#23: Time Bandits — dir. Terry Gilliam
During film school, this was my number one. Because I wanted a favorite film that would confound the hell out of people. Something bizarre and yet known. Nothing obscure or pretentious. It’s Terry Gilliam, so it’s got arthouse cred. It’s an adventure movie. It’s a children’s movie with a twisted bent. It heavily involves some outstanding actors and most of the Monty Python cast. So when you’re in film school, people expect you to say, “Oh, Kieslowski is a GE-NI-US” or “Scorcese.” And I went with this. It’s just yet another hint that I was handling film school wrong. Then again, we did have grad students who literally wept with fear that someone wouldn’t appreciate Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage. So….wasn’t THAT far off.
Time Bandits is the first in Gilliam’s Trilogy of Imagination, each showing the “ages of man.” Brazil is man in middle age, and the excellent The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is man in old age. Time Bandits is man as a child. Gilliam is a complicated director with a hyperkinetic track record that seems at time well-deserved and unfair. His films succeed or fail, and lately fail. They even made that documentary about the spectacular failure of his Don Quixote debacle. His films aren’t easy to watch, and sometimes get bogged down in whimsy or philosophy.
But Time Bandits is accessible. It’s easy. It’s a children’s movie in the vein of my favorites — Dahl, Shel Silverstein, Brothers Grimm. It’s dark as fuck — that ending still makes me gleeful beyond comparison. With Python behind it, of course it would be eminently quotable. And it uses little people in a manner that’s not exploitative.
Evil kind of triumphs in the end. Which is a hell of a message to send to children. But the result is a historical adventure film that bends space and time and has one of the most symbolically fantastic final sequences — the fight against evil in a darkened lair built from Legos and using heroes culled from the toys in Kevin’s bedroom. It might all have just been a dream — which makes the ending even more unmitigatedly fucked up. There were rumors of a sequel kicking around in the late nineties, but I think that died with most of the diminutive cast. Though holy fuck would I love to see Peter Dinklage as Randall or an equivalent.