Time Bandits (25th Anniversary Edition) Review
Young Kevin (Craig Warnock) retreats into his book and into his imagination as his parents (Sheila Fearn and David Daker) sit glued to the television. Each evening, as they doze off in front of awful light entertainment shows, he reads of heroes, monsters and great battles, glad of the moment when he's allowed to excuse himself for bed. But one night after the lights in the hallway have gone out, the doors of his wardrobe crash open and a night on horseback rides into his small room. Crushing his toys underfoot, the knight leaves almost as quickly as he'd arrived, apparently through a poster of Sherwood forest that Kevin had stuck in a small space on the side wall. Reality comes crashing back in as his dad enters Kevin's room and demands to know, "What the hell was that?" Kevin, for once, looks as confused as his father.
The next night, though, he's ready, armed with a Polaroid camera and a flashlight and as he listens to his parents retire for the evening, he switches on the torch and aims it at his wardrobe. The minutes pass but nothing stirs, leaving Kevin no choice but to switch off the torch and go to sleep. But then, in the darkness, his wardrobe door creaks open and six dwarves enter his bedroom - Randall (David Rappaport), Fidgit (Kenny Baker), Wally (Jack Purvis), Strutter (Malcolm Dixon), Vermin (Tiny Ross) and Og (Michael Edmonds) - armed only with a map, looking worried and wearing various scraps of armour and kitchen appliances. The reason for their worry soon becomes apparent as the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson) materialises in Kevin's bedroom demanding that the dwarves return what they have stolen. Deciding to join forces with the six dwarves, Kevin joins them as they push down a wall in his room and escape through what appears to be a hole in space and time. Leaping through these gaps in God's creation, Randall leads Kevin on a trip through the pages of history - Napoleonic France, Agamemnon's Greece, Robin Hood's England, on to the Titanic and into the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness itself, all the while looking for fun, for excitement and a great stash of gold!
I suspect there's at least one film that each one of us can forgive almost anything. A film that for all of its faults, of which there may be many, can be overlooked in favour of the sheer sense of enjoyment that one gets from it. Time Bandits is that film as far as this viewer is concerned. There is, as you might expect, much to fault it. The story arc looks to be a last-minute addition to the film, the effects are somewhat variable and the spoof game show - Your Money Or Your Life, wherein televised murder seems to be the name of the game - is as unwelcome here as it is in the more recent V For Vendetta. As a villain, Evil Genius (David Warner) is a disappointment, never being quite as nasty as one might expect of the embodiment of pure evil whilst the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson) perhaps isn't as all-powerful as his name implies. There's even the nagging feeling, which is supported by the bonus material on this DVD, that the entire movie is a dream. Even then, some twenty-five years ago, that was a cliched route to take to conclude an adventure.
But what an adventure it is. Leaping through the pages of history, Time Bandits bursts out of suburbia and into the past, taking in a slapstick performance for Napoleon, a sword fight alongside Agamemnon and the drugging of a giant with a pair of bellows. It presents these figures, as well as Robin Hood, as being entirely unlike how history presented them, testament to the unique point of view of Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin, probably inspired by their days in Monty Python. Great warrior he may have been but Agamemnon longs for a life of domestic contentment with the arrival of Kevin bringing him the son that his wife refuses him. Napoleon, meanwhile, can't wait to have the day's warfare concluded so he can enjoy an evening watching dwarves and midgets hitting one another. Robin Hood, as John Cleese describes and portrays him, is a minor member of royalty who greets each time bandit in the manner of a footballer. And, in spite of his general lack of devilry, David Warner was actually a terrific choice as Evil Genius, dwelling on the minutiae of technological wizardry - floppy discs, toasters and the like - whilst ignoring the great acts of evil that he ought to be committing.
Yet the reason why Time Bandits works as well as it does is that it's one of the few live-action kids movies that one won't ever feel embarrassed about. Shot from the point of most of its main cast, being waist-high as regards the rest of the cast, it has a unique perspective and presents much of its action as being beyond Kevin's understanding. Robin Hood gives gold and jewellery to the poor for no more reason than that's what history has him do, despite him handing out trinkets to people who'd rather have half a pound of potatoes and a joint of meat than a rare Parisian vase. In that sense, there is something very British about Time Bandits, with a sense of humour that hints at the irreverence of Python but also in its acknowledgement of the part that actors like David Rappaport, Kenny Baker and Jack Purvis had in British light entertainment. As well as the obvious impression that Star Wars makes on the eyes and ears, that it was Kenny Baker inside the R2-D2 casing (as well as Dave Prowse inside Darth Vader) made it all the more enjoyable. David Rappaport, from his playing of an O-Man in Jigsaw, a demon in The Young Ones and a robot in The Goodies, will be a part of many a viewer's youth and he's perfect as Randall, self-appointed leader of the Time Bandits. With Gilliam remembering how much dwarves feature in fantasy and fairy tales, he pitches Time Bandits as entertainment, with no talking up or down regardless of the age of its audience. It is, in spite of its obvious failings, an utterly marvellous film
As is typical of Anchor Bay, Time Bandits comes with DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS audio tracks, which are something of a mixed bag. The two surround tracks do sound a little louder and the separation of the audio effects are better than on the stereo option but there isn't a great deal in it with any use of the rear channels sounding somewhat forced. The picture looks pretty good throughout but there are still various flecks in the image as well as other spots and evidence of damage, leaving one wondering how much Anchor Bay cleaned up the film. However, what would have worked well on film, such as the fog that surrounds the giant as he rises from the ocean, doesn't work so well on DVD with the digital encoding being pushed well beyond its limits by the smoke. In those moments, the disc doesn't look particularly impressive but they are low points in what's, overall, not a bad transfer.
Go back a few years and I suspect that Time Bandits would have been issued on a single disc. For this 25th Anniversary Release, however, it comes on two discs but, in doing so, feels a little bare. Accompanying the film is a Commentary with contributions from Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese, David Warner and Craig Warnock, all of whom have been recorded separately. As you might expect, Cleese and Warner are only heard when they're onscreen but Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin, despite not being heard together, keep the track moving and are always entertaining with the director, in particular, being upfront about the making of the film and what inspired it. The inability to get Brazil made, it would appear.
The second disc begins with a couple of Interviews with Terry Gilliam and Michael, one from 1981 (17m01s) and another produced more recently (27m14s). The first was filmed for the film magazine show Clapperboard and is conducted by Chris Kelly, finding Gilliam and Palin on good form, still making each other laugh in their post-Python years and clearly enjoying the time they're spending making Time Bandits. The best moments in the interview are those in which Gilliam describes getting the film off the ground during his failure to get backing for Brazil as well as his interest in making a family film. However, given how well they were known to a British audience, it's great to hear them talk about the casting of David Rappaport, Kenny Baker and the four other dwarves. There is some repetition with the second interview on the disc but is still worth it to see Gilliam and Palin talking about the making of the film with hindsight and with a touch more honesty that perhaps they had in their first interview.
There is quite a lot of material on this second disc but much of it is insubstantial. As well as things like a Trailer (3m10s), a Scrapbook (2m55s), Biographies of Terry Gilliam, David Rappaport, Michael Palin and Sean Connery and Film Notes, there is a selection of storyboards and scenes cut from the film. The Hidden Spiderwoman Storyboard, which was cut from the film, comes complete with photos of what had already been made as well as an excerpt from the script for that particular scene. There are also two storyboards included for the Invisible Barrier scene and for the journey of the Time Bandits through the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness. There is also a short section on Dream Facts illustrating how the entire adventure might have been simply a dream. Finally, there is a Production Photo Gallery with behind-the-scenes shots.
This does appear to be exactly the same release as that released by Anchor Bay a few years back but with the film's silver anniversary being clear cause for a re-release. Having not picked it up the first time, I'm perfectly happy with this release of Time Bandits as it comes with a fairly functional transfer but has a very decent set of extras in a well-produced set. For one of the most joyfully inventive films of the last few decades, Anchor Bay have done a very good job on it.
Last updated: 31/05/2018 00:38:13