Time Bandits

Time Bandits

name = Time Bandits

caption = "Time Bandits" film poster
amg_id = 1:49986
imdb_id = 081633
writer = Terry Gilliam
Michael Palin
starring = John Cleese
Sean Connery
Shelley Duvall
Ralph Richardson
Katherine Helmond
Ian Holm
Michael Palin
David Rappaport
Craig Warnock
director = Terry Gilliam
producer = Terry Gilliam
George Harrison
Denis O'Brien
music = Mike Moran
Songs by George Harrison
cinematography = Peter Biziou
editing = Julian Doyle
distributor = Handmade Films
Janus Films
Embassy Pictures
released = United Kingdom:
13 July 1981
United States:
6 November, 1981
runtime = 116 min. / USA:110 min.
country = United Kingdom
language = English
budget = $5,000,000
gross = $42,365,581

"Time Bandits" is a 1981 fantasy film, produced and directed by Terry Gilliam.

Gilliam wrote the screenplay with fellow Monty Python alumnus Michael Palin, who appears with Shelley Duvall in the small, recurring roles of Vincent and Pansy. The film is one of the most famous of more than 30 theatrical features produced by Handmade Films, the London-based independent company backed in part by former Beatle George Harrison.

Gilliam would work with many of this film's cast again in 1985's "Brazil", including Jim Broadbent, Ian Holm, Peter Vaughan, Katherine Helmond, Michael Palin and Jack Purvis.

Plot summary

The central character, a bright young 11-year-old boy named Kevin, is constantly ignored by his parents. They live together in a sterile, modern house full of household gadgets. Kevin's mother is obsessed with keeping up with the neighbours in the race to have the latest gadgets. All the furniture is covered by clear plastic protectors. Kevin's parents spend most of their time watching a game show called "Your Money or Your Life", which exacts bizarre penalties for wrong answers to questions. Kevin loves history, especially the Ancient Greeks, but his parents are far too distracted to pay any mind to his newly-found knowledge.

One night, Kevin is awakened by a noise coming from his wardrobe. Suddenly, a knight on horseback bursts through the wardrobe doors and rides off into an avenue of trees that temporarily replaces one wall of Kevin's room. The next night, Kevin, determined to find out what emerges from the wardrobe, prepares himself with a torch and a Polaroid camera. This time, what emerges is a group of six dwarves. At first, they are fawning and apologetic until they realize the bright light is only a torch being held by a kid. As they consult a large, worn map trying to find their way out, a wind picks up in the room and the glowing visage of the Supreme Being appears, who demands they "return the map you have stolen from me! It will bring you great danger!" Pushing at a bedroom wall, Kevin and the dwarves escape into a black void.

The stolen map shows time portals, holes in the fabric of space/time. It was supposed to help the dwarves repair the space/time fabric, but due to a labour dispute with the Supreme Being, they decided to use it to get "stinking rich." By dropping in on various time periods to rob the rich and famous, they hope to achieve their goal. Meanwhile, the Source of all Evil (personified by David Warner) is also after the map to gain control of the universe from the Supreme Being, and remake it in his own image. The band of thieves roams history, moving from Napoleonic-era (with Ian Holm as a height-obsessed Napoleon) to the Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood (John Cleese) to Mycenaean Greece, where Kevin is befriended by the legendary king, Agamemnon (Sean Connery), to the 1912 voyage of the "Titanic". With the unsolicited assistance of Evil, they make their way to the 'Time of Legends' and are subsequently trapped in Evil's "Fortress of Ultimate Darkness." Once Evil dupes them into handing over their precious map, he prepares to embark on a larger scheme: to reinvent creation.

The dwarves and Kevin manage to escape, and use a Polaroid photo Kevin took of the Map to summon help from various eras of human history to confront Evil. Their combined forces get much the worse of the encounter until the appearance of the Supreme Being, in the person of an elderly gentleman (Ralph Richardson) arrives, clad in a decidedly elegant business suit. He quickly destroys Evil, although there is left behind a smoking mound of rubble which He identifies as "highly concentrated evil." The Supreme Being directs the chastened bandits to clean up the "mess" and returns Kevin to his home.

Kevin awakens in his own bedroom, and immediately discovers that the house is on fire. He is rescued by firemen. When the firemen kick in Kevin's door, the tableau that played out against evil is briefly depicted on the floor using Kevin's toys. Once safely outside, he reaches into the pocket of his dressing-gown, discovers the Polaroid photos he took along his journey with the dwarves, and realizes that his adventure was not a dream after all. In the film's denouement, Kevin's inattentive parents run out of the house, arguing. A fireman, upon exiting the house, hands them a toaster oven he blames for having started the fire. The door falls open, revealing a smouldering piece of Evil that the dwarves had failed to pick up. Kevin screams, "Mum, Dad! It's "Evil"! Don't touch it!" Ignoring Kevin, his parents touch it — and explode. Receiving a wink from a departing fire-fighter (also played by Connery), Kevin is left alone asking quietly of the smouldering piles of ashes that once were his parents, "Mum? Dad?"


As might be expected, given the participation of half of the Monty Python troupe, the film's sense of humour is irreverent and dark. It also was the first film in which Gilliam's unique visual style was fully extant: he would go on to develop the style further in his subsequent fantasy films "Brazil" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen".

Students of Gilliam's films have dubbed these three movies the "Trilogy of the Imagination" and Gilliam himself refers to it as a "trilogy about the ages of Man and the subordination of magic to realism." [ [http://www.filmreference.com/Directors-Fr-Ha/Gilliam-Terry.html Filmreference.com: Terry Gilliam - Films as Director] ] The connecting link shared by each film is the fact that each celebrates the spirit of imagination, and is anchored by a quixotic central character whose imagination is suppressed by forces not of his own choosing or design (in this case, Kevin). In each film, the character must undergo a fantastic journey that will allow his imagination to be given its freedom as God (here called the Supreme Being) had originally intended. What binds these three together is that in "Time Bandits" the dreamer is a boy, in "Brazil" a man, and in "Baron Munchausen" an old man.

The film once more uses Gilliam's motif of bureaucracy and technology hurting imagination and creativity. This was further expanded upon in "Brazil".


As discussed in a DVD interview with Palin and Gilliam, the film came out in the fall season (after the blockbuster summer films, but before the hit Christmas season) and became extremely successful at the U.S. box office, making [http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=timebandits.htm over $40 million] . [http://imdb.com/title/tt0081633/externalreviews Critical reception] since it came out in theatres has been positive overall, and it still enjoys a good reputation on DVD, having gained a [http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/time_bandits 94% on Rotten Tomatoes] .


The film's script broke down as Gilliam mostly devising the story and Palin mostly writing the dialogue. Gilliam has said of writing dialogue that it "doesn't come as easily as it should."

"Time Bandits" was filmed at Lee International Studios, Shepperton, Middlesex, England, and on location in England, Wales and Morocco.

Originally Craig Warnock's brother auditioned for the lead in the film, but Gilliam thought his performance was too cute and artificial, and was instead drawn to the more sedate Craig, who had only tagged along and hadn't planned to audition at all. Sean Connery appears in the film as Agamemnon; this casting choice derives from a joke Michael Palin included in the script, in which he describes the character as being "Sean Connery (or someone of equal, but cheaper, stature)" [ [http://members.aol.com/morgands1/closeup/text/timebandits.htm Q & A with Terry Gilliam on Time Bandits, October 2006] ] . The film is unusual in featuring large roles for dwarf actors; Gilliam has commented that it offered a rare chance for these actors to create detailed characters, instead of doing stunt work or playing one-dimensional costumed monsters.

According to the commentary on the Criterion Collection DVD, Gilliam kept the camera angle rather low throughout the film, in order to give audiences a child's or dwarf's point of view.

The Supreme Being was originally intended to manifest in Kevin's bedroom at the beginning of the film in the form of a sinister, shadowy figure with long, scraggly, wind-blown hair and glowing eyes. Thinking this was ineffective, Gilliam redid the scene with the Supreme Being as an enormous, floating head. A photo of the character's original appearance is shown in the published screenplay.

Gilliam and Palin were nervous about the long sequence in Greece, because they had never written a scene that long without any jokes.

Katherine Helmond's character, the ogre's wife, was originally planned as a comic crone, but Gilliam was delighted when Helmond gave an unexpectedly sexy spin to lines like, "Leer at them... you know, the way you used to..?" Helmond also came up with the idea of her character appearing as a normal human, and not a female version of her ogre husband.

In an interview with "Empire Magazine", Terry Jones pointed out that a Brian Froud book published before this film was released featured an image of a giant with a boat on his head; Jones jokingly accused Gilliam of "pinching" (stealing) the image for his film. For the scene with the giant, Gilliam originally planned to use an enormously tall actor, but later realized that a short, extremely stout person produced a more effective impression of gigantism. The actor chosen was a British wrestler, Ian Muir.

The shot of the "Titanic" sinking was actually re-used footage from "A Night to Remember".

The scene with the hanging cages in Evil's castle was quickly thrown together when another, more expensive scene fell through. Shot for little money and with the simplest of sets (some cages against a black backdrop), the scene was widely considered one of the most impressive in the film.Fact|date=March 2008

The musical underscoring and orchestrations are credited to Mike Moran, with Ray Cooper, Elton John's longtime percussionist, serving as producer of the musical material, but executive producer George Harrison is also credited with "songs and additional material": Harrison did in fact write songs for the film at the request of co-executive producer Denis O'Brien, but the song score was apparently developed without the participation of Terry Gilliam. As a result, the only song attributed to Harrison is "Dream Away", which the former Beatle performs over the credits. Sometime following the release of "Time Bandits", "Dream Away" was included on Harrison's album "Gone Troppo", on his own Dark Horse record label. The recording of "Dream Away" was produced by George Harrison and Ray Cooper in collaboration with Phil MacDonald; Mike Moran appeared on keyboards and synthesizers; and Billy Preston, Syreeta and Sarah Ricor joined Harrison as backing vocalists.

Deleted Scenes

Many scenes were deleted from the film before its theatrical run. Pictures of many of these can be seen in the published screenplay.
*A scene involving two spinsterish spider-women in the Time of Legends. The two old crones have many legs beneath their skirts and use knitting needles to weave webs with which they capture handsome knights (and, very nearly, our heroes).
*A longer version of Katherine Helmond's song about fondue. The full song is included in the book.
*The "Forest of Hands" scene in Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm" was originally planned for this film. Sketches for it and the text of the original scene are included in the published script book of the film.
*The characters make reference to a dwarf named "Horseflesh" who has apparently died sometime previously. In a preface to the published screenplay, the writers note that an early draft of the script included a part in the film for the Horseflesh character. However, during the revision process, the writers realized that releasing a film with seven dwarf characters might result in legal trouble, hence the need to kill off Horseflesh prior to the beginning of the story. Despite this, the role of Horseflesh was cast and Marcus Powell is credited with the role in the closing credits. Powell appears very briefly and sans dialogue as one of Evil's minions. Gilliam has said that, in one draft, Horseflesh turned into one of Evil's minions.
*The dwarfs come upon a pregnant woman, giving birth. While trying to push the baby out she is forced to give them directions to a cave full of "blue jewels". They threaten to send the baby to another dimension if she does not tell them.
*In the DVD interview, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin make a reference to a scene in which the time bandits travel to the future and go to a bank - but due to their diminutive size are unable to be seen by the cashier over the counter.


A sequel to "Time Bandits" has long been rumoured, and in "Gilliam on Gilliam", Terry Gilliam once expressed his intention of making one. It was intended to be released before or in 2000. The catalyst was the Supreme Being using the milestone of year 2000 as a time to reflect, and discovering that he was so disappointed with the way the universe turned out that he was going to end it. The time bandits were the only ones that could save the universe, if they could be bothered to. However, the millennium is now past, and three of the six "bandits" (David Rappaport, Jack Purvis and Tiny Ross) are deceased.


Robert Hewison, in his book "Monty Python: The Case Against", describes the dwarfs as a comment on the Monty Python troupe, with Fidget (the nice one) as Palin, Randall (the self-appointed leader) as John Cleese, Strutter (the acerbic one) as Eric Idle, Og (the quiet one) as Graham Chapman, Wally (the noisy rebel) as Terry Jones and Vermin (the nasty, filth-loving one) as Gilliam himself.

The horror novel "The Queen of the Damned" by Anne Rice mentions this movie: while introducing himself to the modern world via television and videotape, the vampire Armand becomes particularly amused by the dwarfs' performance of "Me and My Shadow" for a stunned Napoleon.


* Craig Warnock as Kevin
* David Rappaport as Randall
* Kenny Baker as Fidgit
* Malcom Dixon as Strutter
* Mike Edmonds as Og
* Jack Purvis as Wally
* Tiny Ross as Vermin
* David Warner as Evil
* Derek Deadman as Robert
* Jerold Wells as Benson
* Michael Palin as Vincent
* Shelley Duvall as Pansy
* John Cleese as Robin Hood
* Sean Connery as King Agamemnon/Fireman
* Katherine Helmond as Mrs. Ogre
* Ian Holm as Napoleon
* Ralph Richardson as Supreme Being
* Peter Vaughan as Winston the Ogre
* David Daker as Kevin's Father
* Sheila Fearn as Kevin's Mother
* Jim Broadbent as Compere
* Tony Jay as Voice of the Supreme Being
* Terence Baylor as Lucien
* Preston Lockwood as Neguy
* Derrick O'Connor as Redgrave
* Neil McCarthy as Marion


External links

* [http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=37&eid=53&section=essay Criterion Collection essay by Bruce Eder]
* [http://www.filmbuffonline.com/ReadingRoom/TimeBanditsIIReview.htm "Time Bandits II" Script Review]

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