Time Bandits (1981)

Time Bandits (1981), produced and directed by Terry Gilliam.

A wild rampage through time and space, suitable for children. Although marvelously inventive, Gilliam sometimes lacks focus and tends to both wander and throw in the kitchen sink. This is a good vehicle for his talent: a bizarre, episodic ride that requires very little explanation or coherency.

It's funny but also dark: the past is pretty grubby (apart from the immaculate Robin Hood) and people eat rats. The ending was controversial and Gilliam tricked the studio into allowing it. Parents were understandably disturbed, little boys cheered, and little girls expressed motherly concern for Kevin's fate.

It's still Gilliam's most successful film in the US. It made Brazil (1985) possible.

We're given time to stop and think only in the ancient Greece segment, where Kevin thinks he's found a new home. The role of King Agamemnon was written with Sean Connery in mind, although they didn't imagine they could actually get him. Since they couldn't afford his usual fee he agreed to take a percentage instead, a wise decision. Gilliam praised his talent and helpfulness in filming.

Ian Holm appears as Napoleon for neither the first nor the last time: "That's what I like! Little things hitting each other!" David Warner is great as the Evil Genius (aka the Devil) as is Ralph Richardson as the Supreme Being. And I don't mean to slight the dwarves.

The idea that the fantasy/dream/adventure is inspired by the mundane elements of waking life, by the toys in the bedroom, has become a standard movie trope. You see it in Labyrinth (1986) and The Company of Wolves (1984), and as far back as The Wizard of Oz (1939). And how about stage productions of Peter Pan where the same actor plays both Captain Hook and Mr Darling, the father?

Is the Land of Legend a part of Creation and does it really include a seagoing ogre and his wife, and a giant with a ship for a hat? I've never heard of them.

Available on Blu-ray. The encoding is 1080i, a hint that the disc was made from a master prepared for TV broadcast. Detail is sometimes good but the black levels are all over the place. The director has a funny 18 minute interview.

(Later: a Criterion Blu-ray said to have a somewhat better image appeared).