Time Bandits

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #37: Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits.


Woops. This movie to­tally didn’t do a damn thing for me. And usu­ally I re­ally like Terry Gilliam. I would have pre­ferred some­thing like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen as the Criterion pick, if they were go­ing to go with a Gilliam kid’s movie, since that film is both en­ter­tain­ing, won­der­ful and well made. Time Bandits doesn’t seem like any of those to me, but I’m hop­ing that it was nec­es­sary prac­tice for Gilliam in or­der for him to pro­duce Munchausen. It is a pretty good children’s film, al­though the char­ac­ter­is­tic Gilliam dark­ness might fo­cus the de­mo­graphic on older chil­dren. A younger one might not un­der­stand the whim­si­cal Napoleon, the tech­no­cratic decla­ma­tions of Evil or cope with the ex­plo­sive end­ing of the par­ents. The film cer­tainly doesn’t strike me as some­thing funny. Silly, def­i­nitely, chil­dren will laugh at the danc­ing dwarves, but ac­tual hu­mor is rarely to be found. It is Monty Python with­out the punch.


The film­mak­ing is Gilliam™; a sort of steam­punkesque mag­i­cal re­al­ism, where things like knights break­ing through wardrobes in 20th cen­tury Britain seem plau­si­ble mainly be­cause the sets are as ba­nal as real life and the fu­ture al­ready ap­pears ob­so­lete. What I mean is that a viewer doesn’t have to sus­pend dis­be­lief to see and en­ter into a room that looks like what any boy’s room looked like in 1981, and when the magic oc­curs, it is the type of magic that a boy would imag­ine hap­pen­ing in his room. Gilliam never di­ves too deeply into the rich ter­ri­tory he presents. Instead the con­stant flit­ting about al­lows him to keep the film at a level that chil­dren can un­der­stand and that also ap­pears to be a bit dream­like; set­ting up the “it was only a dream, or was it?” cliché end­ing.


It of­ten seem like Gilliam keeps mak­ing movies in at­tempts to ei­ther elu­ci­date a com­pli­cated thought or pin down a speci­fic world­view that is his Truth. He’s am­bi­tious, in the re­spect that his goal ap­pears to be a uni­fied the­ory, whereas other di­rec­tors are con­tent with the ex­pli­ca­tion of a small piece of truth. Gilliam is a philoso­pher who ac­ci­den­tally be­came a film­maker and uses that medium as his the­sis ve­hi­cle. He cer­tainly seems to ex­press a Camusian ex­is­ten­tial­ist ab­sur­dity, fo­cused less on the ab­sur­dity of ex­is­tence pe­riod, and in­stead on the ab­sur­dity of ex­is­tence now. And while this idea that hu­mans waste their lives con­vinc­ing and dream­ing about bet­ter things pro­vides frus­tra­tion, the fact that these fan­tasy es­capes are of­ten bet­ter than ac­tual life, and the fact that Gilliam is a cre­ator and pur­veyor of such fan­ci­fuls is an irony that I am cer­tain Gilliam is aware of.


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