The Always Surprising Treasure That Is ‘Time Bandits’
2016 was a very, very bad year no matter how you slice it. In tough times, comedy is often a form of escape that people turn to when they need comforting. With that in mind, we asked our contributors to pick the one piece of comedy in any form that they turn to when they really need cheering up. We’ll be sharing their choices throughout the week in a package we’re calling “The Best Medicine.”
Terry Gilliam’s classic comedy fantasy Time Bandits (1981) was recently remastered, which looks great streaming and sounds good, too. But I would continue to watch it every so often even if I had to handcrank it through a Moviola editor if that’s what it took to get my Time Bandits fix. Starting with the original storyline — about a young boy who gets waylaid by a half-dozens renegade dwarves who are on the run from the Supreme Being having swiped his Map of the Universe and are using to pull off robberies — to the fun cast (Sean Connery AND Kenny “R2D2” Baker?! Stop!), this film has comedically memorable comedy scenes. Scenes that play great on their own and may just be the only reason we were ever giving the reason to skip through chapters on our viewing devices.
If I need a quick laugh-me-up, nothing does the trick like watching John Cleese’s Robin Hood striding about in his cartoon-perfect pointy green cap while his Merry Men pummel the poor as part of their wealth distribution plan. Or Ian Holms’ petulant Napoleon Bonaparte drunkenly reeling off the statistics of other height-challenged rulers. Of the zany interstitial bits with Michael Palin and Shelley Duvall as star-crossed lovers whose magical moment — be they in Sherwood Forest or on the deck of the Titanic — are interrupted by the bandits and their accomplice Kevin crashing out of time right on top of them.
Then there is Ralph Richardson and David Warner, as the Supreme Being and Evil, respectively. The latter has some wonderful moments, including the rundown of how he’s going to remake the Universe once he gets his clutches on the Map. And although Richardson only has one appearance in the film right towards the end, his fastidious and perfunctory take on God is just what you’d expect from a Supreme Being, really.
This film doesn’t require a specific season or holiday to be put on. And there’s not a curse word in the entire thing, so kids can watch it (although some of it might be a little scary for the youngest of them). The other wonderful treasure of this film is that I’m constantly forgetting little scenes and moments until, in watching it again, I get to be surprised and delighted all over.