With Time Bandits, his second movie as sole director, Terry Gilliam’s barbed humour and hyperactive visual imagination clicked into glorious full gear.
Sketched out in a matter of weeks over Michael Palin’s kitchen table, this is a children’s film made by a director who “hates kid films” and all the “mawkish sentimental crap” that goes with them.
The 11-year-old hero, Kevin, finds himself lugged out of his suburban bedroom and off through a series of wormholes in time and space by a gang of rapacious, bickering dwarves in search of loot, en route encountering and casually despoiling a gallery of eminent historical figures, plus assorted ogres, giants and monsters.
As co-screenwriters, Gilliam and Palin cheerfully filch ideas from everyone and everything, from Homer and Swift to Lewis Carroll and Walt Disney, while the outstanding sets – as always with TerryGilliam’s films – work towering miracles on puny budgets.
“The whole point of fairytales,” according to Gilliam, “is to frighten the kids,” and Time Bandits taps into some archetypal nightmare imagery.
But the whole farrago is too good-humoured to be seriously scary. Not least of its pleasures are a series of ripe cameos from the likes of Ian Holm as an irascible Bonaparte, Sean Connery good-naturedly spoofing his own image as Agamemnon, David Warner hamming it up gleefully as the evil Genius and the great Ralph Richardson playing the supreme Being as a tetchy public-school headmaster.
Fellow Python John Cleese also gets a good one in, playing Robin Hood as condescending minor royalty: “so you’re a robber too? Jolly good!”