A fantasy adventure film produced and directed by Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam, who co-wrote the screenplay with fellow Python Michael Palin.Kevin is an imaginative and inquisitive child whose interest in history is not shared by his shallow and materialistic parents. One night he is visited by a gang of time-traveling dwarves on the run from the "Supreme Being" (God). Before Kevin can protest, he's kidnapped and forced to accompany them on their adventures through time. The bandits have stolen a map that reveals all the gaps in creation, which allows them to visit virtually any place or historic personality. How do they use this power? To steal all the treasure they can find, of course! Meanwhile, their journey is being covertly monitored by the so-called Evil Genius, who has his own big plans for the map, not to mention the rest of the universe...The story is very comical, while also being quite dark. With quirky characters, Indy Ploys and nice historical backdrops, and ultimately a Good versus Evil battle, the film makes for a wacky, humorous yet still dramatic time travel adventure. This was the first part of the "Dreamer Trilogy": Time Bandits represents childhood, Brazil represents adulthood, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen represents old age.
Contains examples of:
Adaptational Heroism: Often portrayed as a bad guy, usually the bad guy, in various adaptations of the Iliad/Trojan War, here Greek King Agamemnon is portrayed as a noble hero. It helps that he's played by Sean Connery.
Adults Are Useless - Kevin has more common sense and smarts than the other bandits. The bandits were written as dwarfs so that audiences would accept Kevin as their equal. Kevin's parents represent the banal, materialistic existence that Evil wants to promote.
"I think it's something to do with free will." (Also something of an in-universe - and very literal - Shrug of God.)
The Evil Genius is obsessed with efficiency, technology and work. Kevin's parents are hopeless consumers. The morally grey bandits want riches and luxury. Only Kevin, the hero, is interested in the wonders that the world offers.
All Just a Dream - The film hints that the entire film is Kevin's dream. Both strange occurrences happen just as Kevin dozes off to go to bed, first with a mysterious knight who is a poster figure on Kevin's wall, then when the dwarves arrive. It's seemingly bizarrely subverted. At the end, Kevin apparently wakes up in his bed as his house is burning down, but finds he still has all the photographs he took on his journey, and his parents blow up after touching a piece of the Evil Genius that found its way back with him. Also, a fireman looking suspiciously like Agamemnon (also played by Sean Connery) gives him a knowing wink just before leaving. Even the conclusion may be a part of the dream, as hinted by George Harrison's end credits song "Dream Away".
Artificial Human - The Evil Genius appears human, but seems to be more machine than organism. His fingertips are on hinges that he can bend back to expose nozzles that fire magic. In the final battle he turns himself into an evil merry-go-round.
Ascended Fanboy - Kevin always loved history; now he gets to see history in the making.
Asshole Victim: Kevin's parents who don't care about him at all, see a piece of evil in the microwave. Kevin tells not to touch it. But they ignore him and touch it anyway. They blow up. On the DVD Commentary [not on the 2013 remaster], Terry Gilliam says "Parents have to listen to their children."
Evil Genius: Suddenly, I feel very, very good. Benson: Oh, I'm sorry, Master. Evil Genius: No, it'll pass, it'll pass.
Baleful Polymorph - Og gets hit by a spell that turns his head into a pig's head. He later gets turned into a pig entirely.
Bavarian Fire Drill - The Bandits order around Napoleon's troops so they don't witness them making off with all his loot.
Behind the Black: When Wally is climbing up the rope and the other characters are concerned he fell, they only see him there once he appears onscreen. This is despite the fact that there is obviously still weight they can feel climbing up the rope and we are given no evidence of anything obscuring the vision of the characters looking past the bottom of the screen.
Big Damn Heroes: Agamemnon's introduction has him fighting a guy in a bull mask. The finale features warriors from various parts of history showing up to fight the Evil Genius. And the Supreme Being turning the Evil Genius in a statue.
Billing Displacement: The well known stars get top billing (possibly due to marketing purposes), even though they have very small roles in the film that last under 5 minutes. Although, David Warner has more screen time due to the fact that he plays the villain.
Bitter Sweet Ending: Kevin has lost his parents and his home, but he's still got the map, and Kevin seemed to want to be free of his materialistic parents anyway.
Bolivian Army Ending - Kevin left alone and parentless, back in the normal world. Who knows how he'll manage.
Book Ends: The opening and closing are reverse shots of each other, from the Map to a zoom in on Earth and on Kevin's English suburb, then a pull back from Kevin's neighborhood to the Earth to the map.
Butt Monkey: Pansy and Vincent. Gilliam on the DVD Commentary says "They're gonna be the losers over time."
Early in the movie, Kevin takes a random Polaroid picture of the dwarfs holding up the map. Later, after Evil has taken the map and caged them all up, Kevin uses the picture to figure out that there is a time hole nearby the cage.
In some lost extended scene Agamemnon teaches Kevin an aesop about war and violence (it seems he finds too much amusement in historical wars and fights) and gives him a knife. This token is later used to escape from the cage towards the end.
Cool Old Guy: Agammemnon. He's a far better parent than Kevin's parents ever were.
Death by Materialism: The main enemy in the film is materialism. Evil wants to remake the world according to his materialistic vision of toil and productivity. The dwarves are frequently foiled by their own greed, and their desire for ever-more riches always results in them losing everything they'd previously stolen. Kevin's parents are more concerned with their appliances than their son, which ultimately causes their death as well.
Demon Head - How the Supreme Being confronts the Bandits when he initially appears.
Deus ex Machina - Agamemnon believes that Kevin was sent by the gods to save him from the minotaur. Also: the Supreme Being appears at the end and cleans up the mess the Bandits have made of things. Which is a Deus Ex Deus.
Downer Ending - What happens after Kevin is done surfing through time? His parents explode and he is left alone beside his smoldering home. The last thing he says is a rather weak, "Mom...? Dad...?" as the camera pulls away, showing him very pitifully alone. However, many viewers insist that it is actually a Bitter Sweet Ending.
Vincent: Pansy, look at me. Pansy: Yes, Vincent. Vincent: Do you... do you... love me? Pansy: Of course I love you. Vincent: You... you don't mind the thing... on my... on my nose... Pansy: Oh you mean your... Vincent: Yes, my... Pansy: No, darling... of course I don't mind... Vincent: You could get used to have a chap around the house with a... with a... with a damn thing on his nose. Pansy: Of course, my love. Everyone has something odd about them. Why I've got an enormous... Vincent: Pansy!
The "personal problem" Vincent has in the Middle Ages.
God: Presented here as a slightly peevish no-nonsense businessman.
God Is Inept: Subverted. At first, the bandits don't have all that much difficulty stealing the map and evading the Supreme Being whenever he shows up. Later, however, He reveals that it was all part of His plan, saying, "I'm not entirely dim." When the Supreme Being is behaving ineptly, He looks like a terrifying magical face. When He reveals His plans, however, He looks like an elderly British gentleman.
Evil hurls some barbs in this vein. "Slugs?! He created slugs?!"
Godly Sidestep: God's explanation for the existence of evil is only partial: it has something to do with free will.
Gold Fever - The primary motivation of the Bandits.
Gondor Calls for Aid - In the final battle with the Evil Genius, the Bandits go to get help from throughout time.
Good Is Not Nice - The Supreme Being presents himself as either a menacing face in the heavens or a somewhat stern old man. Kevin is rather horrified to learn that He arranged a lot of death and suffering just to test his creation and doesn't seem at all concerned about it. His first act once the bandits surrender is to order them to clean up the mess and punish them with a salary cut even though he claims that all of their actions were part of his plan.
Good Is Old-Fashioned - The Supreme Being is an old-fashioned British gentleman, while the Evil Genius wants to reform the world around lasers and technology.
Napoleon keeps one hand permanently hidden in the pocket of his jacket, referring to his iconic pose in portraits. It turns out that the reason is because his hand is solid gold.
Agamemnon's wife glares at him, and he sentences her three courtiers to execution. These are references to Greek mythology, in which Agamemnon and Clytemnestra hated each other and their marriage ended in murder.
Hollywood Costuming: Parodied. After the bandits discover that the Merry Men are thoroughly disgusting dwellers of The Dung Ages, Robin Hood emerges in a spotless lincoln green tunic and tights that are straight out of an Errol Flynn film.
Let's Get Dangerous - Kevin stays behind to distract the Evil Genius' pursuing Mooks while the other bandits get help from other parts of time.
Let The Past Burn: The family home burns down at the end. Shortly after the parents pick up the rock of evil that was found in the wreckage and both disintegrate, leaving the boy an orphan.
Made of Evil - The Evil Genius. As in, literally, he's made of pure, pure evil, to the point where his alternate name is simply "Evil," and touching a burnt piece of him even after he's dead will turn you into a hermit crab (apparently) or make you blow up.
Magitek - The Evil Genius is all about technology, and he's fittingly as much machine as he is man. He can tilt up his finger joints to reveal the nozzles of magical cannons that can destroy or polymorph his targets. To fight the Bandits' legions of time, he turns himself into a clockwork merry-go-round and then an inflatable pincushion. His lair is filled with creepy looking machines that are maintained by his Mooks who wear rubber industrial gear. When staring into his black cauldron, he barks out, "Stand by for mind-control!" like a factory foreman.
Man Child: Napoleon. The French have conquered Italy, but he's more interested in watching a puppet show.
Mind Control - The Evil Genius does this to Og to lure the Bandits to the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness with the prospect of "The Most Fabulous Object in the World". True to his mechanical nature, he barks out, "Stand by for mind control!" before casting his spell.
Non Sequitur: When Robin Hood asks a bandit how long he's been a robber, the bandit replies, "Four-foot-one!" Robin, ever the proper English gentleman, struggles to pretend that this is a perfectly appropriate response to his question. It might have been a deliberate attempt to evade the question by the angelic, time-traveling bandit.
Posthumous Character: An ambiguous example with Horseflesh, the apparent former leader of the Bandits, who Randall claims is dead. The character was originally supposed to have betrayed the group and joined the Evil Genius, but overtly having seven dwarf characters might have brushed against some legal issues. The character was demoted to an extra, as the dwarf in the Evil Genius' company, who receives no lines and doesn't do anything. It's unclear if the character is still supposed to be the gang's old leader.
Real After All - After Kevin is sent back, he appears back in his room. Kevin at first thinks it wasn't real, but he still has the pictures from his adventures. And then a chunk of Evil turns up and makes his parents explode!
Surrounded by Idiots: Evil is surrounded by incompetent henchmen. At one point, he says to one of them who's just said something particularly idiotic, "Oh, my dear Benson, you are so mercifully free of the ravages of intelligence." This is likely his own doing, however, as both of the Mooks who dare to raise serious questions about Evil's plan are blown to smithereens.
Too Dumb to Live - The Bandits' greed overrides common sense in almost every case. Kevin's parents also ignore their son and touch a leftover piece of the burned Evil Genius, which promptly makes them explode. Considering his mother was going to risk her life to save the toaster...
Translator Buddy - One of Robin Hood's followers translates for his gibberish-spewing pal.
Ugly Guy, Hot Wife - The hideous ogre has a normal human wife, played by the middle-aged but still very presentable Katherine Helmond. The character was originally going to be an ogre as well until she was changed at Helmond's suggestion.
Unwitting Pawn - The bandits, doubly so. They hand-deliver the map to the Evil Genius in their quest for "The Most Fabulous Object in the World." Meanwhile, Supreme Being also intended for them to steal the map the whole time to he could test his creation, evil.
Villainous BSOD: Napoleon goes almost catatonic while watching the Time Bandits do their musical number. They think he hates them until he snaps out of it and becomes ecstatic with joy.