History belongs to the victors, and Terry Gilliam takes his rightful ownership of Western history in this timeless romp through the ages. Writer and director of some of Monty Python's most enduring and foolish productions, Gilliam reaches the top of his form with Time Bandits.
Young Kevin (Craig Warnock) is a history buff trapped in the household of his shallow, materialistic parents. While they sit mindlessly in front of the television, absorbed in an insanely morbid game show, Kevin explores his history books enthusiastically, fantasizing about a more meaningful world than the one in which he lives. But when his parents finally send him to bed, his world gets a lot more interesting.
Led by a band of five midget bandits, Kevin steps through the doorway of time and lands in an adventure like none he's imagined. With a map stolen from the Supreme Being who created the universe, the misfit adventurers scurry from era to era robbing from some of history's best known figures.
Along the way, a familiar cast greets our travelers. Ian Holm is a ridiculously size-obsessed Napoleon Bonaparte who loses his wealth to the tiny thieves. John Cleese appears as Robin Hood in a sequence hilariously reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Sean Connery plays a sober and valiant Agamemnon. And Shelley Duvall appears with film co-writer Michael Palin as a luckless lover in multiple scenes.
A highlight of the movie is David Warner's performance as Evil, the sinister being who plots to escape his fortress of darkness and destroy the world. Backed by his brigade of moronic lackeys, he lures to travelers out of the conventional timeline and into the Age of Legends (in which Katherine Helmond appears in a memorable role as the wife of the hapless Ogre), which leads them to certain doom.
With the possible exception of Brazil, Time Bandits displays the most inventive and amusing blend of set design, costuming, and effects of Gilliam's career. Certainly his later films benefit from advances in technology, but the imaginative triumph of Bandits transcends technical limitations. Even the absurdly simplistic spacecraft in the film's final scene is finely detailed in its own odd way, and Gilliam's direction lifts this cast over some of the sets' less awe-inspiring features.
Tongue-in-cheek bravado has carried the Python players a long way from their 1969 Flying Circus, and Gilliam has contributed to this success every step of the way. Time Bandits is essential viewing for anyone who has every laughed at a Monty Python sketch. Sure, Holy Grail has captured the pop culture spotlight, but this film plays more like an actual movie. This is the film Grail longed to be.