By Morgan Leger
When people think of director Terry Gilliam and his works today, they mostly think about how he cursed Hollywood with infamous, but later-turned-cult-classic flops such as “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “The Brothers Grimm.”
Unlike big names such as Steven Spielberg or James Cameron, Gilliam has a way of balancing original storytelling with a zany but dark style of humor, and special effects that never overpower the feature.
A prime example of this is his first successful feature from the early 1980s, “Time Bandits,” which Gilliam recently said he hopes to re-release in 3-D.
The story focuses on a British 11-year-old named Kevin who is interested in history. His parents, however, are more interested in “keeping up with the Joneses” than they are in paying attention to their own son.
One strange evening, Kevin gets a visit from six dwarfs who magically enter his room; what results is quite the epic journey for our seven heroes.
As it turns out, the six dwarfs actually work for an almighty power known as the Supreme Being, and the only position they are given is to create basic trees and small bushes. In return for being hired to do such a lousy job, they steal a map from the Supreme Being that reveals the routes and directions between space and time.
This allows our small heroes to travel through time and meet up with legendary historical figures. Depicted in Gilliam fashion, however, the dwarfs are more interested in stealing the treasures they come across in history than they are in sitting and chatting with popular icons.
At the same time, we get treated to Kevin meeting up with a variety of historical heroes and unfortunately getting to see their true colors. This not only calls historical accuracy into question, but also makes us think about what it would be like to meet our favorite role models from the past; would we find ourselves disappointed?
“Time Bandits” presents Napoleon (Ian Holm) being entertained in seeing things as tiny as himself rather then making battle strategies, and Robin Hood (Monty Python member John Cleese) acting more cowardly and keeping his merry men out of control.
The only ancient figure who appears to be a true icon for Kevin is the mythical Greek Agamemnon, an unforgettable supporting role surprisingly played by Sean Connery. However, he too has his faults; despite treating Kevin like a son and taking good care of him, he has an interest in teaching and learning about performing tricks and simple illusions rather then teaching about being a better leader.
The basic message here is based on the age-old question, “Who is a true hero?” Throughout the film, Kevin runs into these past-time celebrities and hopes they will live up to his image of them. Instead, they turn out to be complete idiots or absolute wimps. This leads Kevin to realized that the only true heroes may be ourselves.
As with most fantasy films, this relies on the theme of basic good vs. evil, as we are treated to David Warner’s sinister performance as a villainous character known simply as Evil. While he tortures his dim-witted minions for fun, he plans to take the universal map that the dwarfs have obtained and literally rewrite history to suit his own perspective.
While Warner is well known for playing villainous roles and for voicing The Lobe in the cult classic, animated series “Freakazoid,” he plays this character with a true iron fist living up to the title “Absolute Evil” – there is no limit to his menacing performance.
Overall, “Time Bandits” is a low-budget wonder. It was released in the fall of 1981 and grossed eight times its $5 million budget. While it may not be as complex and breathtaking as his dystopian epic “Brazil,” it proves to be a great satire on history’s true accuracy and on the iconic figures we appreciate in life.
It has great laughs, impressive effects, and unforgettable characters. It’s worth a look – especially if you happen to be in the mood to get taken away with a boy and his band of mini-thieves on a voyage between space and time itself.