Dir: Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; 12 Monkeys; Brazil)
I really do not know what to think of Terry Gilliam. I like most of his movies, his visual style is always engaging and his projects are often ambitious. However, there is always an undertone of pretense and condescension that informs his films. Similar to the conceit of Marx, Gilliam is burdened by his ability to see beyond the false promises of economics and technology. But he claims that his playful stories and silly visuals do not try to make grand statements; for he is just a humble film maker that just wants to direct interesting little films (just as long as he is not making them in the United States...it is just too constricting). To me, Gilliam and Altman are directors of similar disposition.
Time Bandits has all the Gilliam staples: A cheeky plot with some clever dialogue that uses an absurd fantasy theme to critique technology (or bureaucracy or religion). The time bandits are five little folks who pilfer the temporal map of the universe from the Supreme Being, their former employer. They use the map to steal from various historical subjects: Napoleon, Agamemnon. But along the way, they pick up a young child, a boy who is neglected by technology-obsessed parents, that serves as the moral conscious for the band of cherubic thieves. Although the Supreme Being is attempting to reacquire the map by chasing the bandits through time, the ultimate enemy is the Evil Genius who lives in the Castle of Ultimate Darkness. EG lures the bandits to his domain by preying on their greed, promising the most valuable object in history. Mr. E. Genius wants the map so he can alter time by reconstructing the world in his images, which is dominated by technology. The adventure is pleasurable and the visual styles and thematics are clearly influential (I imagine Tim Burton is a big Gilliam fan...I also remember a TV series, I believe it was called the Voyagers, that followed a 18th Century inventor and a sidekick 80s child that journeyed though time solving historical problems).
I remembering seeing this film as a child, and so many images can back to me during this viewing. I enjoyed it then, but perhaps a little bit less so now. It is still pretty good, and maybe my malaise regarding the film's broader message/ambition is unwarranted (I'll entertain arguments that prove the film's genius). It's Criterion, so I am probably wrong. Next stop, directors commentary...but then again my gut feelings about Gilliam may influence my read.