Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Time Bandits (1981) * * *

Kevin (Craig Warnock) is the 11 year-old son of parents (David Daker and Sheila Fearn) who ignore him to keep up with the neighbors by purchasing all the latest hi-tech gadgets. Without their attention, Kevin has become a history buff, particularly of the Classical Greek period. One night Kevin is awakened from his sleep by a knight on horseback crashing through his wardrobe and riding off into a forest setting that has appeared in place of his bedroom wall. But when Kevin investigates, he finds nothing wrong, the forest setting was just one of the pictures that hangs on his wall. He prepares for the next night by packing a satchel with a torch and a Polaroid camera before going to bed.

(first lines)
Announcer: Yes, folks... Moderna Designs present the latest in kitchen luxury. The Moderna Wonder Major All Automatic Convenience Center-ette gives you all the time in the world to do the things you really want to do... An infrared freezer-oven complex that can make you a meal from packet to plate in 15 1/2 seconds.
Kevin's Mother: Morrisons have got one that can do that in eight seconds.
Kevin's Father: Oh?
Kevin's Mother: Block of ice to Beef Bourguignon in eight seconds. Lucky things.
Kevin: Dad, did you know that the ancient Greek warriors had to learn 44 different ways of unarmed combat?
Kevin's Father: (ignoring Kevin) Well, at least we've got a two speed hedge cutter.

Again, he is awakened by sounds from the wardrobe, but this time six dwarves stumble out. They are scared by Kevin's flashlight, thinking him to be the "Supreme Being" (Ralph Richardson), but when they discover he is a child, they ignore him and try to find an exit from the room using a map. The mischievous dwarves discover the bedroom wall can be physically moved, and as the dwarves push it down a long hallway, the disembodied head of the Supreme Being shows up behind them and chases them. Kevin is caught up with the dwarves in their rush to escape, as the hallway ends and they fall into the blackness of space.

Supreme Being: I should do something very extroverted and vengeful to you. Honestly, I'm too tired. So, I think I'll transfer you to the undergrowth department, brackens, more shrubs, that sort of thing... with a 19% cut in salary, backdated to the beginning of time.
Randall: Oh, thank you, sir.
Supreme Being: Yes, well, I am the nice one.

When Kevin regains his senses, he learns that the dwarves are employees of the Supreme Being, and were supposed to be using the map, which shows the locations of holes in time and space, to repair the space-time continuum. Instead, they have ended up in a labor dispute with the Supreme Being and are using the map to travel through time and steal treasures from history. At the same time, they are being watched by a malevolent character known as Evil Genius (David Warner), who while brooding in his fortress prison wants the map for himself to recreate the universe to his liking.

Evil Genius: What sort of Supreme Being created such riffraff? Is this not the workings of a complete incompetent?
Baxi Brazilia III: But He created you, Evil One.
Evil Genius: What did you say?
Baxi Brazilia III: Well He created you, so He can't be entirely...
Evil Genius: (blows Baxi to bits) Never talk to me like that again! No one created me! I am Evil. Evil existed long before good. I made myself. I cannot be unmade. I am all powerful!

The dwarves along with Kevin, travel through several time periods, meeting Napoleon Bonaparte (Ian Holm) and Robin Hood (John Cleese). Kevin becomes separated from the group while traveling through one hole and ends up in ancient Greece, where he meets Agamemnon (Sean Connery), who treats Kevin like his son. However, the dwarves catch up with Kevin and drag him away through another time hole, causing Kevin to become angry with them for ruining his Greek visit.

Robin Hood: And you're a robber too. How long have you been a robber?
Strutter: Four foot one.
Robin Hood: Good lord! Jolly good. Four foot one? Well that-that-that is-is- a long time, isn't it?

Kevin: I'll never get the chance to meet Robin Hood again.
Randall: Oh, stop moaning. He's obviously a dangerous man, unbalanced if you ask me. Giving away what isn't even his!
Kevin: That's what Robin Hood always did. Even I know that.
Randall: Of course, you know it all.
Kevin: He was one of my heroes.
Randall: Heroes! Heroes! What do they know about a day's work?

(Kevin had just fallen from the sky on top of a rival warrior, allowing Agamemnon to kill him)
King Agamemnon: Where did you come from?
Kevin: I'm not really sure.
King Agamemnon: Who sent you, the gods? Was it Zeus? Apollo? Athena? (removes his mask) Well... You're certainly a chatty little fellow, aren't you?

After the group lands on the Titanic and survives its sinking, Evil Genius brings Kevin and the dwarves into his realm, the "Time of Legends." The dwarves make their way to Evil Genius' Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, believing an epic treasure, "The Most Fabulous Object in the World," awaits inside. However, the treasure turns out to be a trap set by Evil, and the dwarves are forced to hand over the map. Trapped in a cage hanging over a bottomless void, the group discovers that one of the photographs Kevin has taken in their travels includes a shot of the map, and they are able to identify holes they can use to recruit help and recover the map.

Evil Genius: That's a good question. Why have I let the Supreme Being keep me here in the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness?
Robert: Because you...
Evil Genius: Shut up, I'm speaking rhetorically. When I have the map, I will be free, and the world will be different, because I have understanding.
Robert: Uh, understanding of what, Master?
Evil Genius: Digital watches. And soon I shall have understanding of video cassette recorders and car telephones. And when I have understanding of them, I shall have understanding of computers. And when I have understanding of computers, I shall be the Supreme Being!

The dwarves escape and put their plan into action, bringing soldiers and equipment from across time to face down Evil Genius, but he is able to conquer them all. As Evil Genius is about to unleash his ultimate power, he is suddenly turned to stone by The Supreme Being, now appearing as an elderly gentleman. The dwarves apologize to the Supreme Being, but he says that it was part of his plan, and thanks the dwarves for returning the map and tells them to remove all the rubble of "concentrated Evil" from the area, because it would be dangerous to anyone left. The Supreme Being thanks Kevin for his help, and then leaves him behind as he disappears with the dwarves. Kevin quickly discovers a piece of Evil Genius has been missed, and his vision goes dim as the smoke emanating from the chunk of black rock overwhelms him.

Kevin suddenly wakes up in his own bed, his bedroom filled with smoke and the house on fire. A firefighter breaks into the room and rescues him. As the fire is extinguished, the firefighters find that a microwave was the source of the fire, and hand the unit over to Kevin's parents. Seeing a firefighter (Sean Connery) who resembles Agamemnon, Kevin realizes he is still carrying his satchel. Inside it, he discovers the photographs he took during his journey. When his parents open the microwave to reveal a piece of concentrated Evil, Kevin tries to warn them not to touch it, but they do, and promptly explode. Kevin is left alone.

(last lines)
Kevin: Mom! Dad! It's evil! Don't touch it!
(Kevin's parents explode)
Kevin: Mom? Dad?

The ending is controversial, although there's more honesty and meaning in the last five minutes than any "happy ending" could hope to achieve, although young children may find it too disturbing.

The cast also includes: Shelley Duvall (Dame Pansy / Pansy), Katherine Helmond (Mrs. Ogre), Ian Holm (Napoleon), Michael Palin (Vincent), Peter Vaughan (Winston the Ogre), David Rappaport (Randall), Kenny Baker (Fidgit), Malcolm Dixon (Strutter), Mike Edmonds (Og), Jack Purvis (Wally), Tiny Ross (Vermin), Jim Broadbent (Compere), John Young (Reginald), Myrtle Devenish (Beryl), Brian Bowes (Knight / Hussar), Leon Lissek (1st Refugee), Terence Bayler (Lucien), Preston Lockwood (Neguy), Charles McKeown (Theater Manager), David Leland (Puppeteer), John Hughman (The Great Rumbozo), Derrick O'Connor (Robber Leader), Neil McCarthy (2nd Robber), Declan Mulholland (3rd Robber), Peter Jonfield (Arm Wrestler), Derek Deadman (Robert), Jerold Wells (Benson), Roger Frost (Cartwright), Martin Carroll (Baxi Brazilia III), Marcus Powell (Horseflesh), Winston Dennis (Bull-headed Warrior), Del Baker (Greek Fighting Warrior), Juliette James (Greek Queen), Ian Muir (Giant), Mark Holmes (Troll Father), Andrew MacLachlan (Fireman), Chris Grant (TV announcer voice), Tony Jay (Supreme Being voice), Edwin Finn (Supreme Being's Face), and Warwick Davis. Mike Moran composed the original music. The screenplay was written by Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam, who also directed.

TIME BANDITS is a fantasy film, the first in Terry Gilliam's "Trilogy of the Imagination" films, followed by BRAZIL (1985) and THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1989). Gilliam refers to it as a "trilogy about the ages of Man and the subordination of magic to realism." The connecting link shared by each film is that each celebrates the spirit of imagination, and is anchored by a central character whose imagination is suppressed by forces not of his own choosing or design. In each film the character must undergo a fantastic journey that will allow his imagination to be given its freedom as God had intended. What binds these three together is that in TIME BANDITS the dreamer is a boy, in BRAZIL a man, and in BARON MUNCHAUSEN an old man. TIME BANDITS uses the motif of bureaucracy and technology hurting imagination and creativity, a theme further expanded on in BRAZIL.

Gilliam wrote the screenplay with fellow Monty Python member Michael Palin, who appears with Shelley Duvall in the small, recurring roles of Vincent and Pansy. The film's script was broken down into two tasks, with Gilliam mostly devising the story and Palin mostly writing the dialogue. Gilliam has said of writing dialogue that it "doesn't come as easily as it should." TIME BANDITS was filmed at Lee International Studios, Shepperton, Middlesex, England, and on location in England, Wales and Morocco. The film is one of the most famous of more than 30 theatrical features produced by Handmade Films, the London-based independent company backed in part by former Beatle George Harrison.

TIME BANDITS is a triumphant use of fantasy to articulate truth, and the power of the imagination to find the reality hidden in plain sight. An unforgettable film, with images and characters that will stay with you for a long time, its sense of humor is irreverent and dark. Lead actor Craig Warnock is somewhat anonymous at times, and the whole film starts to drag a little towards the end. However, there are some fantastic moments in this movie: the knight-on-horseback exploding through the bedroom wardrobe, the wonderful acrobatics as the dwarves escape from a series of dangling cages, and John Cleese's hilarious portrayal of Robin Hood as an upper-class twit. Once you get past the expectation that it will be hilariously funny, you can easily get carried away with this delightful movie.

Despite it's vague resemblance to THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) told upside down, it is not a typical modern kid's film. It has an old-fashioned Grimm-ness, with creatures dying nasty, sweaty deaths and even "good" characters behaving quite badly at times. Basically TIME BANDITS is a fairy tale, revisionist history lesson, a satire on technology gone awry, and it is more honest than any fantasy film made in a very long time.

A sequel to TIME BANDITS has long been rumored, and in "Gilliam on Gilliam", Terry Gilliam once expressed his intention of making one. It was intended to be released before or in 2000. The catalyst was the Supreme Being using the milestone of year 2000 as a time to reflect, and discovering that he was so disappointed with the way the universe turned out that he was going to end it. The time bandits were the only ones that could save the universe, if they wanted to.

The Criterion Edition DVD of TIME BANDITS released in 1999 is somewhat disappointing. It has interlace problems, an unstable picture, and sound that leaves much to be desired. But the aspect ratio is correct and the detailed transfer is sharp. The widescreen image is the way Gilliam intended the film to be seen. A much improved Divimax release from Anchor Bay is from a high definition digital transfer. The 2 DVD Anchor Bay edition isn't perfect but it's a noticeable improvement on the previous no-frills version they issued in 1999 and the Criterion Edition. A high definition transfer and the fact that the film has been enhanced for 16x9 televisions are definite improvements. The first disc features only the film and it doesn't have the great audio commentary compilation by Gilliam, Michael Palin, David Warner, John Cleese and Craig Warnock.

The soundtrack has been remixed for the Dolby Digital EX track, but the 5.1 mix sounds more natural. Since the original source material was designed for stereo and there were some recording limitations at the time the film was made, the tinny sound is still a bit of a problem. The second disc contains all the extras. The feaurettes include "The Directors: The films of Terry Gilliam" with interviews featuring Gilliam, Shelly Duvall, Brad Pitt, Amanda Plummer, Mercedes Ruehl, Madeleine Stowe and David Warner. There's also an interview with Gilliam and Palin as well as the original theatrical trailers for the film. Some of these features duplicate comments heard on the commentary track for the film from Criterion. There's also a Terry Gilliam biography, a DVD-Rom version of the original screenplay, a look at the original film treatment, dream facts, production stills, and a photo gallery. Anchor Bay includes a fold out Map of the Universe which also has a background on the film production.

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