(United Kingdom, 1981)
This is another oddball choice for a "Top 100" list. I first saw the film in theaters at the age of 14, and was amazed at how many things it did well. At the time, I didn't know much about "Monty Python", and remember having been lured to the film by the promise of seeing Sean Connery. (All 14 year old boys in the '60s, '70s, and '80s idolized Connery.) I expected the fantasy and the adventure, but not the comedy, and its presence made Time Bandits a much different experience than I expected it to be. Years later, when I was older, I watched the film on video and was surprised how much I had either forgotten or missed the first time around. The film did not suffer the degradation that often happens when something well-liked as a child is viewed again as an adult. Time Bandits showed new dimensions of comedy – sophisticated asides that I had missed as a teenager. And, since I had since become very familiar with "Monty Python", I was able to see this movie as a cinematic cousin. Time Bandits belongs to the same genre of fractured fairy tales as Shrek and The Princess Bride - movies with quirky, intelligent scripts and vast cross-generational appeal. It's a good enough "family film" for adults to see on their own – and I can't think of a higher compliment than that.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The storyline is one of good against evil – sort of. Time Bandits opens by introducing us to Kevin (Craig Warnock), an average boy who spends a lot of time reading as a means of escape from a dreary home life and neglectful, uncaring parents who would rather watch TV game shows than spend time with him. Like many children, Kevin has a wardrobe in his bedroom, and it becomes a portal into a fantastic world of adventure. One night, while Kevin is in bed, a group of six time-traveling dwarves invade Kevin's room via the wardrobe. Before he fully comprehends what's happening, he is whisked along with them through a hole in time as they seek to flee the Supreme Being (a.k.a. God). It seems that the dwarves are actually thieves who once worked for God. After growing tired of their old jobs, they stole His map of the universe, which shows all of the holes in time, and decided to become master criminals. Understandably, the Supreme Being wants His map back. And there's also a being called Evil Genius (David Warner) who wants it for his own nefarious purposes. Meanwhile, the seven pint-sized Time Bandits use it to skip from era to era, usually doing a lot more fleeing than stealing. Their first stop is Napoleon's court, where the Emperor (Ian Holm) is delighted to find someone smaller than himself. Then it's on to Sherwood Forest, where an ultra-polite Robin Hood (John Cleese) relieves them of the loot they took from Napoleon. Other vignettes include a trip on the Titanic (and into the water), a stop in the court of King Agamemnon (Sean Connery), an encounter with an Ogre with a bad back (Peter Vaughan), and the showdown with Evil Genius
Ever wondered what Dorothy's trip along the Yellow Brick Road might have been like if, instead of traveling with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, she had been accompanied by H.G. Welles, Roald Dahl, and Monty Python? Or how C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" might have looked if, instead of being an allegorical fantasy dream of good triumphing over evil, it had been an allegorical fantasy nightmare of good triumphing over evil? For a possible depiction of both of those unlikely scenarios, you need look no further than Terry Gilliam's outlandish 1981 comedy-fantasy-adventure, Time Bandits. Perhaps the greatest characteristic attributable to this movie is its sense of invention. The movie does so many things, all of them well. The blend of quick-moving adventure, familiar faces, lowbrow slapstick, highbrow wit, and visual style offers more than one thing to just about everyone. And, with an ending that mocks the idea of "happily ever after," Time Bandits concludes perfectly. This is a great movie that has only gotten better with the passage of 20 years.
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