Time Bandits Review

Time Bandits strikes me as Terry Gilliam’s most fully achieved films; a rip-roaring blend of fantasy and comedy which knows exactly when to amuse and precisely when to scare, and unashamedly targets an audience of children without ever talking down to them. The consequence is a family film which has a genuine appeal to everybody. It rarely strikes a wrong note, whether subtly undercutting notions of good and evil or presenting, in the subplot of Agamemnon, a touching study of the mutual needs of children and parents. It’s also, as you’d expect from Gilliam and his co-writer Michael Palin, very funny indeed.

Eamonn McCusker has already reviewed Time Bandits in some detail for The Digital Fix so I direct you to his review here for a discussion of the film.

The Disc

Arrow’s presentation of Time Bandits can only be described as a triumph, and a new high for a company which just seems to get better and better.

The film has been released on two other Blu-Rays, neither of them especially satisfactory. The 2009 Optimum release was adequate but little more and the 2010 Image disc was a disaster in every respect. Arrow’s release is a vast leap forward in quality and is likely to be the definitive version of the film for a long time to come. The director approved 1080p transfer comes from a 2K restoration from the original camera negative, a task supervised by James White, while the final disc authoring was carried out by David Mackenzie. The presence of these gentlemen on a disc’s credits are a pretty good indicator of quality. The level of detail and the quality of the colour is the first thing which strikes you, the horrible beige hell of Kevin’s house coming across all too vividly. Although it’s a fairly dark transfer it never lacks vitality and it has the infallible sign of a good transfer – you see things you never noticed before, whether details in the costumes of the bandits and Evil or the textures of the Ogre’s make-up. The colourings in the Ancient Greece scenes are particularly lovely. There is a lovely sheen of fine grain throughout and no obvious use of DNR or filtering.

The soundtrack is also very impressive. The original 2.0 stereo mix is present as a lossless track and there is also a DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix. I preferred the original mix as more natural and in keeping with my memories of the film and it’s beautifully transferred here with some effective separations and plenty of oomph in the louder action sequences. The 5.1 remix is unsurprisingly more eventful but perhaps a bit busy for my taste. The music by Mike Moran comes across well on both tracks. Optional English subtitles are provided.

This Arrow Blu-Ray is stacked with extra features – although the lack of the commentary track from the Criterion release is a slight disappointment since it’s a very good one. Still, few people are likely to complain too much, what with over an hour of new interview material which is arranged into short featurettes. The best of the lot are the new interviews with Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin. The former discusses how the film came about and how he went about directing it while the latter talks about the writing. Both men are pleased with the film and proud of both how successful it was and how fondly it is remembered. I was particularly struck at how much more appealing Gilliam is now when he’s gained some gravitas and has stopped being quite so manic, something which used to drive me mad in his interviews. I also thoroughly enjoyed the brief interview with David Warner who has a few interesting things to say about his experiences on the film and his encounters with George Harrison.

More technical in nature, but still fascinating, are the featurettes dealing with the special effects, the costumes and the production design. The costume segment was my favourite because it’s so lovely to see James Acheson’s original character designs but all three are worth watching. A slight irritation is the background noise on the effects segment and the distraction of watching people walk by the window which is behind Kent Houston. The production design segment, featuring Millie Burns, is linked to a “script to screen” feature where she discusses how Morocco doubled for Ancient Greece.

Finally, we get the original trailer and a restoration demonstration. There is also one of Arrow’s excellent booklets containing an essay by film critic James Oliver.

Time Bandits is a lovely, clever and witty film which seems to get better with age. When I saw it on its first release, I loved the dwarves and the action, but now it’s the comedy which I can’t resist; the doomed lovers played by Michael Palin and Shelley Duvall are a particular delight and virtually every line of David Warner’s dialogue is to be cherished. Arrow’s Blu-Ray offers first class picture and sound alongside some fascinating extra features. Very highly recommended

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