DVD Review: ‘Time Bandits’ flashes back to early Gilliam

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After co-directing “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975) with fellow Python Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam launched his solo filmmaking career with “Jabberwocky” (1977), which barely got a U.S. release. He spent years trying to get “Brazil” (1985) off the ground, and, in frustration decided to make a children’s film instead. “Time Bandits” (1981) was enough of a surprise hit that he was then able to do “Brazil.”

“Time Bandits” may be Gilliam’s most consistently entertaining movie, but it still displays his flaws as much as his strengths. It’s visually imaginative — on a smallish budget — filled with invention, but also rambling and all over the (literal) map. (Be astonished to see an incredibly young, incredibly thin Jim Broadbent in a tiny role during the first sequence.) A young boy (David Warnock) runs off with six little people, who burst out of his wardrobe one night. They have stolen a map — which identifies various holes in the space/time continuum — from their boss, the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson). With it, they intend to steal from one age and escape into another.

The Criterion Blu-ray is utterly without visual or audio blemish. The extras include Shelley Duvall discussing the movie for eight minutes on Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” show (1981) and a new 25-minute discussion with the costume and production designers. There is a rather dry commentary by Gilliam, which includes interpolations from actors Warnock, Michael Palin, David Warner and John Cleese. Each participant was clearly recorded solo; the track feels sterile without the sort of interplay that marks the best commentaries. (The now-adult Warnock, who gets by far the most time of the actors, amusingly remembers that the shooting schedule was so tight that the crew dubbed the project “Overtime Bandits.”) Gilliam is much more at ease in an 80-minute conversation with critic Peter von Bagh, shot in front of an audience in Finland in 1998.

Time Bandits (Criterion, Blu-ray, $39.95)

ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).