do about the different time periods they land in. The fact that Gilliam chose to make the time bandits dwarves, creates a stark contrast between the protagonists. Even though the dwarves and Kevin are all similar in stature, the dwarves seem more adult and single-minded in their quest for treasure and wealth. I imagine that if the time bandits were normal sized adults, Kevin would have a significantly more difficult time bonding with them. When they travel, in spite of their differences in desires, they all work like equals.
The story feels like an extension of a child’s mind. What kid wouldn’t be excited to meet Robin Hood? Or a warrior from Ancient Greece? These are only a small fraction of the people and places that fuel an imaginative child. Even the villain of the film seems like an extension of a child’s mind. Evil is literally a physical manifestation of evil. While the actions Evil takes are fairly PG in this film compared to some of the real evils of the world, what could be more evil to a child than a world full of technological gadgetry to a child who’s parents ignore him for the latest technology? Since Evil takes on a physical manifestation, so does good in the form of the Supreme Being. While terrifying through 95% of the film, at the end the Supreme Being takes on a form that is friendly like a grandpa. In the subsequent two films in the Imagination Trilogy, the lines between good and evil begin to blur as the personification of evil becomes more personal.
Time Bandits is a highly underrated film. It’s filled with great actors like Sean Connery, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Shelley Duvall, Katherine Helmond, and Ian Holm. Each and every one of the actors brings their best to the film. The comedic direction the film takes is one only a Monty Python alumni could bring to a film like this. The cocky, arrogance that John Cleese brings to Robin Hood is easily one of the funniest things to watch in this film. The film manages to capture the imagination of a child in a way that invokes a feeling of nostalgia, and as a result makes this film just as relevant and fun today as it was 36 years ago. It’s a film that raises just as many questions as it answers and proves that movies aimed at kids can have deep philosophical themes running throughout that appeal to those kids and to the adults watching it. In terms of films about imagination, Time Bandits is an excellent film to look to for an example.