Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Time Bandits

UK movie (1981). HandMade Films. Pr Terry Gilliam. Exec pr George Harrison, Denis O'Brien. Dir Gilliam. Spfx John Bunker. Screenplay Gilliam, Michael Palin. Novelization Time Bandits * (1980) by Charles Alverson. Starring Kenny Baker (Fidgit), John Cleese (Robin Hood), Sean Connery (Agamemnon), David Daker (Kevin's Dad), Malcolm Dixon (Strutter), Shelley Duvall (Pansy), Mike Edmonds (Og), Sheila Fearn (Kevin's Mum), Katherine Helmond (Mrs Winston), Ian Holm (Napoleon), Michael Palin (Vincent), Jack Purvis (Wally), David Rappaport (Randall), Ralph Richardson (Supreme Being), Tiny Ross (Vermin), Peter Vaughan (Winston), David Warner (Evil Genius), Craig Warnock (Kevin), Jerold Wells (Benson). Voice actor Tony Jay (Supreme Being's projection). 113 mins. Colour.

Young Kevin, alienated from his tv-addicted, gadget-loving parents, is briefly visited in his bedroom one night by a horned horseman (foreshadowing the Red Knight in Gilliam's later The Fisher King [1991]). Next night Kevin goes to bed armed with a torch and a Polaroid camera. Out of the wardrobe tumble six Dwarfs (reminiscent more of Beachcomber's litigious red-bearded dwarfs than of Snow White's allies), led by Randall, in flight from the Supreme Being, whose Map of the Universe they have stolen; the Universe was, apparently, a "botched job", and they were given the map so they could repair all the holes, but instead are using them for banditry. Dragging Kevin along (thus making a party of Seven), they flee the Supreme Being's wrathful projection to pass through a time-hole to 1796 and the midst of Napoleon's Italian campaign. Having robbed the Little Corporal, they dash to the Middle Ages, encountering Robin Hood and his cutthroat band; again they flee, not knowing that the Universe's Evil Genius, trapped by the Supreme Being in the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, is Scrying on them. Desiring the map, he plants in their minds, through brief Possession, the notion of a Quest to gain the greatest treasure of all ... which will be found in his Fortress. But Kevin's mind is impervious to the Evil Genius. The Supreme Being's projection appears; two time-holes open, and Kevin, although by now an honorary dwarf, flees alone through one to land near 13th-century-BC Mycenae, just in time to save Agamemnon from a bull-headed warrior. But the dwarfs reappear to rob Agamemnon: they, Kevin and a large part of the court's jewellery vanish through a time-hole to the deck of the Titanic. The ship sinks and all seems lost for the group; but the Evil Genius intercedes, giving them the information that his Fortress lies in the Time of Legends (marked on the map) and drawing them through into that Reality. Avoiding the clutches of an ocean-going ogre, Winston, they and the ogre's ship are carried ashore by a Giant who uses the ship as a hat. Escaping again, they smash through an invisible barrier to reach the Fortress, where the Evil Genius and his henchmen appear to them in the guise of a tv gameshow's Quizmaster and attendants (who are also Kevin's Mum and Dad), trick them (see Trickster) into handing over the map and cage them. The Evil Genius sets about plotting his recreation of the world, which will this time be dominated by hypertechnology. Kevin and the rest escape and recapture the map; in a symbolic version of the Last Battle, the Evil Genius fights off Arthurian knights, Wild West cowboys, Trojan archers, a Flash-Gordon-style fighter spaceship and a World War II tank. Just in time, the Supreme Being arrives, destroys the Evil Genius (his own creation), sets the dwarfs to tidying up all the scattered chunks of Evil, and tells them he planned they should have the map so that they would test his Universe-building handiwork, which they've done. The others abandon Kevin and go back to the task of creation, but one lump of Evil remains with him, unnoticed. The scene transmutes to his bedroom, where he is sleeping amid clouds of smoke: the house is on fire. He is saved. His parents find the smoking lump of Evil in their microwave; because Kevin warns them not to, they touch it, and are immediately incinerated. Kevin is left alone in the ashes of his former existence.

TB, perhaps the most significant achievement of the fantastic Cinema, is an extremely complex and eventful Crosshatch using the images of boyhood dreams for its construction (Kevin reads a book on Greek heroes, there is a poster of Napoleon on his bedroom wall, some of the building-stones of the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness take the form of gigantic Lego blocks, the Evil Genius's technophilia reflects Kevin's parents' mindless obsession with gadgetry, etc.); TB tempts one to interpret it as a Rationalized Fantasy – all is Kevin's jumbled Dream – only to snatch any such possibility away again, with the emergence of the spare chunk of Evil in the mundane world and the fact that the lead fireman is Agamemnon (who seems to recognize him) in new guise. Some of the early sections of the movie are merely playful, reminding one of Gilliam's history with the Monty Python's Flying Circus team; yet once the quest has been announced there is a deep vein of seriousness underlying all the slapstick and pyrotechnics. When Kevin is appalled by the Supreme Being's insouciance about the loss of life involved in testing the Universe, he is answered with callousness: "Why do we have to have Evil?" says Kevin. "Oh, I think it's something to do with free will," replies the Supreme Being with a dismissive wave of the hand. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.