Time Bandits (1981) review


Time Bandits is one of those movies where you can tell that everyone just had so much fun making it. And that seeps into the film proper and makes it a very fun, easy watch. The plot revolves around Kevin, a young history buff whose parents are the gossipy type, most concerned with having the most up-to-date technology in the neighborhood. One night while he is going to sleep, Kevin’s room is bombarded by time-traveling dwarves who are in the possession of a special map that shows the locations of all time holes in existence. These time holes allow you to jump between time periods at will. The dwarves have stolen the map from the Supreme Being, who is on their trail. Throughout the film they travel between different periods and meet different famous figures played by famous actors.

As I already stated the film has a great cast. John Cleese, Michael Palin, Shelly Duvall, Sean Connery, Ian Holm, and David Warner portray various figures from history, and you can tell they are all having a great time, putting a lot of energy into the roles. John Cleese is really good as Robin Hood, who is more laid back then the dwarves expected. The only fault I have here is that I wish Cleese had a bit more screen time, but the time he does have is definitely not wasted. David Warner is funny as evil, and he and his minions share some hilarious moments as they scheme for how they will make the world hell once they get the map. The dwarves themselves work together fantastically. You really believe that these guys are great friends who have been working with each other for years and are happy to escape from their work of creating trees to steal riches from history. I only wish we got more time to know the dwarves as individual characters. Craig Warnock as Kevin is defiantly one of the few weaker performances in the film. He’s not bad (especially for a child actor) but his acting does fall a bit flat at times. Another somewhat dull performance is Ralph Richardson as the human form of the Supreme Being. He comes across as a bit bland. But I think that this almost helps the film, adding to the way the creation of the universe is implied as overly bureaucratic. “He’s dead.” “That’s no excuse to slack off.”

This bureaucratic satire is almost akin to the future in Brazil, the next film Gilliam would direct. Gilliam’s early films are known for lavish special effects, and Time Bandits doesn’t disappoint in the least in that department. My favorite would have to be the scene with the giant balancing the ship on his head. The effects are all really convincing, and further proof that going practical is better than computers, especially when handled right, as they are here. I also have to mention the soundtrack, by Mike Moran which give the film an even stronger adventurous feeling. It’s a great listen (if you can find it) if you like 80’s synth music.

To wrap things up, Time Bandits is a fantastic watch. With a witty script, superb cast, and special effects that really help transport you out of the movie theatre and into this world of time-traveling dwarves and Supreme Beings, Time Bandits manages to be a very fun and whimsical film. I only wish that there was a bit more focus on character when it comes to the protagonist. But that’s not what Time Bandits is out to do. The film is about adventure, and escaping from everyday life, which is a recurring theme in Gilliam’s films. Time Bandits is a great adventure that can be enjoyed by just about anyone, at any age. Just as long as you are willing to be whisked away in a time hole.