Viking Night: Time Bandits

By Bruce Hall

May 19, 2016

From The Big Book of British Smiles

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The 1980s were stuffed with films in which frightened, clueless children prevailed against experienced, organized adults who were actively trying to murder them. So when I was young, I thrilled to the exploits of people my own age, in films like ET, The Goonies, Labyrinth, The Last Starfighter, and so on. When I got older, I was dismayed to discover that I’d been lied to. When you’re a kid, adults SAY they care what you think, but they kind of don’t. And when an adult decides you’re a pain in the ass, what are you gonna do about it? Cry? Get your sword? Fly away in a primitively rendered CGI spacecraft?

Of course not. You’re screwed. But childhood should be a time of joy, and an important part of that is getting to see people just like yourself making a difference. Being relatable. Setting a good example. Battling pirates and aliens...right? It’s critical to our development that we grow up believing anything is possible, so that when we’re old enough to realize how untrue that is, we’ll be mentally prepared for it. Or, that’s my theory, anyway.

I always skewed from the demographic somewhat. I remember watching ET in the theater with my father, and thinking about how unrealistic it was. Not because the main character was an alien, but because those government agents had any trouble whatsoever neutralizing those kids. In real life the town and everyone in it would have vanished from the face of the earth. And that alien would be spending the rest of his life in a bunch of mason jars underneath the Bethesda Naval Hospital.

I read a lot of dark things as a child, okay? This is probably why I was - and still am - a big fan of Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits. It’s one of his few films I could describe as “totally okay for kids”, while still maintaining the trademark Gilliam Edge. It also boasts a story that concerns two of my favorite things: time travel, and...nomadic peoples who take things that do not belong to them.


Or, if you prefer, Time Bandits.

The story revolves around a boy named Kevin (Craig Warnock), who looks like he might be a fifth grader. His parents are boring, abrasive people who spend all of their free time decomposing in front of the television. Their son is fascinated with history books, droning constantly about one fact or another, while his parents attempt to drown him out with one insipid game show or another. On the last normal night of his life, Kevin is awakened by a knight on horseback, which disappears through bis bedroom wall. Then, six dwarves appear, each dressed like something out of a very tiny Jules Verne novel. They claim they’re being pursued for a valuable map they’re carrying, and beg the boy for help.

I’m not sure what kind of help they were looking for from someone still years away from seeing his first boob. Nonetheless, when the Giant Floating Head that was chasing the dwarves appears and starts shouting obnoxious threats, Kevin follows his new companions them through a mysterious portal. They land in 17th Century Europe, which was, coincidentally, in the process of Napoleon (Ian Holm) ripping it a new one. Probably not the safest place to land, but they make do by getting the Little General himself drunk, robbing him blind in the process. Later/earlier, in Medieval Britain, they are in turn relieved of their haul by a really super friendly Robin Hood (John Cleese).

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