This is my entry in the Monty Python Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog.
Six Englishmen walked into a bar. One of them was an American. Sometimes the humor of Monty Python was subtle, like that, and sometimes it was just pure outlandish ridiculousness. Monty Python, the acting troupe that invaded BBC airwaves in 1969 consisted of five Englishmen (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin) and an American expatriate (Terry Gilliam).
The show, Monty Python's Flying Circus, was a sketch comedy show, filled with scenes that were often surreal and highly entertaining. It ran for 4 seasons on BBC, but, undoubtedly, it's biggest success came when, after the series end, a deal was struck with the American PBS to allow broadcasts in the United States. It gained a cult following as a result, leading to several road shows in which the members performed live. One in particular, Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl, was my first introduction to the troupe. (I had not been old enough to be allowed to watch the show when it first started appearing on TV here.)
All the actors went on to greater triumphs, both in front and behind the camera. Unfortunately, Graham Chapman's career was cut short at an early age, when he died in 1989 of cancer, but even he was instrumental in those early Python film endeavors. (see Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian). The others have been variously successful as directors (some only in TV episodes), but it is Terry Gilliam who has achieved what is probably the greatest success in that role.
Gilliam directed not only today's feature, Time Bandits, but also several other movies including Brazil (his pet project), The Fisher King (which was nominated for several Oscars, and even won one for Mercedes Ruehl as Best Supporting Actress), as well as some other quirky movies like 12 Monkeys, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and a really bizarre but watch-worthy, (in my opinion; it was a box-office failure, but I love it) film version of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Note: I originally intended to do a "time travel" double feature and pair this with Gilliam's other feature film that centered on a time traveler, 12 Monkeys, but circumstances prevented it.
Time Bandits (1981)
In an unspecified (but possibly slightly futuristic) time, a boy named Kevin (Craig Warnock) is with his parents, an obviously self-obsessed and totally oblivious pair (David Daker and Sheila Fearn). Kevin is fascinated with history. (A kid after my own heart, I'd say.) When Kevin goes to bed, a knight on a horse bursts through his closet and disappears into the opposite wall, seemingly though a picture he has posted of a jousting tilt.
The next night, Kevin lies awake with a camera and a flashlight. Through the same closet comes 6 dwarves. They mistake Kevin, momentarily, for the Supreme Being, hereafter referred to as "SB". It seems they are subordinates of the SB and have stolen a map of the universe. When the actual SB shows up (a large back lit head, voiced by Tony Jay), the seven, including Kevin, escape by pushing on Kevin's bedroom's opposite wall.
It turns out that his bedroom is a focal point for a time portal. We gradually find out, from the dwarves that the universe is not the most solidly built thing its cracked up to be. It has lots of holes, in the guise of time portals that allow one to go from one era to another. Kevin and crew end up in Napoleonic Wars during the Battle of Castiglione. Kevin is finally introduced to his compadres: Randall (David Rappaport), who is ostensibly the leader, even though the rest agree they had decided "no leaders", Fidgit (Kenny Baker), Og (Mike Edmonds), Strutter (Malcolm Dixon), Wally (Jack Purvis) and Vermin (Tiny Ross).
It turns out that the crew stole the map with intentions of using it to go through time, stealing great treasures of the past. Their first project is to rob Napoleon (Ian Holm) blind. They do this and escape the Napoleonic guards through another time portal.
This time portal leads to the Middle Ages, where they meet up with Robin Hood (John Cleese) and his merry men (although the "merry" men are a bit more vicious than "merry". Look for a familiar face of Derrick O'Connor among the merry men. Besides being in several Gilliam films, he was also one of the bad guys in Lethal Weapon 2).
Cleese is hilarious as Robin, doing a spot-on imitation of Prince Charles in the character. Through a misunderstanding, Robin thinks that the crew have brought their treasures to help him in his efforts to "rob from the rich and give to the poor", and thus lose their haul from Napoleon.
Disgusted, the crew seek out the next time portal. But the SB has found them and they panic. Also, we get introduced to Ultimate Evil, hereafter referred to as UE, (David Warner), who sees the crew and is covetous of the map they carry, for it will be his escape method from the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness where he is imprisoned.
Meanwhile back in the Middle Ages, while being chased by the disembodied head of the SB, two portals open up, and Kevin escapes alone through the wrong one, leaving the others behind. He ends up in ancient Greece, where he ends up inadvertently helping King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) defeat an enemy in battle. Agamemnon takes him in, and Kevin is happy with his situation. The king makes him his heir apparent and throws a party.
The dwarves show up, and take Kevin, unwillingly, with them. They pass through another portal where they wind up, of all places, on the Titanic. UE uses his innate ability to control minds by implanting the idea of finding "the most fabulous object in the world", which can only be found in the heart of the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, a place that can only be accessed through "The Time of Legends".
I don't want to give away much more of this movie because it is a riot and a fantastic adventure. Needless to say the dwarves and Kevin do end up meeting UE, who is not all that nice a guy, an appearance is made by the SB in full body, played by an astoundingly droll Ralph Richardson, and the movie does end on a bizarre note worthy of being credited to a Python member. My apologies about not getting to 12 Monkeys. Hope to do it at a later date.
Until next time kiddies, try to stay in this realm. It's safer.