Anyone else irritated when a movie comes out on DVD three times and no one edition has all the available special features? In the case of “Time Bandits,” Criterion and Anchor Bay both released the film on DVD in 1999, the former with a commentary track and the latter a bare bones release that just included the trailer. Now Anchor Bay has released a 2-disc Special Edition that includes a couple nice documentary features but doesn’t have the Criterion commentary track (presumably because Criterion is still selling the disc and doesn’t have a need to license it out). And to top it off, the documentary features are, on the balance, more about Terry Gilliam the director than “Time Bandits” the movie (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; more on that in a few paragraphs).
This film was the second solo directorial effort by Gilliam, who I’m sure most of you know was a member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the guy who did all those great paper cut-out animations that segued from one sketch to the next on the old show. His first film as a solo director, “Jabberwocky,” didn’t do so well, but “Time Bandits” was the one that showcased his distinct directorial voice and paved the way for the amazing movie that was “Brazil.”
“Time Bandits” tells the story of Kevin (Craig Warnock), a child largely ignored by his parents, who seem more interested in household appliances than in him. Left to his own devices, he concocts a vivid fantasy world that comes to life one night when a group of midgets enter his bedroom through his closet. He discovers that they used to work for the Supreme Being, but they got bored of designing flora and fauna and decided to steal the Map of the Universe, which shows all the holes in the space-time continuum. They hatch a plan to use the holes as their getaway cars and travel through time stealing riches, but they make a wrong turn and wind up in Kevin’s bedroom. When the Supreme Being comes after them, Kevin naturally tags along, and the chase through time begins.
While you may wonder how a kid and a group of midgets could carry a film on their own, they’re helped immensely by Sean Connery, who plays the Greek king Agamemnon (as well as another role I shouldn’t mention because it’s a potential spoiler), Ian Holm as Napoleon, John Cleese as an amusingly detached Robin Hood (“Have you met the poor? They’re marvelous people, simply marvelous.”), Michael Palin and Shelley Duvall as star-crossed lovers who keep getting in the bandits’ way, and Peter Vaughan as Winston the Ogre. And when we reach the final act, David Warner’s Evil (who has also been chasing the group in hopes of getting the map) and Ralph Richardson’s Supreme Being carry the story to its finale.
The Winston the Ogre sequence drags a bit, but the rest of the film keeps up a frantic pace, with our heroes running through time holes as they travel from one predicament to the next. Overall, “Time Bandits” is a solid fantasy film that showcases Gilliam’s unique imagination and very British sense of humor. It’s amazing to think that everyone in Hollywood passed on it twice (once before it was made and once after), so former Beatle George Harrison wound up putting up part of the financing.
As I mentioned, the only commentary track available for this film is on the Criterion release, so the movie is all you get on disc one. I haven’t heard the Criterion commentary, so I don’t know how much its presence is missed in this set. Over on disc two, we have a half-hour interview with Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam that’s a lot of fun to watch. Clearly, all the director had to do was turn on the camera, ask a question, and then let the two of them play off each other as they reminisced about the making of the film. Since both of them worked on the screenplay, Palin and Gilliam have plenty of interesting bits of trivia to relate, and we get to see storyboards for a couple sequences that were never shot due to budget constraints, which is nice.
Next up is “The Directors: The Films of Terry Gilliam,” which is clearly part of a series. This one runs almost an hour and covers the director’s entire career, so we don’t get a lot of time spent on “Time Bandits,” although we do get plenty of information about the rest of his films, as well as Gilliam’s always-amusing stories about his battles with Hollywood. If you want some more information about the making of the film, the DVD case contains an insert with a brief essay about it (with the Map of the Universe on the reverse, which is a nice touch). I have to admit I wish there was more, like a nice, long documentary. But that’s really a quibble, probably due to being spoiled by releases like The Two Towers Extended Edition or Alien Quadrilogy.
The rest of this special edition consists of the screenplay in PDF format, which gives an interesting glimpse into Gilliam’s initial vision for the movie, (for example, he has a grandiose voice-over at the beginning, as opposed to the more elegant unrolling of the map), a text-based Gilliam bio that you can page through with the arrows on your remote, and the international and domestic theatrical trailers. Thankfully, the screenplay is a ROM extra that’s accessible on both PCs and Macs.
If you’re a fan of this film, there’s no reason to avoid picking up this release. The remastered video is sharp, the sound is excellent, and the extras are as good as you’re going to get for a minor classic that doesn’t really scream out for the big budget DVD treatment. (I’m sure the Palin and Gilliam conversation was as far as Anchor Bay was willing to go when approving original materials for this release.) Just don’t get rid of the Criterion edition if you still want that audio commentary.