Time Bandits (1981)
Time Bandits (1981)

Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: November 6th, 1981 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Terry Gilliam Actors: Craig Warnock, John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, Ralph Richardson, David Warner, Peter Vaughan, Jim Broadbent




oung Kevin (Craig Warnock) is fascinated with Greek heroes, though his parents don’t seem to take note of his uncommon interests in medieval and historical things. One evening, as he turns off the lights to go to sleep, a sound stirs from within his closet. In the blink of an eye, a knight astride a massive horse bursts through the wall and sprints across the room, causing all sorts of destruction. But in a comparable instant, the hubbub vanishes; Kevin is alone again, with his belongings and surroundings intact. Curiously, his parents are infuriated by the commotion, which makes Kevin believe that it wasn’t merely a dream.

The following evening, Kevin braces himself for another visit by mythological characters. This time, however, he has a camera at the ready. Just as he dozes off, six little people (David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Malcolm Dixon, Mike Edmonds, Jack Purvis, and Tiny Ross), dressed in the clothes of buccaneers, sneak through the closet and begin interrogating the startled child. When they bafflingly locate an exit by pushing on a wall, the group flees down a hallway before falling into a bottomless, black abyss, which leads them to crash down upon a primitive farmhouse in 1796. “It’s never done that before!”

Kicking off the ultimate boyhood fantasy, Kevin is transported into fantastical worlds full of legendary heroes and villains (as they leap through time periods) and all manner of adventures. From avoiding an evil supreme being (Ralph Richardson) to following a stolen map through prominent historical eras to sneaking into a castle through a river, the unprepared youth embarks on mission after mission with his international criminal cohorts – against (or in aid of) the likes of Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese), and King Agamemnon (Sean Connery), as well as contending with tragedies like the sinking Titanic.

With its cast and its writer/director (Terry Gilliam), “Time Bandits” occasionally feels like a Monty Python feature, especially with moments of slapstick, comical hysteria, biting sarcasm, uncommon revelry, the exaggerated expressions of background roles, and John Cleese behaving terribly anachronistically. But it also possesses a whimsical imaginativeness, overflowing with amusing costumes and sets, as well as an original premise built from time travel, historical figures, and otherworldly entities. It also lends its styling (and some of its imagery) to “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” – Gilliam’s follow-up picture, similarly brimming with flights of fancy (and fairy tales) and mesmerizing blends of reality and illusion.

Great action arises in the conquering of enemies, crossing paths with damsels-in-distress (such as Shelley Duvall as Princess Pansy), plotting heists, commandeering a pirate ship (owned by an ogre), and literally dropping in on each new gallant of folklore. Plus, there’s a hint of “The Wizard of Oz,” not only in the family-friendly fantasy, but also in a couple of reappearances by recognizable actors in dual roles (some of whom turn up in clear differentiations between the real world and mythology). But while “Time Bandits” contains a wealth of creativity, it lacks suspense, which means that many of the exploits are lightly engaging but never full of the tension and excitement of more polished adventure films (several scenarios also carry on for so long that they unavoidably lose steam). Likewise, the antagonists are never convincingly threatening. Nevertheless, the use of bovine-skulled wraiths and magical spells that transform victims into animals are quite diverting – and likely inspirations for subsequent fantasy epics like “The Beastmaster” and “Willow.” And the finale against a powerful sorcerer (David Warner) is thoroughly satisfying.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10