I Am Time Bandits

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“What’s Your Favorite Movie?” To answer that question is a huge amount of pressure. One’s favorite movie is more than just an opinion. It’s an attempt to sum up WHO YOU ARE. If Caddyshack is someone’s favorite movie, then you have a pretty good idea of who that person is. Prove me wrong, Caddyshack fans. (Prove. Me. Wrong.)

Naming your favorite movie is to be exposed and, perhaps, judged. Arclight Cinema employees must wear their “favorite movie” on their nametag. Now that’s exposed. Once I saw a poor ticket-taker with a nametag fav of The Phantom Menace being torn a new nerd-hole by a tag team of cruel-but-articulate Goths. Later that summer, that guy’s pick had been changed to The Color Purple. Smart move, Brian.

However, when I am asked “What’s Your Favorite Movie?”, one title immediately leaps to mind. Right away. It’s been that way for decades now, and there’s no shaking it. Nothing else is even close. So out with it. Judge away.

My favorite movie is Time Bandits.

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Why FAVORITE? My theory is this – it was locked-in early, via deep psychological scarring. The first time I saw Time Bandits, I was ten, at a friend’s birthday party. We all arrived at the movie theater way too early. Rather than deal with a bunch of fourth graders all wanting change to play sit-down Ladybug, the parents just took us into the theater early – before the last showing was over. We saw the end… first. Instead of watching the movie from start to finish as Terry Gilliam intended (or maybe not, who knows with Gilliam), I saw it from finish to start to finish again.

Yes, we walked into the theater about 100 minutes into the picture, and sat in the front row. I looked up – and was confronted with the image on the screen of a little man on top of a cage biting a bloody rat in half with a wet, sickening crunch – and offering rat-half to… me? Terrifying, for a ten-year-old, but deeply, deeply involving. And it only gets more scary. The very end of the film (or, for me, the early middle) has a kid’s parents exploding. And he’s left all alone. That’s it. Pull back. Cue baffling-but-groovy, chill-inducing George Harrison song over credits. But not the end, because the movie soon restarted, and I saw everything leading up to the rat bite, which I then watched, to my double-horror, for the second time. I then re-saw the whole last twenty minutes up to and including until the final abandonment (re-abandonment). Scarring, complete. Neurosis, created. Ten-year-old me, hooked forever.

But like all good childhood traumas, you can’t help but to go back to the scene of the crime. And there is so much to go back to in Time Bandits. Gilliam is famous as a visualist, but the real magnetism of the movie comes from his and Michael Palin’s story. Their script dead-on nails all the Rules Of Movie Storytelling:

First Rule – You can’t wait to find out what happens next.
Second Rule – What happens next is always a surprise.
Third Rule – Cram in more awesome things than can be believed. War-torn France. Sherwood Forrest. Ancient Greece. The Titanic. Fat giant with a ship hat. (I have ridden in that actual ship. You can cruise it around Big Bear Lake outside of L.A.) Rope-swinging cage escape. Mega-super battle with cowboys, spacemen, knights – all in under two hours!
Fourth Rule – Time travel.
Fifth Rule – Sean Connery.
Sixth Rule – Baffling-but-groovy, chill-inducing George Harrison song over credits. (It’s called “Dream Away,” and it’s best lyric is “Midnight sunshine silent thunder / Sky as black as day”.)
Seventh Rule – Shut up! Time Bandits kicks ass!

Okay, Time Bandits isn’t the best movie ever. It’s not even the best Terry Gilliam movie ever. But which would you rather watch again and again and again? This, or the heavy-handed bum-out known as Brazil? Be honest.

Time Bandits is my favorite movie because it captures on film the feelings of excitement, curiosity, delight and terror that you can only feel as a kid. It’s a voyage through time, not back to Agamemnon’s Mycenae, but back to being ten. Sometimes, your favorite thing isn’t the best thing, but the thing that messed you up, yet left you coming back for more. In that sense, Time Bandits is who I am.

(Wikipedia Fun Fact: “Robert Hewison, in his book Monty Python: The Case Against, describes the dwarfs as a comment on the Monty Python troupe, with Fidget (the nice one) as Palin, Randall (the self-appointed leader) as John Cleese, Strutter (the acerbic one) as Eric Idle, Og (the quiet one) as Graham Chapman, Wally (the noisy rebel) as Terry Jones and Vermin (the nasty, filth-loving one) as Gilliam himself.”)

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