By Craig Joseph
There’s a moment in Time Bandits when Randall and crew are dressed as dragons, performing for King Agagmemnon, and robbing him blind. As the music speeds up, they gather all the gold and jewelry in the room behind a huge tapestry of sorts that they’re draping over themselves and then – suddenly – disappear. Robbery successful! The guests applaud, but are soon befuddled; the “magicians” are not reappearing – and neither is the treasure.
When my younger brother and I shared a bedroom, we kept ourselves up many nights, playing imaginary games. One of them was Time Bandits, which often involved Aaron (as Randall) crawling under the bed (our version of the time portal) and emerging to find what new epoch he’d entered, inhabited by some historical character that I’d concocted (the green-bearded witch was a favorite). But every evening ended with Aaron re-creating the above robbery, except when the tapestry (his blanket) dropped, the time bandit was still there. With his pajama pants down around his ankles. Blowing a huge fart into his brother’s face.
Gross? Yes. But this is what we loved about the movie. It was wild, chaotic, unpredictable, bawdy and ribald in ways that we probably didn’t even understand. It was like someone had taken all of the crazy little boy energy and imagination that was bottled up in our room and turned it into a movie, one that we could watch over and over everyday on HBO. A bad guy who blows up his minions, splattering their guts all over the camera lens? Awesome! A midget who bites the head off a rat? Radical! Shelly Duvall getting clobbered by people falling from the sky every time she’s about to kiss the guy from Monty Python? She was just going to kiss him, right? Right?
The problem today is that I’m watching this movie and my adult brain thinks there is more going on. Before the bandits even appear, the script seems to be making a strong critique of modernity. Delightful Kevin lives in his room, a shrine to the ancient Greeks, the Middle Ages, heroism and chivalry. Meanwhile, his loutish parents are glued to TV game shows and measure life’s validity by their ability to have the latest gadgetry in their kitchen because the neighbors do. I’m expecting to see something I missed as a nine-year-old: a trenchant satire of our addiction to technology. Except for some ideas muttered by the villain, later, though, the idea gets lost.
I also begin to follow some thoughts on theodicy vis a vis the Supreme Being chasing after his beloved map. But the initial complex questions that the film sets up about God’s motives toward humanity and God’s relationship with evil aren’t even given layered answers. We’re asked to settle for a Ralph Richardson cameo (he’s great) and some clever quips and one-liners.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not asking Time Bandits to be a thought-provoking film. But why put this stuff in there at all if you’re not going to see it through? Why not let it be what I always thought it was – a bonkers kids’ movie? Instead, it now seems only a partially successful hybrid beast of some sort. It makes me disappointed. And I want to fart in its face.