I love time travel fiction, Monty Python and British sci-fi… Time Bandits was practically made for me. It was released in 1981. I was nine, and my parents took me to see it. I loved it and it went on to become one of the VHS tapes that I rented the most in my youth, right next to Ghostbusters and Strange Brew. I was an odd child.
One night last year at the corner pub, Time Bandits was the topic of discussion among some friends and some people we had just met. That night, I made the mistake of lending my DVD copy to a girl that was at that gathering and I never got it back. I don’t usually lend out my coveted DVDs, but when I’m drunk and a nice-looking pub girl wants to come home with me and borrow a copy of “Time Bandits,” I’m not likely to hesitate. That’s not the sort of thing that happens every day. Anyway, about a week ago, I wanted to watch it again and when I went to the shelf for it, I suddenly remembered it was gone. I took the opportunity to upgrade to a Blu-Ray copy and kicked back with it this weekend along with some scrummy Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout.
Time Bandits can be summed up fairly simply. It’s about a gang of “little people” who work for God and steal a map of all the time holes in the universe in an effort to get rich by robbing their way through history. Oh yeah, and David Warner plays The Devil, who is obsessed with computer technology and he wants to get it from them. That right there is about as epic as a movie concept can get. But beyond that, what I really love about this movie is the way it looks. The time-bending costume designs for Randall and his band, the look of the map itself, that crazy medieval ship that the giant winds up wearing as a hat, even David Warner’s costume, complete with Giger-inspired headgear, is friggin fantastic. There’s also a lot of cool and more surreal imagery at play. I love the void of hanging cages in the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, the way the final battle actually takes place in the lego-strewn floor of Kevin’s bedroom, and those freaky skull-headed, hook-handed minions. Those things freaked me out as a kid… and they still kinda do! This movie is replete with fantastic and imaginative imagery.
The other awesome thing about Time Bandits, as with all of Terry Gilliam’s films is that there are always tons of unanswered questions, which are really wonderfully conducive to drunken speculation at pubs. You take a lot at face value and you’re challenged to fill in a lot of blanks. In the case of Time Bandits, the ending alone has been the subject of many a night of slurred ranting and arguments among my regular drinking group. I also would have loved to know more about Horseflesh. Who was he and how did he die? Just the fact that his name was tossed out a couple of times gives the movie an intriguing untold backstory.
The Blu-Ray itself is a rather mixed bag, with bare bones extras that include only a theatrical trailer and an interview with Gilliam. This is a film that demands a rich commentary track and its absence is highly disappointing. Furthermore, the quality of this film’s print hasn’t aged well and really screams for a professional restoration, which obviously didn’t happen here. As a result, the DVD never looked all that better than the VHS, and there are times when the Blu-Ray doesn’t look much better either. There are still episodes of distracting noise on the print from time to time, and the darker scenes don’t benefit much from the HD transfer. On the other hand, the scenes in Sherwood Forest and in Ancient Mycenae do look rather crisp and clean. The Blu-Ray is an improvement, there were times when I said, “Ooooh, that looks nice!” but it isn’t the polished overhaul that I would have liked.
While the quality of the Blu-Ray is disappointing, Time Bandits remains one of my childhood favorites and to this day I never tire of watching it. It’s quirky and fun, it’s flippant and yet incredibly dark, but most of all it’s pure imagination running wild.