Today we go on a mission for God, blasting back and forth through history in this hilarious 1981 Terry Gilliam movie, Time Bandits.
In this fantasy fairy tale, a little boy was once sleeping peacefully in his bed when a gaggle of dwarves emerged from his closet, chased by a head floating in the air.
Unable to react or think of anything, they all dive into a mysterious door that appears out of nowhere, ending up in past Italy during the days of Napoleon‘s invasion.
At that point, the child spots these dwarves stealing everything they can, then waiting until a new passage opens and escaping.
They are, indeed, no less than God’s little helpers and assisted him in the world’s creation, where, however, some small holes remained to use for traveling through space and time.
However, determining where to go requires a map, which their supreme master and creator obviously now wants back.
Without having much choice, the child begins to follow these dwarves on their journeys in search of precious loot to steal.
So they jump through different eras, such as the Middle Ages, where they meet fellow thieves commanded by Robin Hood, ancient Greece under King Agamemnon, or even end up aboard the Titanic just before it hits the fatal iceberg.
Unfortunately, it is not only God who is after them but another creature impersonating absolute Evil willing to get hold of the map to propagate its cruelty throughout the world and all epochs.
So the tiny adventurers end up in a trap, lured by a priceless treasure for which they travel back to the time of legends for a dementedly incredible final battle.
A child’s imagination and a master filmmaker’s skills
Like every other Terry Gilliam movie, Time Bandits from 1981 has that unique signature of brilliant madness that always distinguished this director.
Those who love Monty Python and the Holy Grail know precisely what I am talking about and will find the same sick and irresistible sense of humor in this story.
Although it is basically a children’s tale, the irreverent adult mockery of historical or fictional characters is always present.
Thus we can see Napoleon endlessly discussing the superiority of being short, Robin Hood punching the poor in the face as he feeds them, or an unusual Agamemnon who is a benevolent king loved by the people instead of an angry tyrant.
Even his Devil/Evil is a metaphor for all that is wrong with uncontrolled scientific progress, being more interested in computers and technology than human beings or nature’s beauty.
More hilarious still are the bunch of suck-ups who surround him, who masochistically desire their master to hurt them in every way possible.
Terry Gilliam stuffs all these wacky characters into a breathless race through space and time, editing the story at a breakneck pace in his usual grotesque, exaggerated visual style.
For aspiring directors, this movie is a mine of ideas; each sequence has a unique and ingenious invention fading into another entirely different scene, creating an absurd dream out of nothing with just a few cardboard backgrounds and some cheap costumes.
His filmography gathers the true essence of cinema, a child creating worlds by banging his toys against each other, amusing and entertaining us with his extraordinary imagination.
For this reason, it is a little sad to see how audiences today snub him because, as was in The Neverending Story, fantasy is dying, and nothingness is taking over the world.
So many comedy superstars in one shot
Although the youngest lead, Craig Warnock, is quite adequate, the cast is exceptionally remarkable in the multiple supporting roles.
Among the most adorable are Shelley Duvall and Michael Palin, the latter also co-authoring the screenplay, who are increasingly unlucky in every situation.
These sweethearts can never satisfy their love, eternally divided by the time travelers fall on their heads each time.
Instead, playing a confused and irritable Napoleon is the extraordinary Ian Holm, who absurdly appoints the protagonist and his little friends as his generals only out of spite for his soldiers.
John Cleese is even more hilarious and irresistible as the most cynical and evil Robin Hood in movie history.
Always charming, like in all his performances, we then have Sean Connery, ironically playing a benevolent and heroic King Agamemnon, cheerfully slaying monsters in the desert.
Of course, the story totally takes off when we enter the time of legends, where Terry Gilliam‘s imagination definitely runs wild.
Into this world, we are welcomed by Peter Vaughan, portraying a brilliant cannibalistic ogre with back pain aboard a ship with his adorable/unbearable wife.
Simply outstanding is David Warner as the villain, the Evil that even archers, gunslingers, tanks, or futuristic lasers cannot defeat.
Here the scene visually veers into dark fantasy, with the big castle/prison wonderfully constructed among huge cages and gorgeous/terrifying stone buildings and sculptures.
Finally, Ralph Richardson‘s God is entirely unexpected, whose rambling behavior discusses excellent or evil as a social experiment to test his creation.
1981’s Time Bandits was, all in all, a good box-office success, although today, it is not among the most remembered of Terry Gilliam‘s movies.