Movie Review: Time Bandits

We watched this with our kids last night.  While I remember when it came out, I never actually saw it.  It happened to have been our latest Netflix delivery, so we decided a quiet Christmas evening was a good viewing opportunity. 

Time Bandits is nearly 30 years old, and unfortunately, looks it. I can say that, since I’m older than 30. The editing in this film is atrocious, for starters. Scenes jump and flit with little transition or explanation. The storyline is equally haphazard. A young boy is whisked from mundanity and into excitement by time and location traveling dwarfs on the run from the Supreme Being, who wants the map of the creation that they stole from him to become master thieves. The various locales are all believable enough, but the poor editing does them a great disservice.

The overall storyline is rather stretched. The Supreme Being (a thin disguise for God) wants his map back. The Evil Genius (a thin disguise for Satan) seeks to be free of his imprisonment, courtesy of acquiring the map from the hapless dwarfs. A young boy (a thin disguise for humanity) is caught up in all of this rather unawares, and while seeking to sort through it all, is inevitably the wisest of his tiny companions. The dwarfs and boy travel through portals – holes in the fabric of the universe that allow someone to move from one place and time to another place and time. If you have the map, you can somewhat dictate where and when you’re traveling to. If you don’t, it’s rather a free-for all.

The movie muddles along rather pointlessly as a child’s fantasy movie until the final scene, which involves the Supreme Being and an extremely awkward and unsatisfying discourse on the purpose of evil. This movie is frequently billed as a children’s movie, and that seems fair. Whether visually or theologically/philosophically, it might amuse a child (it amused *my* children) but adults will find the willy-nilliness of it all to be rather trying. What is the line between the natural and supernatural world?
 
The dwarfs end up with somewhat angelic functions, appearing and disappearing and causing all manner of confusion in their coming and going. But their focus is oddly material (personal enrichment), and their methods are anything but successful. The boy seeks to make sense of it all and is left with nothing to hold on to other than the vague assurance that things are all well enough in the hands of the Supreme Being – even the Evil Genius. The boy functions as sort of a representation of the intellectual, a person concerned with the larger questions of life and the overall purpose of our existence. While his parents are mindlessly obsessing over kitchen devices, our protagonist is fascinated by history and the myriad accomplishments of human kind. He gets the chance to experience some of this history, finding it to be not nearly as glamorous as textbooks might lead one to believe. Suffering is endemic. Evil and harm, whether specifically facilitated by the Evil Genius or haphazardly caused by the dwarfs is the general rule.

The Supreme Being gives a rather flippant answer for why this is. It may be the right answer, but it’s not an answer that the movie itself would lead the viewer to be particularly trustful or reassured by. Terry Gilliam serves up another visual tour de force, but constricted by poor editing and an even weaker storyline, this effort does not have the impact of some of his later movies. Outside of implied cartoonish violence, this movie doesn’t have anything very objectionable in it (the word ‘damn’ is the strongest language in the film, and limited to one 10-second scene). Unfortunately, it doesn’t have as much to offer as it might have 30 years ago.

On an unrelated note, my wife and I were talking after the movie, commenting about how it seemed oddly familiar, as though we had seen it before – though neither of us could really remember seeing it.  It was then that she remembered that we were apparently watching this movie – or part of it at least – the night she went into labor with our oldest son.  Talk about surreal!  Fortunately, now that he’s seven and a half, he seemed to enjoy the movie quite a bit more than he did when he was in utero.  I’m glad one of us did.

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