Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Time Bandits

directed by Terry Gilliam

Time Bandits poster  
Kevin (Craig Warnock) is a bright kid whose parents seem to care about having the latest gadgets more than anything else. But when he's sent to bed one night he discovers that his room is at the centre of a hole in spacetime. When a group of time bandits appear with a stolen map, Kevin is hurtled into an adventure that takes him around the world and through time.

The group of bandits set out to plunder riches from some of the most influential figures in history. They may be shorter than Kevin, but their ambitions are huge. On the way they meet Napoleon (Ian Holm), who bemoans his short stature, a polite and extremely posh Robin Hood (John Cleese), and a fatherly Agamemnon (Sean Connery).

The movie is full of slapstick comedy and silly dialogue that's heavily influenced by the Monty Python sense of humour. The bandits couldn't be more rag-tag and disorganised. They're pursued through time by the Supreme Being, who wants his map back. Meanwhile his nemesis, Evil (David Warner), is watching them and planning to lure the gang to their destruction so that the map can fall into his hands and he can undo creation. Evil is fascinated by technology, and when he's not being cruel to his minions he's asking questions about computers and nuclear reactors.

Kevin and the bandits also have to contend with mythical creatures such as ogres and giants, when they find themselves in the time of legend. Kevin experiences time with childlike enthusiasm, taking photos and finding ways to fit in during each era. But the bandits seem to be obsessed with money, and they are on a quest for a fabulous object. There's an obvious moral message about the evils of materialism, parodied by Jim Broadbent as the host of a vicious game show centred on greed. But although the message is blunt, this film is too flippant to be preachy. It's a brilliant family movie, funny and full of entertaining effects and outrageous characters. A lot of fantasy films have quite saccharine endings, but Time Bandits doesn't fall into this trap. It sidesteps sentimentality by delighting in a certain amount of comic nastiness all the way through.

The pace is frenzied, as the group tumble through one era after another, and every scene brings something absurd and unexpected. Towards the end events take on the craziness of a dream, in a Fortress of Ultimate Darkness constructed of Lego. Yet Time Bandits is quite clever, so there's a reason for all the madcap action. Ralph Richardson makes a great Supreme Being, his calm authority providing a perfect foil for the enthusiastic and incompetent bandits, and the overblown posturing of Evil. The gags pile on thick and fast in this consistently funny movie, making it ideal for family entertainment.

Film Details

Decade: 1980s

Categories: Films

  Kids     Fantasy

Classification: PG

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5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Terry Gilliam