As clichéd as it may sound, it’s true the imagination of a child is a universe of bountiful amazement and never-ending inventiveness. And this is while the child is awake, in full control of his or her ability to conjure up different things all at once, using (or squandering?) it for their daily entertainment, creating strange worlds that exist only in their minds and only they can see during playtime. Think of the immeasurable possibilities which could be accomplished while asleep. When the power to control it is suddenly gone, imagination is an infinite and limitless landscape of ceaseless, incomprehensible chaos, fueled by material reality into a bizarre, exotic narrative where time doesn't exist. We call them dreams when all goes well, and nightmares when things suddenly go awry.
On the surface, Terry Gilliam's 1981 comedy fantasy, 'Time Bandits,' is essentially a celebration of this beautiful disorder, a wild reverie rejoicing in the madness and frenzy of its own creation. And it's done in such a way as to seem random and haphazard, but the story is terrifically well constructed and planned out. Co-written with Michael Palin, who also stars as Vincent, Gilliam's dark and wry sense of humor is on full display despite the film's attraction to younger audiences. He later took his cynicism to an even darker and more deeply sardonic place with 'Brazil.' It all feels accidental to the characters, but we know it's all by design since there is nothing in the time-traveling adventure that wasn't first alluded to in some clever way at the very beginning.
The journey begins simple enough with 12-year-old Kevin (Craig Warnock) reading a book on Greek warriors. The bright boy is a history buff with a special liking for Ancient Greece. His bedroom is strewn with fantastical drawings and a variety of toys that are later recalled throughout the film. He shuts his eyes for what seems like only a second to him, but we know better. Kevin is about to have the best dream of his life. With a sudden thud and clonk from within his wardrobe, he opens his eyes and discovers six dwarves invading his bedroom. Together, they run from the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson) and fall into a time portal, where Kevin gets to meet Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese), and King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) as well as a hungry ogre (Peter Vaughan).
On a deeper level, the film is also a reminder, possibly even a lamentation, of that childlike passion for using our imagination. That we somehow allow to shrivel away with time and maturity as we succumb to the demands of modern society. Looking at it from a contemporary perspective, 'Time Bandits' is a charming commentary — even prophetic in some respects — on consumerism and technology, represented in the words and ambition of the Evil Genius (David Warner). Through Kevin's parents (David Daker and Sheila Fearn) and in the way they ignore his interests, we see that such trivial gadgets take their toll upon individuality and the ability to think for one's self, making people neglect and disregard those things which should matter most.
'Time Bandits' inspires an appreciation for imagination and the act of dreaming through a kind of celebration of childlike wonderment which we tend to lose with age. Clearly, Terry Gilliam hasn't lost it or abandoned it, nor does he ever want to. For two straight hours, he makes us forget we are frumpy, grumpy adults who cart around a bunch of trinkets which are ultimately useless in the grand scheme of things. As one final caption to the film, Gilliam leaves us with a clever question at the end. Considering that Kevin is dreaming, what does it say about the Supreme Being as the object of his dreams? And why leave us with the mystery about the toaster oven?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc-Stats
Image Entertainment brings 'Time Bandits' to Blu-ray in the standard blue keepcase. At startup, the BD25, Region A locked disc goes straight the typical menu selection with full motion clips in the background.
I'm not even sure where to begin describing the problems with the picture quality of this Blu-ray since it is a grotesquely and frustrating mess for such a highly imaginative motion picture. Framed in a 1.78:1 window, which isn't that big of a deal (OAR is 1.85:1), the AVC MPEG-4 encode has surprisingly been given the 1080i/60 treatment. While screen tearing and ghosting are not a distractingly noticeable issue, the interlaced video introduces a series of other problems by forcing the player and display to do more work than necessary. And these issues are made worse when considering those few wonderful moments of HD goodness in the presentation.
At first, I thought the majority of the disc's problems could be related to an older, poorly-aged print, especially since white specks and dirt are a constant pesky issue. Brown vertical lines also appear and disappear during many scenes, and they are quite garish. At one point in the movie — at around the 43:13 mark — the entire frame suddenly stutters, adding suspicion about the quality of the source.
But in the end, I'm convinced the problem lies in the encoding since telecine judder is a regularly nagging annoyance throughout. By making the player deinterlace the image, combing, which can often look like jaggies, rears its ugly head once in a while. Thankfully, the video processor on the Playstation 3 does a pretty good job in this area by eliminating much of this problem and avoiding ghosting. Then again, as far as I can gather the chip's solution to this issue is by layering two fields on top of one another, known as blending. Unfortunately, this process ends up causing significant softness and very poor detail resolution in the image. And believe me, much of the transfer is disappointingly soft and almost looks like digital noise reduction was applied, since film grain will mysteriously disappear during these moments. Again, this is just assuming the processor is being made to work overtime. It could just as likely be that the transfer process has simply resulted in a bad encode (or a bad film print was used), making the picture much softer than it should for 35mm film.
On a more positive note (yes, there is a good side to this entire mess), the transfer, for the most part, is still watchable (especially if you own a high-end video processor). And it makes for a passable upgrade from the DiviMax Special Edition and Criterion Collection DVDs (I wonder how it compares the UK's Optimum release, however) with fairly attractive black levels and strong shadow delineation. There are a few minor instances of crush, particularly in low-lit interiors, but nothing too drastic. Contrast is often crisp and bright, and primaries are especially bold, while the rest of the palette looks decent though slightly mild. In the end, 'Time Bandits' makes its way to Blu-ray with very poor and decidedly substandard results, and fans are best advised to wait for a proper remaster.
Fortunately, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack puts on a far better show than the video. The original design is, of course, a very front heavy presentation, and this hi-rez codec delivers excellent dialogue reproduction with an active and welcoming soundstage. Low-frequency effects provide good depth to several scenes, yet they never overwhelm the rest of action. Dynamic range is not very extensive and doesn't falter to any disappointing degree although a few sequences can be a bit demanding, introducing some mild distortion. However, it's nothing greatly distracting, and the upper end is mostly stable throughout.
The track also makes great use of the surround speakers without feeling forced or artificial. During the showdown with the Evil Genius, for example, random sounds of debris and fragments fly into the background with immersive ease. While the video of 'Time Bandits' is a severe disappointment for fans, at least the lossless mix for this Terry Gilliam classic picks up the slack with a fun and engaging audio presentation for a highly enjoyable and smart 80s comedy.
Image Entertainment brings 'Time Bandits' to Blu-ray with nothing new to add in the bonus department, except for two special features already seen in previous releases.
Terry Gilliam's 'Time Bandits' is a wonderful and imaginative film about a small boy's adventure through time and space. It's a skillfully made 80s fantasy that works as a clever commentary on consumerism and technology with Ian Holm, John Cleese and Sean Connery. Unfortunately, this Blu-ray edition of the film comes with a substandard and poor picture quality, a better audio presentation, and a measly assortment of supplements. Fans will be sorely disappointed with the overall package and warned to rent it first. This is yet another case of a good flick wasted on a bad disc.