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. May also count as a Historical Hero Upgrade.
- 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.
- Adult Fear: Agamemnon when he realizes that the "magic trick" the Time Bandits drag Kevin into is not a trick and that the boy he just adopted as his son has disappeared beyond his reach.
- An Aesop:
- "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.
- Affably Evil: The Ogres.
- 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".
- All Part of the Show: ... til Agamemnon realizes something is horribly wrong.
- Ancient Greece - Kevin gets stranded in Mycenae about halfway through the movie.
- Anti-Hero: The Time Bandits, hence the title.
- Another Dimension - The Time of Legends
- Anthropomorphic Personification - The Evil Genius. Of evil, of course. Also borders on The Heartless and Satan.
- Army of the Ages - The title characters do this to battle the Evil Genius.
- 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.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The Supreme Being and the dwarves. Kevin has to stay "to carry on the fight."
- Asshole Victim: Kevin's parents, who don't seem to care much about him, see a piece of evil in the microwave. Kevin tells them 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."
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever - The giant from the Time of Legends.
- Bad Boss - The Evil Genius, by definition. And that's the way his minions like it.
- Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad - The Evil Genius and his minions.
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.
- Blindfolded Trip: When Kevin is taken to become the king's son.
- 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."
- Captain Obvious - Robin Hood's commentary on the Poor.
- Caught in a Snare: The Bandits are caught and left hanging by snares set by Robin Hood.
- The Cavalry - A literal cavalry plus other warriors and technology from different eras. It gets subverted when the Evil Genius makes short work of them all.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- 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.
- Curiosity Is a Crapshoot — Definitely on the "good" side.
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: The villain wants to use the map to rule the universe, but the heroes just want to get rich.
- Deadpan Snarker - All the bandits do this at one point or another.
- 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.
- Death Is Cheap - "Dead? No excuse for laying off work."
- 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.
- The Ditz: Og.
- Don't Touch It, You Idiot! - "Mum! Dad! It's evil! Don't touch it!"
- 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.
- The Dung Ages: How the Middle Ages are portrayed. Played for laughs with the contrast between the grimy and violent Merry Men and air-headed Robin Hood in his spotless Lincoln green. Gilliam previously employed it in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Jabberwocky.
- Everybody Laughs Ending: After the end credits, that is.
- Evil Laugh - Done by, well... Evil.
- Evil Overlord - The Evil Genius, who else?
- Evil Plan - The Evil Genius' plans for the world include stripping everything away except cold, logical efficiency.
Evil Genius: If I were creating a world I wouldn't mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o'clock, day one!
- Evil Tower of Ominousness - The Fortress of Ultimate Darkness. It just keeps on going up...
- Extreme Omnivore - Vermin.
- Foreshadowing - Check out all the toys in Kevin's bedroom.
- Five-Man Band:
- Gainax Ending: The film gets progressively more surreal as it goes on. The final battle against Evil is super-trippy, and followed by an inconsistent All Just a Dream fake-out, a couple of people blowing up and a fireman who looks suspiciously like Agamemnon winking cheerily at their now-orphaned son.
- Gender-Blender Name - Robin Hood's right hand man is named Marian, apparently replacing Maid Marian in the much more glamorous legends.
- Genre Blind - The dwarves don't recognize Robin Hood and don't appear to realize that the Titanic is going to hit an iceberg.
- Genre Savvy - Kevin does recognize Robin Hood.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
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...
- The "personal problem" Vincent has in the Middle Ages.
- God: Presented here as a slightly peevish no-nonsense businessman.
- God and Satan Are Both Jerks: Evil is, well, evil. Literally. He's made of it. The Supreme Being, however, is a rather unpleasant British gentleman with little-to-no regard for human life.
- God Is Inept: Zig-zagged. The Time Bandits claim they stole the map from the Supreme Being, who spends many scenes ineffectually chasing them while nevertheless looking very impressive. Evil calls the Supreme Being a lunatic because of all of his pointless creations, like slugs and nipples for men. Ultimately the Supreme Being does resolve everything and state that it was all according to His plan, saying, "I'm not entirely dim." However, along the way he seems to be a little vague and distracted, and doesn't put much effort into explaining why suffering must occur, saying only, "Ah... I think it has something to do with free will."
- Godly Sidestep: God's explanation for the existence of evil is only partial: it has something to do with free will.
- Goggles Do Nothing: Randall's flight helmet includes a set of goggles that are always pushed up to his forehead, unused. His headgear is purely ornamental, as is all of the Bandits'.
- 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.
- Grand Theft Me: The Evil Genius can do this with weak-willed minds.
- Great Big Book of Everything - The map.
- Heroic BSOD: Wally after Fidget's death.
- Historical Hilarity: Kevin and the Dwarves run into Napoleon, Robin Hood, and the Titanic. All of them are played for laughs, especially Robin Hood.
- Historical In-Joke:
- 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.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The Evil Genius' way of dispatching all of the reinforcements the bandits summon.
- 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.
- Hypocritical Humor:
Randall: You want to be leader?
Strutter: No, we agreed no leader.
Randall: Right, so shut up and do as I say.
- I Choose to Stay - Kevin is offered the opportunity to remain in Greece as the king's adopted son, but the Bandits drag him away. Considering what we know will eventually happen to Agammemnon, it's just as well...
- I'm a Humanitarian - The ogre couple intend to eat the Bandits when they're caught.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The knights' demise.
- Improvised Zipline - what the gang uses to escape the cage in Evil's citadel.
- Invisible Wall - In case you ever wondered what one looks like.
- Jerk Ass: Randall and Kevin's Parents.
- Jerkass Gods: The Supreme Being created Evil without being able to give a good reason ("I think it has something to do with free will"). Then locked him in the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness and manipulated the bandits into going there and fighting Evil to "test" him, getting several people killed in the process. He even proves Himself capable of reviving someone from the dead with no ill-effects, but noticeably does not do so to any of the innocent humans killed in the course of His "test". Then He takes away the nearest thing Kevin has to friends, and leaves the poor kid to fend for himself. Even an Omniscient Morality License can surely only stretch so far.
- Kick the Dog - Evil, being Evil, does this a lot. Including one literal example where he blows up his minion Benson (in dog form) with a Death Ray.
- Knight in Shining Armor - Before the dwarfs turn up, a knight on horseback leaps through Kevin's closet. In the final battle, a whole group of them charge at the Evil Genius.
- The Lancer - Wally to Randall.
- 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.
- The Time Bandits themselves all behave more like spoiled, bratty children rather than the ancient, immortal beings that they are. This was, in fact, the reason that Gilliam cast small people as the Bandits: so that audiences would accept a child as their equal.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's not quite clear whether the minotaur really is a minotaur or just a burly guy with a full bull headdress.
- Metaphorgotten: The ocean is so damned... wet. So very, very... wet.
- 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.
- Mind Screw: Holy crap, what on Earth were the makers of this film smoking?
- Minion with an F in Evil: The most creative thing Benson can think of is to turn beans into peas...
- Misaimed Fandom: In-universe example. Kevin thinks of Robin Hood as a hero. The bandits are disgusted by him.
- Moment Killer: Vincent and Pansy are about to kiss when a time door opens above them and the dwarves (and Kevin) fall on them.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The Evil Genius.
- The Napoleon:
- Randall, the pugnacious time bandit.
- The actual Napoleon is obsessed with height. It's almost all he'll talk about. He's overjoyed to discover the time bandits, who are all shorter than him, and promptly makes them all generals.
- Nice Guy:
- King Agamemnon seems to be a brave and wise ruler who adopts Kevin and becomes his first real father figure, albeit briefly.
- Robin Hood is impeccably polite and interested only in helping the poor. He's apparently too dim to realize how out of place he is.
- Nice Hat:
- A giant walking on the ocean floor comes up directly underneath the ogres' boat and wears it as a hat. (Gilliam admits having stolen the idea from a Brian Froud drawing.)
- Each of the Bandits wears a hat of some description, from a dusty bowler to a crude mining helmet.
- The Evil Genius' H.R. Giger-esque headpiece with a skull on the back of it.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed - There's a theory that Terry Gilliam may have fashioned each of the personalities of the six dwarves after the six members of Monty Python. Randall is John Cleese, Fidgit is Michael Palin, Strutter is Eric Idle, Og is Graham Chapman, Wally is Terry Jones, and Vermin is Gilliam himself.
- 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.
- Offing The Annoyance: The character Evil does this twice.
Evil: What sort of Supreme Being created such riff-raff? Is it not the workings of a complete incompetent?
Minion 1: But He created you, Evil One.
Evil: What did you say?
Minion 1: Well, He created you, so He can't be totally...
Evil: [blasts Mook 1 out of existence] Never talk to me like that again! No one created me! I am Evil! Evil existed long before Good. I made myself. I cannot be unmade. I am all-powerful!
Minion 2: But why, if that's the case, [Other minions edge away from him] are you unable to escape from this fortress?
Evil: [blasts Mook 2 out of existence] That's a good question.
- One-Sided Arm-Wrestling - One of the merry men tears the arm off the man he's arm-wrestling and throws it into a pile of other arms.
- Only in It for the Money: The bandits are traveling through time for no reason other than to steal. Kevin is offended.
- Only Sane Man: Agammemnon.
- Out-Gambitted - In the end, the Supreme Being appears and notes that he let the Bandits steal the map, and thus have it fall into the Evil Genius's hands, to test his creation.
- Parental Neglect: Kevin's parents don't care about him at all. When the house is on fire, his mother is more concerned with running back inside to get the toaster than making sure he's alright.
- Parental Substitute - Agamemnon briefly becomes an adopted father to Kevin.
- Pop-Star Composer: George Harrison, also the film's producer. His 1982 song "Dream Away" is played in the end credits.
- 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's 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.
- Potty Emergency: "Pansy! The problem!! It's started again!!"
- Rage Helm - Agamemnon's helm.
- 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!
- Really 700 Years Old - The Bandits, being formerly employed by God, are all thousands of years old.
- Recurring Character - Vincent and Pansy, throughout time.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: Really, the Evil Genius's entire face, when he's about to do something really horrific. He never gets to do whatever it was he intended to do - twice.
- Reed Richards Is Useless: Kevin admonishes Randall and the bandits several times for using the map to gain wealth and not anything else.
- Rhetorical Question Blunder: Robert does this with one of the Evil Genius's questions.
- Robin Hood - In carrying on with the tradition of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, Robin takes the Bandits' ill-gotten gains to divvy up among the poor, much to the Bandits' disgust.
Robin Hood: Jolly good!
- Sealed Evil in a Can - The Evil Genius can't leave the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness.
- Shout-Out: Kevin starts the adventure in a dressing gown. Sound familiar?
- Super Villain Lair - The Fortress of Ultimate Darkness.
- 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.
- Suspect Is Hatless: Benson points out "the little one" has the map.
- Tempting Fate: Randall asks for champagne "with plenty of ice"... on the Titanic.
- That's No Moon! - A ship ends up being a hat worn by a giant.
- Time Travel - The entire premise of the movie.
- Today The Map, And The Day After Tomorrow The World!
- 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.
- Unfazed Everyman - Kevin.
- The Unintelligible - Redgrave speaks only in gibberish, which is translated by Marian.
- 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.
- Upper-Class Twit: Robin Hood.
- 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.
- War Is Hell - A running theme in the film.
- War Refugees - Fleeing Napoleon.
- With Friends Like These... - The Time Bandits' relationship with Randall.
- What Have We Ear? - Part of Agamemnon's very fatherly behavior toward Kevin is to perform a magic trick. Kevin doesn't think he's very kingly, but likes him just the same.
- You Look Familiar: A man looking exactly like Agamemnon appears at the end as a fireman. It's never explained how or why this is (but reportedly it was Sean Connery's idea).