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Time Bandits: Why is this movie not a classic?

June 14, 2004

Vin Diesel In a world that willingly surrenders hard earned dollars to see Vin Diesel mushmouth his way through two hour action sequences and honestly believes that the Wayans family is funny, I guess it should come as no surprise that high quality work sometimes slips through the cracks of our collective attention. That, however, makes it no less a travesty. As the self appointed defender of public taste, I present to you one such little remembered film. That a piece of art of such impeccably high low brow quality has not attained cult status in this modern world of DVDs and MIRC/useNet pirating is a dirty, low-down, rotten shame. Shame on you, America! Shame on us all.

Time Bandits, released in 1981 in the wake of Star Wars fueled sci-fi mania, is the story of Kevin and the six dwarves and their adventures through time. Kevin, our protagonist, is a perfectly normal pre-pubescent English boy. He hangs pictures of armor clad knights on his bedroom walls and talks dreamily of the tens of ways that the ancient Greeks were taught to kill with their bare hands. It is small wonder then, that he has very little patience for his appliance obsessed parents and their mind numbingly boring existence -- an existence which seems to revolve around watching a game show on which old people are killed by drowning in large vats of custard.

The Time Bandits

One evening Kevin is unexpectedly visited in his bedroom by six rather unkempt dwarves. They enter his bedroom through a time portal in his wardrobe, natch. They proceed to beat on poor Kevin until escaping through another time portal in his bedroom wall. The hasty retreat through time portal number two was necessitated by the coming of the Supreme Being. Said Supreme Being is chasing them through time for stealing his map of the universe. In the hustle to escape, Kevin enters the time portal with them, landing in 19th century Italy.

Hilarity and hijinks ensue as Kevin and the pint sized bandits traipse through time attempting to steal historical treasures in the most bumbling of fashions. This cross century crime spree culminates in a final confrontation with pure Evil, a mad, technology obsessed villain who is set on stealing the stolen map of the universe.

The Time Bandits with the map of the universe

I suppose at this point it is prudent to mention that the film was directed by Terry Gilliam, and written by Gilliam and Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. This, in no small part, explains the story's strange humor and its most interesting and varied cast. Let's talk about that cast for a moment, shall we?

Kevin and the Dwarves

Kevin is played by Craig Warnock and his parents by David Daker and Sheila Fearn, but let's not dwell on that. No one really cares, least of all me. It's with the casting of the dwarves (Randall, Fidgit, Strutter, Og, Wally and Vermin) that things begin to get interesting.


The Dwarves

Kenny Baker as Paploo the Ewok Randall, the head dwarf, is played by the late David Rappaport, who died of an self inflicted gunshot wound to the chest in 1990. However, David didn't leave this world without racking up credits including the television shows The Wizard and L.A. Law and the Sting vehicle The Bride, in which I am fairly certain Jennifer Beales gets naked. Flashdance indeed!

Jack Purvis as Wally The roles of dwarves Fidgit and Wally reunite two of the most renowned dwarven actors in sci-fi history - Jack Purvis and Kenny Baker. You see, Kenny Baker played not only R2D2 in each of the Star Wars films, but was also Paploo the Ewok in Return of the Jedi. His colleague in shortness, Jack Purvis, played the Chief Jawa in Star Wars, the Chief Ugnaught in The Empire Strikes Back and Teebo the Ewok in Return of the Jedi! Prior to banditing through time and warring in the stars, these two even starred together in a two dwarf cabaret for years. Their longstanding partnership came to an unfortunate end, however, when Purvis, already paralyzed from his involvement in a car accident, died several years ago.

The amazing cast doesn't end with the little people, however.

The Players

Ian Holm

That's right, none other than Bilbo the Hobbit himself and star of the upcoming Strangers with Candy movie plays French emperor and owner of a notoriously small penis, Napoleon. Rumor has it that Napoleon's member was actually removed and pickled after his death, as this quote from the Napoleon's Penis page (http://cg.scs.carleton.ca/~morin/misc/np/) explains:
Napoleon's penis is said to have been taken from him by the Abbè who delivered last rites. Since then it has been sold, inherited and auctioned many times.

The current whereabouts of Napoleon's penis is still a matter of some dispute, though by most accounts it is in the posession of an american urologist named John Kingsley Lattimer who paid $38,000 for it at a 1969 auction.

In addition to alledgedly owning Napoleon's penis, Lattimer is famous for supervising the health of german war criminals during the Nuremberg trials and writing several investigative pieces about the assasinations of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln.
How fascinating.

Giant man with a boat on his head

Napoleon's penis, however, is not a player in Time Bandits, something I, for one, am thankful for. In our film, the diminutive dictator is limited to promoting the bandits to the rank of general for their stirring rendition of Me and My Shadow, then getting drunk and passing out as the tiny generals gank his shit and disappear into the annals of time.

John Cleese

Well, you had to see this one coming. Fellow Monty Python alum, John Cleese, makes a brief appearance as the Prince of Thieves, making for perhaps the only common thread between his career and that of Kevin Costner. Nothing I could say could trump one of the true comedic masters at work, so rather than even try, I'll let Mr. Cleese do the talking:
Robin Hood: The poor are going to be absolutely thrilled. Have you met them at all?
Randall: Who?
Robin Hood: The poor.
Randall: The poor?
Robin Hood: Oh, you must meet them. I just know you'll like them. Charming people. Of course, they haven't got two pennies to rub together, but then, that's because they're poor.
John Cleese as Robin Hood

This immediately precedes a scene in which Robin distributes ill gotten wealth to a mass of the unwashed as each is summarily punched in the face by one of his Merry Men. Genius.

Michael Palin and Shelly Duval

These two play small, recurring roles as Vincent and Pansy. In each scene, Vincent attempts to profess his love for Pansy but is rudely interrupted by the bandits' falling out of a time portal and onto the ill fated lovers' heads. In their first scene, Vincent and Pansy are riding in a picturesque horse drawn carriage, discussing Vincent's love and erectile dysfunction when the bandits drop in. This causes the carriage to crash. The pair is then tied to a tree, stripped naked and robbed by the Merry Men of Master Cleese. So it goes.

David Warner

Perhaps less known, but no less deserving of recognition, David Warner plays pure Evil, the aforementioned technology obsessed madman who seeks to steal the map of the universe. Warner's prior acting repertoire includes many video game voiceovers, such as Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn and the RPG classic Fallout. In addition to his work in games, Mr. Warner has done quite a bit of voice work in cartoons, including Siegfried & Roy: Masters of the Impossible and Captain Planet and the Planeteers.


Captain Planet? Ok, he was doing pretty well up until that point. Did I mention that he was also in Titanic? Fuck this guy, let's move on.

Sean Connery

The original Bond makes an appearance as King Agamemnon for just long enough to kill a minotaur. Badass. He later appears as a winking fireman, but we'll get to that later.

Sean Connery versus the Minotaur

Katherine Helmond

Looking surprisingly spry and young, Ms. Helmond (otherwise known as Judith Light's cock hungry mother, Mona, from Who's the Boss) struts her saucy stuff as the wife of a sea faring ogre with nagging back pain. The couple plans to make fondue of our heroes, but both she and her hirsute husband are tossed overboard by the bandits before the feast can begin. The movie doesn't dwell, but I can only suppose that this lead to a slow and agonizing death. Let's hope that I suppose right.

Bull skull guardians of Evil

Ok, so this isn't really a cameo, as I suppose they're not really stars...but get this: the henchman of Evil are really tall dudes with bull skulls for heads - AND THEY SHOOT ROCKETS OUT OF THEIR EYES!!! How fucking cool is that?


Ralph Richardson

Ralph plays the Supreme Being. Richardson is best known (by me) for his work in Doctor Zhivago, Dragonslayer and the original Rollerball. Throughout most of the film he is represented by a scary disembodied head that chases the bandits demanding that they return the map of the universe.

In his most important scene, the Supreme Being saves the day at the last second by turning Evil into a statue of stone just before he has the opportunity to end the bandits' quest in most evil and final fashion. He then, in a most aloof and British manner, forgives his midget underlings and exits with them and the map of the universe, leaving Kevin alone and confused. Thanks a lot, God. Are you too busy with Margaret to provide Kevin with some closure, you big dick?

The Map of the Universe

The Big Finale

So, after his big meeting with the Almighty, Kevin is left alone and pondering his fate at the foot of a crumbled statue of pure Evil. He is miles, centuries and so many emotional light years from his appliance obsessed family. His small, thieving friends are gone and God gave him nary a smile before departing. What could possibly come next? How can the filmmakers possibly wrap up all of these loose ends? The answer is simple, dear readers:

It was all a dream...or was it?

Smoke begins to fill the room, clouding our view of the lost and distraught Kevin. We flash to Kevin waking up in his modern day bedroom. The room is filled with smoke as firefighters bust through his bedroom door and carry him to safety outside of his families burning flat. His parents, clutching the toaster oven, argue about heading back into the raging inferno to save yet another appliance. Kevin stares on in disbelief.

Was it real, or was it a dream?!? Kevin reaches into his ever present satchel and retrieves the polaroids from his travels through time -- this was no dream! Just as Kevin begins to comprehend the enormity of the adventure he has just been on, the door of the toaster oven his parents cling to falls open, revealing a large chunk of stone. Presumably this stone is the last remnants of pure Evil (as turned to stone by God).

His parents, despite Kevin's pleas to do the opposite, touch the stone and explode. Yes, you read that right. They explode. They explode and they're fucking dead because they exploded. Kevin looks up, dumbstruck, just in time to see the firetruck driving away. Sean Connery, in full fireman regalia, leans out of the truck and winks at our newly annointed orphan.

Roll Credits.

Rather than try to summarize this glorious fucking movie full of midgets and God and cameos and exploding parents with some witty reduction, I leave you with this:


Five-Oh! Five-Oh!

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