Review - "Time Bandits" (1981) (Handmade Films) Rated PG

WriterDave By WriterDave, 26th Jun 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Film & TV>Adventure

Terry Gilliam's perfectionism has meant that his films are usually works of art, but also that some have never been finished (his film about Don Quixote, for example). Gilliam as an artist makes films that are at once visionary and darkly sardonic. "The Fisher King," "Brazil," "Twelve Monkeys," and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" illustrate this premise.

Gilliam in a Lighter Mood

“Time Bandits” is a wonderfully inventive film which came out in the early 1980’s and was directed by cinematic auteur Terry Gilliam. Gilliam, former member of the wildly popular Monty Python team, helms the films with assurance and creativity. Gilliam even wanted the original tagline for the movie to be, “A film intelligent enough for kids, but dumb enough for adults, too!” This pretty much sums up Gilliam’s philosophy about so-called ‘family films.’ Gilliam strayed away from professional child actors, and cast instead Craig Warnock, as the imaginative kid who ends up joining a band of little people on an epic journey. Gilliam tried to avoid the usual clichés of the genre, and tried not to patronize his audience with sappiness. Warnock is straight-forward in his portrayal of ‘Kevin’ without the usual guile of the Macaulay Culkin type actor. Warnock brings a genuine sense of wonderment, hope and adventuresome spirit to his role without being trite.

The film also involves three out of six Python’s: Gilliam of course, Michael Palin who acts and co-wrote the script, and John Cleese in the role of ‘Robin Hood.’ The real “stars” of the film, however, are the six little people who play the ‘bandits.’ There’s ‘Fidgit’ played by Kenny Baker, who also happened to be the little guy in the R2-D2 suit all those years. Then there’s Jack Purvis who plays ‘Wally’ who also was involved in “Star Wars” by playing an Ewok. The leader of the not-so-merry tribe is ‘Randall’ played by David Rappaport. ‘Vermin’ is played by Tony Ross. Mike Edmunds plays ‘Og,’ and ‘Strutter’ is played by Malcolm Dixon.

Gilliam purposely made the six bandits, “Greedy, little bastards” as he puts it, in order to veer away from any cuteness. Gilliam goes on to say on the commentary track of the DVD, that if he had made these characters “normal” size, we’d just think they were horrible, but being of diminutive stature the audience is more forgiving of their character faults. Gilliam’s humor is usually of the dry sort, and any fan of Monty Python’s original television series and also their movies, knows that it can be rather wittily macabre. This is where Michael Palin’s script ideas help to balance out potentially serious historical elements; making them hysterically humorous.

The movie is full of recognizable actors. Sean Connery plays ‘King Agamemnon’ and later, in a Wizard of Oz-like twist, we seem his as a ‘fireman.’ Connery, at the time, was easing into his middle age years, and even requested Gilliam not point the camera at him getting on to a horse in one scene because he thought it made him look “old.” Shelley Duvall plays a couple incarnations of a character named “Pansy” who is paired with a hilarious Palin doing a kind of running gag throughout the film. Katherine Helmond, who was also in Gilliam’s, “Brazil,” plays ‘Mrs. Ogre.’ Ian Holm, known for his role as ‘Bilbo Baggins’ in the “Lord of the Rings” series & also as the sinister ‘Ash’ in “Alien,” plays ‘Napoleon” brilliantly. Also, look fast for a young Jim Broadbent playing an over-enthusiastic TV presenter.

The film is a treat for the imagination, jumping from 18th century France, to the Middle Ages, and back to 20th century England among other time jaunts. Gilliam marvelously used the relatively small budget of five million dollars and “put everything on the screen” as they say. The special effects are a mix of clever ingenuity and careful staging. For example, cut-outs were used for most buildings and small studios were draped with black velvet to give the effect of massive space. Great battles were achieved by a handful of well-placed actors and a smoke machine. Gilliam’s film grossed nearly ten times its original budget at the box office, and most audiences took it as an out-and-out epic, when in fact, it was a “small film” made by an independent production company.

Gilliam’s infectious sense of fun and passion for film making is readily apparent in his second solo effort apart from the Python’s. “Time Bandits” illustrates his genius, creativity, stamina, and timeless enthusiasm for the medium.


Ian Holm, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Sean Connery, Terry Gilliam

Meet the author

author avatar WriterDave
Writing can be many things to many people. For me, it is a way of expression and understanding. Reviewing films, hopefully helps myself and others better understand and get more out of the film.

Share this page

moderator johnnydod moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Mike Robbers
30th Jun 2013 (#)

A great film and a very talented director. Thanks for this interesting review!

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?