Kevin (Craig Warnock) a bookish, history buff kinda boy who is saddled with ultra-materialistic suburban parents, has a problem: Strange things come out of his wardrobe at night. The strangest is the Time Bandits - six dwarves who used to work in the Almighty's Tree and Shrub Division, but have now gone freelance. You see, the Creation was a rush job, being accomplished in only six days, and there are holes in time and space. Finding a map to these holes, the Bandits deserted their post with the goal of visiting the richest figures in history and robbing them blind. Major Problem: not only does the Almighty want the map back, but it is also sought by the Personification of Pure Evil (David Warner), both of which are in pursuit of Kevin and his new.... um.... friends.
Time Bandits has been called many things: in its initial theatrical release, it was referred to a "A Wizard of Oz for the 80s". Director Terry Gilliam calls it a children's film "without all the mawkish, sentimental crap." It is certainly hard to define, being equal parts comedy, adventure, satire, horror, fantasy and even a bit of science-fiction thrown in for good measure. The best description is it's a fun little trip for the whole family; it reminds one of the old fairy tales back before they got sanitized, when they actually served to warn children that the world was not all sweetness and light, yet still managed to entertain.
The Criterion Collection always defined the concept of excellence in the laserdisc field, and here they are no different - an easy thing to say, since they've basically taken their 1997 laser presentation and placed it in the DVD environment. As usual, a bit of dust mars the opening black title cards, but the print is otherwise flawless. Gilliam's movies are always beautifully textured, and it is only in a quality digital transfer like this that you can appreciate the design work on display. The Surround channel is used quite effectively, especially in the numerous "cosmic" scenes.
"The Time Bandits Scrapbook" is a montage of publicity and behind-the-scenes photos, along with some pieces of Gilliam's concept art, set to the movie's spacy opening theme. There is also a determinedly odd theatrical trailer, which I am guessing is British, as I can't imagine an American distributor putting up with such incredible silliness.
The real treasures are to be found on the commentary track, a device which Criterion, if they did not invent it, they certainly refined. This track features Gilliam, along with the rather older Warnock, Michael Palin, John Cleese and David Warner. I almost always find myself terribly disappointed when actors are included in these affairs; they rarely ever add anything of substance. It is Gilliam who provides most of the gems, like the fact that you cannot get stunt doubles for dwarves, and the manner in which *he* had to audition for Ralph Richardson!
Anchor Bay, the distributors of this disc, also has a no-extras version out at a lower price. Which version you wish to invest in will depend on your desire for details like that.
Dr. Freex, 3/25/00