Terry Gilliam is well known for his work with Monty Python and, of course, his later work in the sci-fi genre with Twelve Monkeys (1995) and, most recently, The Zero Theorem (2013). Before Gilliam reached the level of cryptic weirdness we enjoy today, he wrote and directed a children’s classic which spoke less to the 80’s mainstream viewer than it did to the blossoming art film aficionado.
Time Bandits (1981) is a fantasy film packed full of Gods, dwarves, and magic. It’s the story of Kevin, an eleven year old with an active imagination whose life is thrown into conflict when his wardrobe bursts open revealing a group of six dwarves. These dwarves hold the key to traveling along the space-time continuum in the form of a worn map. Yet before anyone can catch their bearings, a godlike figure named the Supreme Being arrives in hopes to reclaim the map and assume ultimate control over time.
Viewers travel with this group as they explore time periods from Ancient Greece to the Napoleonic Wars to the sinking of the RMS Titanic (I’m inclined think this film might have broached the issue in a more poetic way than James Cameron). In the end, the group triumphs over another character– aptly named Evil– and return Kevin to his home, if only to provide one of the most depressing endings in any children’s film ever made.
Check out this quick advertisement for Time Bandits‘ 35th anniversary and Art House Theater Day.
Without spoiling too much, this film deals with some pretty big ideas from the power of Gods to the strength of imagination. Whether you’re watching the Supreme Being reveal His master plan or listening to Kevin get caught up in the moment, you’re stuck wondering, Would Gilliam hide a larger thesis in a film this simple? Who was he writing for?
I can’t claim to know the answers but I can point out that the group of dwarves featured in the film is a parody of the Monty Python troupe and that George Harrison of the Beatles is credited as a producer on this film — yet Gilliam fought tooth and nail to keep Harrison’s music out of the film (you’ll hear “Dream Away” despite those protestations).
At the end of the day, I recommend revisiting this piece whether you’re alone, nostalgic, or are looking to convert your kid into the world of art film. Time Bandits is a must-see, can’t-miss.
Also, a quick moment of remembrance for Fidgit, played by the late Kenny Baker.
dir. Terry Gilliam
Part of Art House Theater Day!
Screens Saturday, 9/24 @ Brattle 4:00PM