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Terry Gilliam
John Cleese, Sean Connery, Craig Warnock, David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Malcolm Dixon, Mike Edmonds, Jack Purvis, Tiny Ross
Writing Credits:
Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin

All the dreams you've ever had ... and not just the good ones ...

From the deliciously demented mind of co-writer/producer/director Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Monty Python) comes this twisted adventure of young schoolboy Kevin who is swept along on a crime spree through the holes of history by a greedy gang of wee thieves. But even if these ruthless little renegades can entertain a testy Napoleon (Ian Holm), outsmart a not-too-bright Robin Hood (John Cleese), trick the heroic King Agamemnon (Sean Connery), and destroy the dark forces of Evil (David Warner), will they survive the very astounding wrath of The Supreme Being himself?

Michael Palin, Shelley Duvall, Katherine Helmond and Ralph Richardson co-star in this ingenious, outrageous and totally hilarious fairy tale classic that kids, grown-ups and critics alike all call "One of the Greatest Fantasy Movies Ever Made!" This Special Two-Disc Edition is now presented with an all new High-Definition transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX audio, plus a full Bonus Disc featuring in-depth Terry Gilliam extras, DVD-ROM surprises and much more.

Box Office:
$5 million.
Opening Weekend
$6.507 million on 821 screens.
Domestic Gross
$42.365 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 1/27/2004

• “The Directors – The Films of Terry Gilliam” Documentary
• Interview with Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin
• Theatrical Trailers
• Terry Gilliam Bio
• DVD-ROM Features
• Foldout Map of the Universe and Liner Notes

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Time Bandits: Divimax Edition (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 26, 2004)

I'd like to share a little story with you. At the risk of escalated expectations, I believe it clearly to be the Greatest Story Ever Told.

My friend Kevin's father Onions (actually, his name is "John" but we refer to him as "Onions" for obscure reasons that will remain that way) actually originated this tale. One day during dinner, Onions informed the gathered flock that while in times past he did not enjoy the flavor of the condiment called "mustard," in the present day he most clearly does delight in a little savory sauciness. Onions said, and I quote, "I didn't used to like mustard, but now I do."

It still brings a little tear to my eye...

Anyway, I mention this epic simply to introduce the notion that tastes and feelings tend to change over time. We all know this, so why must I belabor the obvious and waste time? Because I love what we affectionately refer to as The Mustard Story and because I couldn't think of any better way to introduce my review of Time Bandits.

When I saw the film theatrically in the fall of 1981, I really liked it, and I continued to enjoy Bandits on video after that. However, it never became one of my all-time favorites, so I went long stretches during which I didn’t watch the movie. When I gave it a modern reappraisal, I decided that overall, it offers a fun and fairly entertaining but rather spotty film. Certainly it possesses an clever and wide-open plot, as it tells the tale of a group of would-be thieves who use doorways into different time zones to plunder the riches of the past.

Actually, that brief synopsis tells you both less and more of the situation. "More" in that it implies that Time Bandits actually has a plot. It doesn't, really. The time-travelling setup exists mainly as an excuse to get our principals to interact wackily with famous denizens of other lands and eras. Oh, it attempts something of a plot in that our heroes are occasionally threatened by The Supreme Being (Sir Ralph Richardson) and need to elude him. In addition, a being who embodies evil - called the Evil Genius, actually (David Warner) – tries to capture them, but the story elements seem somewhat half-hearted.

When I say that my synopsis doesn't really offer a full picture of the story, however, I mean that it doesn't inform you of the richness of the movie's background. You see, the heroes to whom I refer are not just everyday, ordinary time-travelers. No, they're a group of six dwarfs; the seventh, Horseflesh, died before the start of the events in the movie. They’ve worked since the beginning of time as assistants to The Supreme Being, and they took charge of trees and shrubs. However, they received criticism for some poor work so they steal a map that shows "holes" in the universe, which exist because creation was something of a botched job.

These holes let our group hop in and out of different time periods, and they've decided to use this advantage to get stinking rich. Thus begins their attempt to become proper criminals, and there's your title!

Also along for the ride is Kevin (Craig Warnock), a young boy into whose bedroom the bandits inadvertently arrive one evening. He's a bright child whose dim, materialistic parents seem to stifle him. As such, he clearly doesn't miss them as he cavorts through time, especially since he's a wee history buff.

As I mentioned earlier, clearly this premise offers a wealth of opportunities, both comic and adventure. Early in the film, humor strongly dominates as our group robs Napoleon (Ian Holm) and then encounters Robin Hood (John Cleese). Admittedly, the structure of the film to this point resembles glorified sketches, not surprising considering the Monty Python pedigree behind it. Also not surprisingly, this portion of the film - up through the first 45 minutes or so – consistently entertains and delights. The section in Sherwood Forest provides probably the movie’s strongest sequence.

But then Kevin gets separated from his mates when he chooses the wrong time gate and he ends up in ancient Greece. Happy coincidence for Kevin, since we already know that he digs Agamemnon (Sean Connery). Guess onto whom Kevin literally falls when he arrives? We then get a somewhat extended segment where Kevin enters into that society and becomes adopted by Agamemnon.

This is where the movie starts to falter. This segment seems to serve very little purpose in the film. Ultimately, the bandits find Kevin and take him with them, against his very strong wishes to the contrary. Now removed from his dream existence, Kevin clearly resents and dislikes his old comrades, but that factor plays virtually no role in the plot; Kevin sulks for a scene and then the action resumes as if nothing ever happened.

So what was the point of the whole Agamemnon thing, other than to give the movie an excuse to feature Connery? I have not a clue. Virtually nothing interesting happens during this segment. Actually, I feel astonished to see how short this part of the film is. I always thought it went on forever, and it certainly seems that way when I watch Time Bandits. In actuality, however, it only occupies 13 minutes of screen time. 13 minutes!? Seems like a lot more than that.

Once that misery ends, the film becomes more entertaining, but by then, it's lost lots of momentum and the remaining material isn't quite strong enough to buoy it back to its previous levels. Time Bandits lurches toward the inevitable confrontations at its climax, and it offers some nice bits of humor along the way, but the whole enterprise seems a little tedious and worn out by the time the film finally does end.

Oh well, at least the first 45 minutes entertain well enough to largely make up for the rest. There's some terrific material and wonderful performances in there. Ian Holm and John Cleese do some hilarious acting as Napoleon and Robin Hood, respectively, and the film portrays a fantastically skewed view of history. I won't even bother to relate some of the comic bits, because they won't translate at all to the printed page, but suffice it to say that there's some great work going on during the early parts of Time Bandits.

The main redeeming aspects of the later parts of the film come from actors as well. We see David Warner's hammily sadistic portrayal of the Evil Genius throughout the movie, but he gets most of his work toward the end. Ralph Richardson offers a wonderfully crusty portrayal of The Supreme Being as well. Too bad there wasn't more of interest happening around them.

As the primary cast, the leading small actors provide fine performances. It's really very nice to see these "vertically challenged" folk getting actual roles to play instead of functioning as glorified props. David Rappaport's great as "leader" Randall, and be sure to note Kenny "R2-D2" Baker as Fidgit (that's what I meant by the "prop" crack). As young Kevin, Craig Warnock's perfectly fine if somewhat lifeless; he neither hurts nor really helps the film, which is actually pretty good for a child actor; many of them actively harm the flicks in which they appear.

Interestingly, Sean Connery's performance probably represents the low point of the film, though I don't blame him. His entire segment is such a disaster and he's given such weak material with which to work that I doubt there was much he could do.

I can’t say that Time Bandits lives up to my childhood memories of it, and the movie certainly seems rather erratic. However, it includes a lot of great material. Despite the slow points and the bad scenes, enough of the film works well that I think it’s good overall.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Time Bandits appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Anchor Boy’s “Divimax” release provides the second DVD transfer of the film. Anchor Bay also put out a version in 1999, but apparently it used the same transfer found on the Criterion edition that came out only weeks before that.

That one didn’t look too hot, so I was excited to finally get a new transfer five years later. Happily, the new DVD presented a radically improved image that totally blew away the prior releases.

Across the board, sharpness looked quite good. Only the slightest smidgen of softness occurred in a few shots, but those instances seemed very rare and unobtrusive. During the vast majority of the film, the picture remained crisp and detailed. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but some minor examples of edge enhancement created minor distractions at times.

Probably the most significant concerns that occurred during the old disc stemmed from source flaws. For that release, lots of defects popped up throughout the movie and caused definite distractions. The new disc largely eliminated these problems. I noticed occasional specks and some light dust, but that was about it. All the blotches, marks, grit and general debris of the old release vanished in this mostly clean and fresh image. Grain remained prominent at times, but those concerns were unavoidable and part of the original material.

Whereas the old disc displayed a rather reddish palette that seemed somewhat limited, the new one came across as decidedly more vivid and natural. The colors looked nicely tight and distinctive. Reds still played an important role, but they were firm and lively instead of the rusty look seen in the original DVD. Blacks seemed dark and deep, while low-light shots presented clear and smooth imaging. None of those shots suffered from excessive opacity, as they looked well defined and concise. The light edge enhancement and minor print flaws narrowly kept Time Bandits from an “A-“, but its “B+” still seemed very positive and marked a remarkable improvement over the decidedly flawed prior release; much of the time, the movie looked like it was shot yesterday.

Whereas the old disc featured the original Dolby Surround 2.0 audio of Time Bandits, the Divimax version presented a spiffied-up Dolby Digital EX 5.1 soundtrack. It also improved upon the sound from the prior disc, but not to as significant a degree as we noticed with the picture. Both presented fairly similar soundfields. Except for the well-defined stereo music, the soundfield appeared monaural much of the time, but it opened up pretty nicely for the action sequences. Those sequences displayed good spread to the sides and reinforcement from the rear when appropriate. For example, the Battle of Castiglione showed nice delineation and placement of effects, and the wind effect when the Supreme Being chased the guys seemed involving.

Audio quality was generally good but could be erratic. Speech demonstrated some edginess, and I also noticed a bit of bleeding to the sides, especially during the third act. However, most dialogue was reasonably distinct, and the voice of the Supreme Being demonstrated decent bass response. Music sounded pretty bright and dynamic and also showed good clarity. Effects varied. At times, they seemed thin and a bit harsh, and louder elements like explosions featured some distortion. Still, dynamics appeared fairly good across the board, and most of the effects were acceptably clean and accurate. Overall, the audio of Time Bandits featured too many flaws to merit a grade over a “B“, but it often exceeded my standards for audio from a flick released in 1981.

Many of my comments above duplicated what I wrote about the Criterion release. So why did the new one earn a slightly higher grade? Because the 2004 disc seemed just a bit cleaner and tighter. It still demonstrated many of the same concerns, but the package appeared somewhat more distinctive and concise. Distortion wasn’t as prominent, though it still occurred. Neither track knocked off my socks, and the Dolby Digital one wasn’t a vast improvement over the prior track. Still, it seemed a little better.

Time Bandits doesn’t include a lot of extras, especially since it comes as a two-DVD effort. All the supplements show up on disc two. A documentary arrives via The Directors: The Films of Terry Gilliam. It lasts 58 minutes and 29 seconds as it covers Gilliam’s career. We find snippets from many of his flicks, some stills, and interviews with Gilliam as well as actors Shelley Duvall, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Katherine Helmond, David Warner, Amanda Plummer, and Mercedes Ruehl. The program starts with Gilliam’s background and progresses chronologically through his career from the days right before Monty Python up to 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The actors add some nice insights into working with Gilliam, but the director’s remarks dominate the show. He gives us generally quick comments about most of his flicks and provides notes about various aspects of them.

As usual, Gilliam seems nicely frank as he goes over his past. Unfortunately, most of the actors’ comments consist of the standard happy talk, and other flaws emerge. The program focuses way too much on 1991’s The Fisher King and almost totally neglects 1979’s Life of Brian. It also presents some factual errors, and the narrator often mispronounces names. Still, although the format appears somewhat dry, but “Directors” presents a reasonably solid overview of Gilliam’s career.

Next we find an interview with Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin. This 27-minute and 20-second piece puts the two together on a couch as they discuss the origins of Time Bandits, issues connected to writing the flick, casting, segments from the script that didn’t show up in the film, and many other topics that deal with the film’s creation. A few of these will sound familiar to fans who heard the audio commentary on the Criterion disc, but they provide a lot of material not discussed there and give us a fairly interesting and informative chat.

The DVD offers two trailers. The US ad seems fairly lame, but the international clip is irreverent and amusing. The Terry Gilliam Biography falls in line with Anchor Bay’s usual high standards for those listings. It seems long and detailed and is definitely worth a read. The DVD’s booklet includes a foldout replica of the movie’s map plus a short essay from critic Jay Cocks.

For those with DVD-ROM drives, they can check out the flick’s screenplay. Accessible as a PDF program, this offers a cool feature. The final film differs quite a lot from this text, so it’s very fun to check out the variations between the two.

In the end, although I clearly find fault with the film, I enjoy Time Bandits enough that the movie comes recommended. It sags at around the mid-point, but it still packs enough lively and amusing material to merit a look. This new DVD presents audio fairly similar to the prior versions, and though the supplements add some decent information, the two-disc set doesn’t exactly come packed with materials. However, the DVD presents greatly improved picture quality that makes it a must-have for fans.

The 2004 release of Time Bandits definitely warrants a repurchase for anyone who already owns either of the prior releases. The old Anchor Bay release now seems totally useless, as the new one totally outclasses it. However, those with the Criterion version will probably still want to hold onto it for its pretty informative audio commentary. If you only want one Time Bandits DVD in your collection, I’d recommend the 2004 two-disc version. It presents similarly decent but unexceptional extras but offers moderately better audio and vastly superior picture when compared to the Criterion edition.

To rate this film visit the Criterion Collection review of TIME BANDITS

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main