Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours
If there’s one thing Terry Gilliam’s films are known for, it’s their imaginative visuals. In a time before CGI was prevalent, the practical and model effects certainly made his films distinctive, especially in the fantasy genre. That being said, one of his earliest films, Time Bandits (1981) was quickly outclassed, not only by Gilliam himself but by other films as well. While Time Bandits is a cute little story about traveling through time, it is precisely that: little story. Even with the spectacular visuals, the plot seemed to be quite lacking, almost as an afterthought to how many interesting set pieces could cram into one film.
I will admit that Time Bandits was ahead of its time, but I wouldn’t consider it better than films that came after it. If you want plenty of imaginative fantasy effects, look no further than Labyrinth (1986). A series of time-travel vignettes? Then Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) is for you. A child’s adventure in a fantasy world? Try The NeverEnding Story (1984). Sure, Time Bandits pre-dated all of them, but I don’t think it necessarily influenced them directly since the 1980’s was a bit of a golden age of these types of movies.
In watching this film, I could tell the absurdity and sketch-comedy style of the Monty Python days remained in Gilliam’s filmmaking. By 1985, and the brilliance that is Brazil (the correctly cut version, that is), Gilliam certainly began to show his development as a director. In the 1990’s, he certainly hit his stride with such films as The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). As it stands, Time Bandits is a visually entertaining piece that shows the transition of Terry Gilliam’s filmmaking from absurdist fantasy to a mind-bending social commentary.
Heavy on practical special effects and light on plot, I give Time Bandits 3.0 stars out of 5.