‘Time Bandits’ Criterion Blu-ray is Timeless Fun

by Eric Melin on December 16, 2014

in Blu-ray/DVD Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up]

There’s nothing quite like the imagination of a child. Those crucial years before adulthood — before a pretty complete picture of the world and what’s possible in it is formed —  a wild and woolly thing exists.

Pure imagination.

Kids are taught history and science in school. They start reading on their own, They discover language and myth and storytelling. A world of wonder is opening before them, and they’ve got only their blooming tastes and interest to guide them. At least that’s how it was for me when I was young.

Terry Gilliam‘s Time Bandits, out now on a fantastic-looking Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection, was a huge part of that. It offered a wealth of visual delights, a main character I could relate to, a sardonic sense of humor (borrowed at least partially from my beloved Monty Python’s Flying Circus) and it never pandered.

33 years later, I can confirm that this one-of-a-kind movie still has the power to stoke young imaginations.

Part of what makes Time Bandits so unique is the creative way that visual effects were realized by Gilliam and crew. As 11-year-old Kevin (Craig Warnock) whisks through time and space with six pint-sized thieves, he sees all manner of fantastical beings. For the two similarly aged nephews I watched this with recently, there was something awe-inspiring about the unique quality of Gilliam’s in-camera special effects, costumes, animation, and off-scale perspectives. For a generation raised on realistic-looking CGI — where they understand everything is created with computer software — there’s something otherworldy and special about old-school cinema magic.

The script, co-written by Gilliam with Python alum Michael Palin, starts off in the exact place most children’s fantasies take place. In the bedroom, reading a book. Kevin’s reading about the heroes of ancient Greece, while pictures of medieval knights adorn his walls. One such knight suddenly appears in his room. He looks to his wall to see the forest, and the warrior and horse suddenly gallop away. When the little people stumble into his bedroom through the wardrobe (a nod to C.S. Lewis no doubt), Kevin thinks he’s really gone mad.

As if that weren’t enough to blow young minds (it was), a giant floating head appears and bellows at the trespassers, who being pushing one wall of Kevin’s bedroom, which impossibly keeps going and going, turning it into a never-ending tunnel. They fall through a hole in the space-time continuum, and we’re off.

Underlying all of the bumbling hi-jinks and time-travel adventure is a sense of longing for something better. What kid doesn’t imagine visiting Sherwood Forest (especially if Robin Hood is played by John Cleese)? Kevin’s parents are obsessed with material things. They sit in front of the TV and watch absurd game shows and show little interest in their son.

When Kevin is taken in by King Agamemnon in ancient Greece (Sean Connery), he actually wants to stay there and never go home. The mischievous (and notorious) ending stays true to the anarchic spirit of the rest of Time bandits. These days, a movie aimed at kids would never end on such a down note. Or maybe its not a downer; look at it how you will.

The new digital restoration is a welcome upgrade form even the older Criterion DVD, so it almost feels contemporary. Regardless, if I didn’t know it was 1981 already, it would be hard to place the year it was made — and kids today who watch it might find that it resides in its own unique place from everything else they’ve seen. It looks amazing, plain and simple.

Below is a clip from the 24-minute featurette Creating the Worlds of Time Bandits, which along with the audio commentary from the 1997 Criterion DVD, form the best two extras of this set. A 9-minute Shelly Duvall interview by Tom Snyder is fluff, but there’s also a nice 80-minute Gilliam conversation from 1998 that covers much of his career.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Average Jane January 13, 2015 at 4:44 pm

Ooh, I’d like to show this to my niece and nephew!

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