Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Birth of Terry Gilliam's Airborne Bigtop, or Thoughts on Time Bandits

Not counting Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975, it’s only a model), which he co-directed with Terry Jones, Time Bandits (1981) was Terry Gilliam’s directorial debut in which he introduced a fully realized world anchored by authentic, period perfect costumes and sets.  The level of visual detail would become his signature style point from where he could take off in surreal and absurdist directions.
11 year-old Kevin, who looks like he’s living in an 80’s version of 4 Privet Drive (JK Rowling was 16 at the time), is obsessed with Ancient Greece when five dwarves come out of a rip in the spacetime fabric that happens to be in his wardrobe.  I know it’s very Lion, Witch and Wardrobe but this is England, and that’s just how things work over there.  Randall, Fidgit, Strutter, Og, Wally and Vermin, have stolen a time map from the Supreme Being and are using it to rob historical figures and have adventures because what else would you do with a time map?  On the way Kevin takes a cruise on the Titanic, and gets to meet Napoleon, Robin Hood and Sean Connery as Agamemnon.  Watch out for Kenny Baker, not in his Artoo costume for once as Fidgit (he’s the one wearing the colander).  Also with Ian Holm, Ash from Alien (1979) and Old Bilbo Baggins as Napoleon, and John Cleese (don’t mention the war) as a rather posh Robin Hood.

This is a traditional time travel movie, in which modern protagonists interact with historical figures, much like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989).  Back to The Future (1985) started that whole trend of changing one thing in the past and screwing up the present genre that modern time travel movies are obsessed with.  I do like The Butterfly Effect (2004) premise of bringing about an alternate apocalypse but it does seem self-centered, and I can’t help but think that it’s a response to the lack of current interest in history.  We are a generation that looks forward; we don’t find any heroes or inspiration from the past, at least not in the movies.

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