Happy Leap Day, all…
The Monty Python guys are, of course, longtime friends, and it’s always fun to see what new projects they come up with. 1981’s Time Bandits is one of those. Written by Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin, Time Bandits is a crazy film that just keeps getting crazier, and nothing ends up where it ought to, but it’s fun getting there.
The movie starts in an average English neighborhood in an average house, where an average husband and wife are watching Your Money Or Your Life and discussing the latest gadgets. They don’t care about much of anything except acquiring stuff. Their son, Kevin (Craig Warnock) prefers reading to keeping up with the Joneses, and when he goes to bed a knight on a horse bursts out of his wardrobe and barrels across his room. Kevin seems to see himself in the middle of a forest, and he hides under the covers.
When he finally peeks out, though, his room looks completely normal, except that there’s now a picture of the knight and the forest hanging on his wall. Kevin is completely baffled, but drifts off to sleep.
The next night, Kevin goes to bed as soon as his dinner is digested. Or at least that’s what he tells his parents. What he’s really doing is sitting on his bed with a Polaroid camera in case the knight comes back. In spite of himself, Kevin falls asleep.
This time, however, instead of a knight, a bunch of little people come out of the wardrobe. They freak at first because they think Kevin is someone else, but when they realize their mistake they demand Kevin tell them how to get out of his bedroom. Kevin hasn’t the foggiest idea what they’re talking about.
Then one of the little people pushes on Kevin’s wall, which moves. Because of course it does. The group of them keep pushing and the wall keeps moving outward, forming a hallway. Kevin is mystified, but he decides to follow the little people when a giant Oz-like face (Ralph Richardson) appears and demands his map back, OR ELSE.
Long story short, Kevin and the little people transport themselves to Italy during the Napoleonic Wars, where they sing “Me And My Shadow” for Napoleon (Ian Holm) before robbing him blind. Then it’s off to Sherwood Forest and a brief meeting with Robin Hood (John Cleese) and his Merry Men, all of whom are very impressed with the dwarves’ haul. Naturally, they take the bulk of it off the little peoples’ hands, telling them how grateful the poor are going to be for the loot.
While all this is going on, the Bandits explain to Kevin that they worked for that Oz-like head (whose name is the Supreme Being and implied to be God) making trees. They got cocky and decided to steal God’s map of the space-time continuum and go on a klepto spree. That’s why the Supreme Being is mad at them.
Unbeknownst to the group, Evil (David Warner) is literally watching them. He covets the map for himself because he wants to rule the world and make it over in his image. So he keeps an eye on the Bandits until it’s the right time to strike.
Kevin’s odyssey kicks into overdrive when he takes the wrong portal and ends up in Mycenaean Greece, where he touches down just in time to see King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) kill a minotaur and bring its head back to his people. Agamemnon is a jovial sort of fellow who adopts Kevin as his own son. Kevin’s good with this because he’s now living in the lap of luxury and not time-hopping every few minutes.
The king throws a spectacular party, with dancers and magicians who split sides of meat to reveal perfect fruit of all kinds. And who should appear among the reveling throng but our little people, who swipe Agamemnon’s gold and spirit Kevin away again.
The Bandits end up on the RMS Titanic, and while the group sits around in white tie and tails sipping champagne, one of the little people, Randall (David Rappaport) lets Kevin in on their big plan. The Bandits are going to slip into the Time of Legends, where they think they can obtain “The Most Fabulous Object In the World.” No word on what that is, but there’s no time to talk about it anyway because the Titanic hits the iceberg and promptly sinks.
Naturally, the Bandits transport themselves into the Time of Legends, where they help an ogre on a ship fix his bad back before tossing he and his wife overboard, purely by accident, natch. Then it’s on to find The Most Fabulous Object In the World, or at least they think it is. Evil has taken the expedition in hand and is now influencing them to come his way. The map is so close Evil can almost taste it.
Evil manages to trap the group in a cage hanging over an abyss. He’s got the map. He thinks he can put his dastardly plan into action. However, Evil hasn’t reckoned on our band of Bandits and Kevin’s stack of Polaroids. He’s also not as much in control of the situation as he would like to think.
One thing’s for sure: The ending will not be what viewers expect. Writers Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin make sure of that, and if anyone is familiar with the Pythons, they know these guys are famously adept at thinking outside the proverbial box. Anyone’s box. Even their own box.
I’ll be honest: The last time I watched Time Bandits was about twenty years ago, and I thought it was weird. The only part of it I remember was when the Supreme Being’s disembodied head gives Kevin and the Bandits the bum’s rush. That’s not exactly something that inspires repeat viewings.
This go-round, on the other hand, was much more enjoyable. Gilliam and Palin’s story is as tight as a drum for all the jumps it takes through history, and if anyone is going to write a movie like this it would be these guys. One of my favorite things about the Pythons is their keen ability to work history into their schtick. This sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore, or at least isn’t done this well.
I think one of the reasons I hesitated to watch it sooner was because I had heard it makes God look like a bumbling fool, which is kind of a cheap place to look for comedy. This is not the case, though–Ralph Richardson’s Supreme Being is the furthest thing from bumbling or foolish. Gilliam and Palin’s approach to the Supreme Being is only slightly irreverent but it doesn’t cross any lines; in fact, God is portrayed as being in complete control over the world, even when bad things happen and it seems like Evil will win out. He’s also shown as operating on His time, not His creation’s, and (this isn’t really a spoiler) eradicating Evil when all is said and done. I don’t know if this is what Gilliam and Palin were going for, but it’s where their characters end up, and it’s nicely refreshing.
Would I watch Time Bandits again? Absolutely, and I won’t wait another twenty years to do it. It’s a romp, it’s got brains, and it needs to be traversed at least once by anyone who’s a fan of Monty Python or who just wants something out of the ordinary.
For more of the Leap Day Blogathon, please go here. Thanks for reading, all.
Oh, and coming up in March:
If anyone would like to participate, please visit the following folks at their fine blogs:
- Debra at Moon In Gemini
- Lea at Silent-ology
- Ruth at Silver Screenings
- Kristina at Speakeasy
- Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews
- Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts
Okeydokey, see you tomorrow with our Leap Day wrapup post!