My parents used to have some strange movies growing up. Time Bandits is one of those films that I kind of stumbled on, but grew to be one of my favorite British films. It was my gateway drug to all things Monty Python.
Produced by former Beatle George Harrison and his company, Hand Made Films and running off the success of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Time Bandits runs off of a simple premise. The Supreme Being once had a map of all the points in time on Earth. A group of his servants steal this map in order to travel through time and use it to plunder various historical figures of their loot. Granted, it’s a strange story, but if you’ve watched anything Gilliam’s done, this film actually works (or did for me when I saw it).
Our story opens with a boy named Kevin (Craig Warnock), who dreams of a more interesting life than the one he shares with his parents while watching tv. One night, a set of little people dressed in steampunk attire climb out of his closet and threaten him bodily harm unless he tells them how to escape his dimension. They manage to locate an exit, only to be pursued by The Supreme Being, who warns them to return the map they’ve stolen from him. If I remember nothing else from this film, that one scene will always stay with me.
The crew, led by Randall (David Rappaport) arrive during Napoleon’s time (played quite convincingly by Ian Holm) and manage to become generals in his army after impressing him with a rendition of “Me and My Shadow”. This, coupled with their size helped out, I’m sure. As thanks for being part of his army, they get Napoleon drunk until he passes out and collect most of his loot before finding another time portal and leaping into Robin Hood’s time. Unfortunately for the Time Bandits, Robin Hood (John Cleese) assumes they’ve arrived to give their ill begotten goods to the poor and promptly gives it all away to them.
In the midst of figuring out their next step, the Bandits run into The Supreme Being again and distract him, giving Kevin a chance to escape on his own. However, when two portals open before him, he chooses the wrong one and ends up in Ancient Greece with King Agememnon (Sean Connery), who adopts Kevin as a Prince. Before he can fully enjoy it, however, the Bandits show up and “free” from the time period he doesn’t belong in.
There’s more to the tale, but let’s just say that the Evil Genius (one of David Warner’s best roles in my opinion – he had a knack for playing bad guys) gets wind of the Map and hatches his own plan to acquire it and use it for nefarious deeds.
The beauty of Time Bandits is the world it creates. Though grounded in real time periods, the fantasy elements are pretty interesting, much like Brazil was. Giants who wear ships on their heads, Ogres and creates with cow skulls for heads make up some of the strange visions Terry Gilliam brings to this story. Overall, it’s a fun and unique tale that’s good for at least a late night viewing, and one that I return to from time to time.