Imagine, just for a moment, your eleven-years-old and your name is Kevin. Your parents, who are watching a dull game show on TV, ask you to go bed. As you drift between wakefulness and sleep, what would you do if a Knight on horseback smashed through your wardrobe brandishing a sword?
Welcome to the wonderful world of Terry Gilliam. The oddball animator from Monty Python brings wacky humour, a dark visual sensibility and an eccentric subversive edge to his classic time-travelling fantasy movie Time Bandits. Gilliam takes us back to the trouble-free world of our childhood, the place where we can roam around, inside our imagination, escaping the mundane nature of reality. The story focuses on a troupe of time travelling bandits that steal an inter-dimensional map from the Supreme Being. Taking Kevin on their travels, the group disembark on a journey through time. Greed carries the ‘international criminals’ to the Time of Legends where the villainous ‘Evil’ dwells in the Realm of Ultimate Darkness.
‘I feel the power of evil coursing through my veins, filling every corner of my being with the desire to do wrong. I feel so BAD!’
(Evil played by David Warner)
His obtrusive claw-like fingernails glide over his astral pool. Using it to spy on the time bandits he intones, ‘I wouldn’t even trust them to wipe their own noses’. Living in a dilapidated cave, filled with exotic machinery, he is dressed in a bloodshot leather cloak, a metal chest plate and has a spider-like headpiece that looks like a face-hugger from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). He is the antithesis of iniquity.
His name is ‘Evil’. Embracing the new ‘tech-no-logic-al’ dawn, he plans to overthrow the world with an influx of digital watches, videocassette recorders and car telephones. Dwelling in his cave, he ponders on the efforts of the Supreme Being, ‘look how he spends his time, 43 species of parrot! Nipples for men! [...] If I were creating a world I wouldn’t mess around with butterflies and daffodils, I would have started with lasers, 8 O’clock day one’. His only way of achieving his diabolical dream is by capturing the time bandits and confiscating the stolen map…
The oddball script by Gilliam and Michael Palin is brilliant, creating a Pythonesque atmosphere that embraces slapstick humour and dark disturbing visuals. David Warner is magnificent as the embodiment of evil, with his devil-like demeanour and his malicious inclinations. His dialogue is zany, surreal and screwball but also contains moments of genuine terror. One of the moments when comedy and horror mix so perfectly is when Kevin and the bandits travel to The Realm of Ultimate Darkness. Managing to recover the map, Evil sends his black-cloaked demons to hunt the bandits down, roaming through the shadows, and firing bullets of flame from their hollow eyes.
The group create an arsenal of weaponry from the different time zones to defeat Evil: a tank, knights on horseback, archers, a spaceship and a group of cowboys. The funniest sequence occurs as the cowboys encircle Warner. The rope, being launched over him, sends the cowboys spinning around his body in a whirlwind of madness. Carnival music fills the air as Evil’s headpiece opens up. A strange devise rises out of his head, attached to it, a knife, which cuts the rope, sending the cowboy’s flying through the air.
Excitement and adventure saturates this film. Evil is a genuinely creepy character that looks like the Witch from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). With his long fingernails, evil laugh and harrowing eyes, he commands the shadow-like creatures that shoot fireballs from their eyes, with sinister authority. This is a dark and scary ending for a kid’s film. Warner explodes a dog, turns a character into a pig, impales the knights on spikes and crushes Kenny Baker under a stone pillar. He embeds a sense of ominous terror and comedy into his character. Not an easy dynamic for an actor. Even as an adult, you are engrossed by the humour of his dialogue yet equally repulsed by his creepy diabolical performance.
‘There have been times when I played heavies that I've woken up in a cold sweat, but I didn't have any nightmares doing that [Time Bandits]. It was pure fun. The imagination of Terry Gilliam made it wonderful to be part of[i]’