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This review is from: Time Bandits [DVD]  (DVD)
Time Bandits is a deeply satirical morality tale superficially packaged as a kid's adventure film. On the surface it seems simple enough; a young boy, Kevin, is spirited away by a gang of time travelling comedy dwarves for a series of adventures in different historical settings. But there's a lot more to it than that. Kevin's parents are a grotesque caricature of self-absorbed suburban materialism; incessantly arguing about kitchen appliances while watching brainless TV gameshows at full volume. It is Gilliam's attention to detail which really makes this film for me. Kevin's parents don't eat anything which hasn't come out of a microwave or blender and are too precious even to remove the plastic wrapping from their hideous three-piece suite. Kevin, meanwhile, is a romantic who, until the fateful night the Time Bandits arrive in his bedroom, can only live out his fantasies in history books.
But history turns out not to be all it's cracked up to be. Napoleon is crippled by an inferiority complex stemming from his small stature; Robin Hood is a patronising liar and his 'merry men' are a bunch of violent filthy animals. Only in mythical Greece does Kevin come close to realising his dreams.
The film retains a dark edge throughout. As Gilliam explains in his DVD commentary, by casting small people as the bandits, led by the delightfully arrogant David Rappaport, he hoodwinks the audience into swallowing their extreme cupidity. The innocent Kevin (played by a child actor deliberately selected for his shyness) finds himself swept into company even more mindlessly greedy than that of his parents'. At this stage we are introduced to David Warner's deliciously over-acted 'evil genius'; a Satan obsessed with modern technology (but, ironically, surrounded by decay and incompetence), who plots to entrap the time travellers. The film gathers momentum towards the inevitable showdown between good and evil but Gilliam leaves this disturbingly inconclusive. God, played by Ralph Richardson as an intimidating schoolmaster, assures us that he is in control but that misery and suffering are all that we can expect ("something to do with free will") and Kevin's troubles have only begun. Ultimately this is a very British film which speaks to lonely idealists everywhere.