For anyone that hasn’t seen Time Bandits, stop where you are, disconnect from "the net” and plug in at your local movie rental place. It’s essential that you see this picture before you see any other movies, even if you don’t like it. Otherwise you can’t really talk about movies without sounding like the guy that’s never had sex but keeps talking about boobies. We can spot you non-Bandits watchers anywhere. I once took a comedic film class where we watched two versions of Lysistrata (one a 1960’s blue-eye-shadow-Greek-whore version and the other in a getto-fied ‘90s style). If I could survive that, you certainly can handle Time Bandits. Besides, if you do like it (some people would replace if here with when) you can get back on the net and “correct” me.
Let’s start this off on the right foot: Time Bandits sucks! Now that I have your attention, we can really discuss the film. Of course, I didn’t really mean it sucks, not like Taxi or Seed of Chucky or A Walk In the Clouds. It’s likeable and has all the right actors in it, but what I mean is this: since Time Bandits was put out in 1981, I’ve seen it over twenty times as a child and twice now as an adult. I liked it better as a kid. There was magic to it then, and there were parts that were truly scary to me. But now, all these years later, it’s just not the same. So, to say as a critic that I don’t rank Time Bandits way up there does not in any way refer to my great feelings of nostalgia toward the film.
Time Bandits is a story of a boy, Kevin, who lives with gadget-obsessed parents in a modern English house while dreaming of ancient times, battles, knights, princes, thieves, and is absorbed in real history. Within the first five minutes of the movie, while Kevin is lying in bed, a man on a horse comes busting through his wardrobe and runs off into a field where a wall once was. Gotta’ love a film that picks up with action from the get go and draws you into its own wonder! The following night a band of dwarves comes in, running from the Supreme Being, Creator of the Universe, and owner of the map they have stolen. They end up taking Kevin along for a pillaging raid that spans centuries. Time Bandits ties in anthropology, religion, science fiction, fantasy, adventure, and most importantly, comedy into one big picture and gives you a great ride throughout the entire film.
Here is where the problem lies: there’s no take-home message. It’s great comedy and fun, but for the strong film it is supposed to be, it doesn’t leave anything on the roof of my mouth to pick over later. I like movies where I come away with a feeling, a thought, a sympathy, an anger, an anything. This film ends, and it’s over. There are no remnants to string together or discuss with your friends about its meaning or purpose. Perhaps that means director Terry Gilliam did a good job, because it is so final as a story, but for me, I don’t think so. I like movie-leftovers. I like thinking about the film afterward (and not just because I know I have to write about it later). Time Bandits touches on and picks over the ideas of creation, a God-like manifestation, a Devil-like being, but that’s as close to a real deep thought as it gets, from that point on it’s all just for historic fun. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t hate funny movies. I’m just saying as far as movies go: I tend to like the ones that can be comical as well as leave a taste in your mouth.
Time Bandits is a fairy tale worth watching. But I’m not sure how hilarious, or fabulous, or kick-ass it would be if I had never seen it as a child. Much like Kevin, I was amazed at what I saw, but now I’m grown and the magical midgets have become short, middle-age actors getting paid to jump through imaginary black holes.
No, we're not running this review because a brand-spanking new edition has been released. In fact, you'll find over the history of the DVD Time Bandits has already seen its fair share of double dipping and multiple releases.
From what I can find Time Bandits was put out on DVD three times. The first was the Criterion Collection in March of 1999. This is the version I watched, it has a commentary recorded in 1997 with director Terry Gilliam, cowriter/actor Michael Palin, and actors John Cleese, David Warner, and Craig Warnock. This is a great commentary if for nothing else than because of who’s on it. This version also has a Time Bandits Scrapbook, the theatrical trailer for the movie, and a nice touch of color bars to watch (to help fine tune your picture - who else but Criterion would include that!).
A month later, in April of 1999, Anchor Bay Entertainment put out an edition that was strictly the movie. No extras, special features, free movie tickets, nothing. I’m not sure how comparable the prices were at the time but I can’t imagine standing in the video store debating over the copy with extra features or the one with nothing. Obviously, Anchor Bay thought about this and started working to attempt to corner the market that is Time Bandits freaks.
In January of 2004, Anchor Bay released Bandits again, this time as a Divimax Special Edition. This version has two discs with more features but no commentary, perhaps because all the guys had already sat around a table and gibbered all they wanted once before. Instead, this set has a Terry Gilliam episode of AFI's The Directors”and interviews with Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin. There’s also a DVD-ROM with the original screenplay and a fold-out map of the universe.
While I haven’t seen the Divimax Special Edition I’m not sure how much better the interviews would be compared to the commentary. However if the map is anything close to the way the actual map looks and appears to feel, I’d be in. If it was more like a cheap poster for someone to tack on their wall, then no dice. My sister had plenty of cheap Kirk Cameron posters growing up, and I really don’t want to reminisce that far back into my childhood to pull out a cheap Time Bandits map and hang it up there with him. It’s hard to imagine that a movie that makes such a point of parents over-absorbed in commercialism would be something Gilliam would want to release over an over for a little extra profit. Let’s hope there’s never a fourth edition put out.