Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ten Statements About....TIME BANDITS (1981)

"I think the reason I've gotten top billing over you is called...
oh, I don't know, celebrity?"
"Who was that man?"
"That was no man. That was the Supreme Being."
"You mean God?"
"Well, we don't know Him that well. We only work for Him."

1) At the core, this is a children's fantasy, and one of its strengths is how Terry Gilliam makes it a children's fantasy as a child would imagine it, not how an adult would.  Thus it's messy, it's gross at times, it's illogical....and it is sophisticated only to the lengths a particularly bright child can achieve.

2) And let's be honest here; the other strength is Gilliam's incredible attention to detail both visually and story-wise.  I was particularly struck by how the Castle Of Evil in certain shots seems to be made out of Lego Bricks...thus making it something a child can build itself.

3) However, it's not perfect.  It's obvious that Gilliam's script (written in collaboration with Michael Palin) hasn't shaken off his Monty Python sketch structure.  There are moments--like the frequent visits with Palin and Shelly Duvall's lovers--where the film stops so we can get a sketch.  Hell, the whole first half plays out like an extended, star-studded Python episode.  And speaking of that first half....

4) It really could have used some trimming.  I understand that we needed to establish the idea of the time holes and all, but did we really need to spend as much time as we do with Napoleon and Robin Hood?  The Napoleon sequence in particular seems very drawn out.  So does the King Agamemnon sequence, but that one serves the secondary purpose of showing us what Kevin's ideal father would be like before we get the diametrically opposite father figures of Evil and The Supreme Creator....
"What do you mean this is supposed to be a comedy?"

5) While we're on the subject, I like how both David Warner's Evil and Ralph Richardson's Supreme Being are designed as reflections on Kevin's thoughts on what fathers are like.  Warner's is capricious and cruel and prone to punishing for the sake of punishing, while Richardson's is condescending and lecturing to his assistants, making his punishments seem like kindness.  These are both valid ways a child like Kevin might see his own father as being.

6) I find it fascinating that Warner's Evil is obsessed with recreating the world with technology, as opposed to humanity, coming first.  But then, there's a definite luddite-ness to the whole film; it's technology that seems to obsess Kevin's parents to the point of neglecting him, it's technology that tempts the Bandits to their capture by Evil, it's technology that backfires on the Bandits when they're fighting Evil, and it's ultimately technology that ends up delivering Kevin's parents to their fate.

7) As much as I liked Sean Connery's Agamemnon--and I liked him alike--he seems to be in an entirely different movie.  Whereas John Cleese's Robin Hood and Ian Holm's Napoleon are aware they're in some form of a comedy, Connery plays his role absolutely straight.  Even the one moment that could appear comedic, where he does a magic trick for Kevin, is done very seriously.
In its last days, some of the members of Menudo were...
Questionable Choices.

8) I appreciate how everything that Kevin experiences on his adventure can be ascribed to a dream he has inspired by his toys and surrounding and exacerbated by what we learn in the very last sequence has been happening to his house....but attention is never drawn to this fact.  We see the items that might inspire his fantasy in very tiny glimspes so that if we catch it, that's good but if we don't we still get a strange adventure.

9) I totally adore the way Warner has this weird sort of dynamic with his three minions.  There's an active....affection Evil seems to have for these three misshapen lackey, and yet he is incapable of showing that affection except through cruelty and torment.  And the even weirder thing is how much the minions seem to delight in this, to the point that they cheer when they're about to be destroyed.

10) You know, that ending leaves a strange taste in my mouth, especially given what The Supreme Beings says about Kevin's future.  It seems maybe too dark a note to end the film on, even for a film like this that has some really, really dark notes.

Overall...a good children's fantasy that marks a particular moment of development in an excellent director, this film is glorious for its flaws and a compelling watch.

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