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Release Date(s)1981 (December 9, 2014)
Studio(s)HandMade Films (Criterion - Spine #37)
Considered by director Terry Gilliam to be a part of his “Trilogy of Imagination” (which also includes Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), Time Bandits was one of the director’s first fully-formed films. He had co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Jabberwocky had established his particular style, but Time Bandits is when Gilliam was running on all cylinders, creating highly visual worlds and stories that, while not all box office smashes, helped usher in a unique voice in the film world at large.
Time Bandits, in all probability, is the most audience-friendly film that Terry Gilliam has ever made. What seemed on paper to be nothing more than a children’s story transformed on screen into a grandiose fairy tale that is easily accessed by both children and adults. The film is akin to many of the dark fairy tale films of the 80’s but rises above them because of its sheer originality and utter delight.
The simple tale of a band of dwarfs who have stolen a secret map from the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson), allowing them to jump through portals in time with the aid of a young boy, never comes close to pretentious or underwhelming. Zeal is dripping from every corner of the frame as the group jumps from one time period to the next, encountering the likes of Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese), and King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) of Greece. Hot on their trail, however, is someone who wants the map more than they do, by the name of Evil (David Warner). Also a part of the ensemble are Michael Palin (who also co-wrote the film), Shelley Duvall, and Katherine Helmond (the latter of whom worked with Gilliam again in Brazil). Keen eyes will also spot Jim Broadbent as the TV show host.
With beautiful cinematography, a wonderful orchestral score, great performances, and a story that is both light and dark enough to reach a wide range of people, Time Bandits is a magical film. It’s a bit of a cliché to say, but it’s the kind of film that the whole family can enjoy. It managed to do eight times its budget in 1981, and I imagine that if it were made today, it might even do better.
The Blu-ray transfer of Time Bandits is sourced from the same 2K transfer as seen on Arrow Video’s recent release of the film, which was approved by Terry Gilliam himself. The grain structure is well-managed, boosting a wonderful amount of visual detail that was hidden on previous home video incarnations. The color palette is also quite striking, with very distinct and strong hues. Black levels are nearly perfect with some excellent shadow delineation. Contrast levels are also quite satisfactory, and there are no tale-tell signs of unnecessary digital tinkery to report. The audio is presented on the original English 2.0 track, but in Linear Pulse-Code Modulation (LPCM) form. Dialogue is always crisp and clear, and sound effects and score fill out the left and right speakers beautifully. There are also some great dynamic moments, helping to give the soundtrack terrific depth. It’s one of the more satisfying stereo film soundtracks I’ve heard as of late, complementing the visuals perfectly. I couldn’t be more satisfied with audio and the video. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
As for the extras selection, there’s plenty of good news and bad news in equal measure. Time Bandits is a film that has been released countless times in different territories by different companies. As such, it has been supplemented with varied amounts of bonus materials. I’ll try and cover what IS NOT on this particular release in a moment, but let’s take a look at what IS included with this set first, shall we?
First of all, the main extras from Criterion’s laserdisc and DVD releases are here: an audio commentary with director Terry Gilliam, co-screenwriter and actor Michael Palin, and actors John Cleese, David Warner, and Craig Warnock; and the film’s original theatrical trailer. New to this release is the Creating the Worlds of Time Bandits featurette, a conversation between Gilliam and film scholar Peter von Bagh during a press conference, a stills gallery, and an excerpt from a 1981 episode of the TV show Tomorrow with Tom Snyder interviewing Shelley Duvall. There’s also a fold-out paper insert with the secret map from the film on one side and an essay by film critic David Sterritt on the other.
The extras that DO NOT carry over from the previous Criterion releases are a film score only audio track (laserdisc), a scrapbook gallery, and an insert with liner notes by Bruce Eder. Considering what isn’t included with this release, that’s small potatoes. The original Anchor Bay single disc release on DVD had nothing more than the film’s trailer as an extra, but the latter Divimax Series 2-Disc Special Edition featured The Directors: The Films of Terry Gilliam career retrospective program from AFI; an interview with Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin; the film’s international theatrical trailer; and the film’s original screenplay, which was a lone DVD-ROM feature. That release also came with a paper insert with a fold-out map, albeit smaller, and liner notes about the film by Jay Marks. Not carried over from the Image Entertainment and Alliance DVD and Blu-ray releases is an interview with Terry Gilliam.
Now that takes care of Region 1/A territories. Let’s take a look at what the folks in Region 2/B territories get that, unfortunately, we do not. From Anchor Bay’s DVD release there, a set of film notes and dream facts (text only); the film’s original treatment; a set of storyboard extracts; a missing storyboarded scene; and hidden as an Easter egg; the deleted Spiderwoman Storyboard sequence with the only surviving photo of the scene. From Arrow Video’s recent Blu-ray release, there was a lot of brand-new material created specifically for it, including several new interviews (Chasing Time Bandits: an interview with Terry Gilliam, Writing the Film that Dares Not Speak its Name: an interview with Michael Palin, The Effects of Time Bandits: an interview with Kent Houston, Playing Evil: an interview with David Warner, The Costumes of Time Bandits: an interview with costume designer James Acheson, The Look of Time Bandits: an interview with production designer Milly Burns); From Script to Screen, an animated featurette with Milly Burns; a restoration demonstration; and an insert booklet with an essay on the film by critic James Oliver. Whew.
Now, understandably, a lot of this material couldn’t be included with Criterion’s release, mainly due to rights issues, especially Arrow Video’s material. However, I think much of the missing Stateside supplemental material, as well as the storyboard sequences and international trailer, could very well have been included. A lot of it is sorely missed and it would have been a perfect opportunity to gather this scattered material together in one place and make it easier on reviewers like myself. But all kidding aside, Criterion’s release still has some great material, especially that audio commentary, which is gold, in my opinion. The missing material is slightly disappointing, but not disappointing enough for me to write this edition off and consider it a waste of time.
The bottom line here is that this is a terrific release of Time Bandits on Blu-ray – in fact, the best release (Stateside, that is). As I said, it may be lacking slightly in extras compared to some other releases, but the extras selection that IS presented is still pretty fantastic. Mixed with a perfect presentation of the film itself, Time Bandits is worth every cent of your hard-earner money. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons