Written by Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin
Directed by Terry Gilliam
As I wrote back in April, for most of my life I’ve been intrigued by stories involving Time Travel. And I believe that I can trace this interest to two events from my childhood, one was the TV series VOYAGERS! and the other was this film, Time Bandits. I don’t know which came first for me. Time Bandits was originally released in America in November 1981, while the one and only season of VOYAGERS! debuted in October 1982, but it’s possible that I didn’t see the movie until after VOYAGERS! began, I don’t remember exactly when I first saw it, because I was quite young at the time, and I’ve rewatched the film many many times over the years, so it all sort of runs together in my head. But it was definitely these two projects that sparked my love of this particular plot device (I also have very vague recollections of seeing reruns of a 1960’s series called TIME TUNNEL, and I know I was pretty young when I first saw the 1960 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE, but I’m sure those came later).
This was a British film (and I’d say it also sparked my lifelong love for British comedies), starring Craig Warnock as Kevin, a young boy who lived with his drab parents who don’t appear to pay him much attention and spend most of their time watching crazy game shows on TV. One night while alone in his bedroom he suddenly finds himself confronted by six “little people” (I think that’s the acceptable term now). The men are Randall (David Rappaport), the apparent leader of the group, Fidgit (Kenny Baker), Strutter (Malcolm Dixon), Og (Mike Edmonds), Wally (Jack Purvis), and Vermin (Tiny Ross).
As is eventually explained to Kevin (and we the audience) the men were former assistants of “The Supreme Being” (yes, GOD), they helped him create the Universe. Their exact nature, if they’re supposed to be angels or some other type of celestial beings is never explained. At one point they were in charge of designing plants and trees and other types of shrubbery, but they fell out of favor with the Supreme Being and were demoted to finding and fixing various “holes” in the universe. As Randall explains, these holes were due to the creation of the universe being a bit of a “rushed job”, since they only had six days to finish it. By going through these various holes they could travel through space and time. Upset about their demotion, the men decided to defy the Supreme Being and after being given a map of the universe which showed all of the various holes they instead decided to travel through time and rob people to get rich. But the Supreme Being is on their trail, and occasionally appears to them in the form of a large frightening head.
When the Supreme Being first appears in Kevin’s bedroom, Kevin inadvertently ends up going through one of the holes with the Bandits, and thus begins the journey as Kevin accompanies the Bandits through various time periods encountering several historical and mythological figures. They meet Napoleon, who is shown to be a short man (contrary to popular belief, he really wasn’t) who is insecure about his height, and therefore he immediately takes to the little people as they’re all shorter than him. He’s also shown to have a golden fake hand, which is weird. The Bandits rob him and his soldiers, they also encounter Robin Hood (played by John Cleese) and his Merry Men, ride on the Titanic, and encounter a literal giant, and later a Minotaur, among others. There’s a recurring gag where Shelley Duvall and Michael Palin appear in different time periods always playing a couple whose romantic interludes get ruined by the appearance of Kevin and the bandits. And at one point Kevin gets separated from the Bandits and ends up back in ancient Greece where he meets and is taken in by King Agamemnon (played by Sean Connery). Kevin ends up liking it there and decides he’s fine just staying (which speaks to his unhappy home life in his own time), and the King formally adopts him, much to the chagrin of the unnamed Queen (but if you’re familiar with the myth of Agamemnon then you understand why she is shown to be unhappy). But the Bandits end up tracking Kevin down and forcibly take him with them.
David Warner stars as “Evil”, the Supreme Being’s opposite number. He lives in some other dimensional realm in “The Fortress of Ultimate Darkness,” with an assorted group of monstrous servants. They’re monitoring the activities of the Bandits, with the goal of stealing the map for himself so he can then overthrow the Supreme Being and remake the universe in his own image, as he doesn’t think the Supreme Being has done anything worthwhile with the universe.
Eventually Evil captures Kevin and the Bandits, but they escape and it all leads to a big showdown in which the bandits call on reinforcements from multiple time periods in the past and future to help them battle evil. I won’t fully spoil this 39-year-old movie but I have to say that the very end is…unexpected. And that probably led to my enjoyment of films that don’t have traditional clear-cut “happy endings.”
Time Bandits is one of my all-time favorite films to this day, if you haven’t seen it do yourself a favor and check it out!