Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I'm afraid I have to close up shop here. I considered keeping this in case I want to drop in and continue, but ultimately I just can't do it. So many films I wanted to get to, but alas . . .

Well, adios.

Keep watching science fiction cinema, in all languages.

God Bless everyone in the new year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Metropolis (1927)
GERMANY --- science fiction

Dir: Fritz Lang

German director Fritz Lang seemed to be the first to showcase a strong directorial vision in his body of work. His was a unique combination of expertise in editing and production design, mixed with simplistic stories. Lang even helped along the career of Alfred Hitchcock and Karl Freund, back when he was an assistant. He should be credited for making the best effort of early science fiction fiction cinema with the "Metropolis". Going above and beyond pioneering French magician/ filmmaker Georges Méliès short film  "A Trip to the Moon"/"Le voyage dans la Lune", the ambitious "Metropolis" took painstaking strides in technical achievement.

Set in an indeterminate future city, this iconic science fiction film is about a privileged young man named Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) who is the son Metropolis' ruler Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel, who worked with Lang, Murnau, Lubitsch, and Hitchcock). The city is divided between the simple haves and have-nots, those who frolic in the Olympus-esque sky-scraping Tower of Babel, and those who toil beneath the city operating the machinery that help the city run. One day, a prophetess (Brigette Helm) visits the Eternal Gardens and with Freder looking on she proclaims with a large collection of boys from the lower depths that the men in the Club of the Sons are their brethren as well. Freder is more than entranced with her saying, he falls in love. Going so far as to depart his idyllic surroundings to search for her down below. Instead he finds his brethren below sweating in an industrial environment on the M-Machine, which explodes killing some of the workers. He even has a vision of them being sacrificed to the ancient god of child sacrifice, Moloch. Freder assists one of the workers and gives him a calling card. When one of Fredersen's trusted assistants fails in a task, he is fired, which means he must go below to the depths with the other workers. As an attempted suicide attempt shows, it must be a fate worse than death for the upper echelon of Metropolis, but Freder convinces him to live as he decends down with him to see how the other half live.

Meanwhile, Fredersen visits an old friend in Dr. Rotwang, your typical mad scientist complete with a Frankentstein-esque laboratory. Fredersen laments at a shrine for his late wife, Hel (named after a Norse mythological goddess of the dead), who apparently died giving birth to Freder and was also a lover of Rotwang as well. However, Rotwang boasts about an invention that is the next best thing to Hel, a Machine-Man in the shape of an android woman in the likeness of Hel. Rotwang also shows Fredersen a map of 2,000 year old catacombs (similar to the kind early Christians were in), where the underground workers congregate. They actually go down from beneath Rotwang's house and through a hole in the rocks observe the beautiful prophetess Maria give a sermon about the ancient Tower of Babel and the coming of the Mediator; one who will be the bridge between the workers below and the eloquent rich above; and once Freder realizes he is that man, the true battle of good evil begins. As Rotwang plots to capture Maria for his Machine-Man image to kill Fredersen, ultimately setting a series of events that leads to an all out revolution of the workers that will destroy the city or allow for a bonding.

Shot for a remarkable five million dollars, "Metropolis" was the biggest European film ever made back then; and unfortunately its biggest failure. Because of this failure, investors made Lang trim back the two-hour-and-27-minute version for global release. It's important to note that Hollywood was a new-kid-in-town when it came to the film industry. Germany, France, Japan, and the then USSR were the big fish in the water, and Germany was in a kinda artistic Renaissance with their German Expressionism movement.

Of Lang's work, "Metropolis", a silent film made in 1927, is still a masterpiece. I would say a recurrent element in Lang's films is visual metaphor or the fact that he could use just images to say something. No music. No dialogue. Just the image. In "Metropolis", he's able to use the elevator scenes with the workers going down to the depths to show they are descending in more than one way. The panoramic shots Metropolis' everyday city bustle have been used repeatedly since, as in "Blade Runner" or "Minority Report". These shots, by the way, are almost the only real establishing shots in the film. The other scenes are almost staged set pieces that don't create a futuristic atmosphere. For what it's worth, the acting is good., particularly Brigette Helm, and though most acting in silent films is strong and overt, the performances are less realistic. However, with the setting of this film being in the science fiction genre, this is forgivable and doesn't matter. I love how Lang sets up shots. They are just choreographed beautifully in this film, particularly when they are going to burn Maria at the stake.

The sets and the special effects are dazzling enough to ward off any criticism of the acting. The editing ( if you can call it that since they usually "cut-in-camera" back then) however, is something that is starkly different from a "talkie". It can distract a viewer when someone is saying something and there's a cut to a title card, and then to the person they're speaking to for a reaction shot. I think Lang knew how to handle this though, at least in the version I saw, he only used dialogue where he needed and even at this point I've noticed that all his shots where dialogue is spliced in. These shots are beautifully rendered, as when Rotwang obsesses how his mechanical hand has built the robot "Maria" and his arms are up with "Maria" behind him. This is punctuated with a title card. In this film, there are many shots like that where the title card helps the visual and is not just there like many modern subtitles. Also, the title cards in this film, were usually designed correctly to the emotion of the characters in the moment. But, the editing of the scene "The Dance of the Whore of Babylon" is close to something Eisenstein did in "Battleship Potemkin".

The problem I originally found with properly critiquing Metropolis is that I wasn't certain with what I was seeing was what I was supposed to see (as there were many re-edited versions of the film out there). Fortunately, the impossible happened. Back in 2008, a duplicate print of the film was discovered in Buenos Aires, and was eventually restored with the original missing 25 minutes of the film. Along with other silent classic films like "Nosferatu" and "The Cabinet of Caligari" helped push the German Expressionism movement in cinema. The film has a less than subtle message on religion as Lang and Harbou have multiple references and allusions to the bible including:

"Club of the Sons" - Heaven?
"Eternal Gardens" - Garden of Eden?
Moloch - ancient pagan god
The Tower of Babel
Maria - Mary?
The Flood- Noah

Like the greatest science fiction films it evokes the audience to see the message of social commentary through the fictional lens of a fantastic environment. This is the dystopian future told from the distant past. "Metropolis" doesn't just survive because of its innovative and visionary glimpse into the future, but because its message is timeless. It has been told before the film and will be told after. A tale of humanity in a constant struggle between good and evil, rich and poor, man and his inventions, and most of all love versus hate.

Friday, December 23, 2011

El Orfanato (The Orphanage) (2007)
SPAIN/ MEXICO --- horror

Dir: J.A. Bayona

The ghost story goes back countless centuries and throughout nearly all cultures. But the one mainstay in the genre that has successfully worked on audiences is a woman in an old dark house. This particularly goes back to our psychological fears of the dark and the unknown, and using a female gets more empathy than a male. It is refreshing to see new takes on this timeless fright fest, even if it does seem all too familiar. "El Orfanato" explores the sub genre one more time, with the added depth of the indestructible bond of love between a mother and her child.

Laura returns to her childhood home at the seaside Good Shepherd Orphanage. With her husband Carlos and their imaginative son Simon staying with her, they plan to have more special needs children stay with them in their new home. They have been keeping a secret from Simon, who is actually their adopted child and is HIV positive; unbeknownst to him. One day, while walking along the cavernous seashore, Laura and Simon enter a cave when Simon claims to have met a new invisible friend.

This friend named Tomas has been sharing secrets with Simon. All too disturbing to Laura, that they happen to be true. Tomas reveals to Simon that his parents have kept his adoption and illness hidden from him. When he reveals this to Laura through means of well-thought out scavenger hunt, she becomes even more disturbed by this Tomas.

She is soon visited by a mysterious woman named Benigna Escobedo (an interesting name that when translated suggests an ambiguous hint to the intent of this character). She inquires about her plans for the home, and has information on Simon. This Benigna shows up again one night on the property with a shovel in hand, further escalating the intent of this mysterious woman. Later, Laura and Carlos throw a party to invite local special needs kids to see the house. Simon, having his new-found information and foreknowledge given him by Tomas, begins to become a little bit more rebellious and unruly toward Laura. Hiding in a burlap mask, Simon seemingly plays a trick on a Laura by locking her in the bathroom. When she escapes, Simon is nowhere to be found. Laura and Carlos soon cancel all plans and go on an all out search for their missing son, desperate to find him soon as he needs to take his medicine periodically. Their search, however is fruitless, but does begin to unearth some history from Laura's past involving the Good Shepherd Orphanage, and answers to her son's disappearance from beyond the grave.

To explain more in depth about this complex film would spoil the many twists and turns that it has to offer. It's too good to ruin. The legendary Geraldine Chaplin makes an appearance as a medium who, with her team of para-psychologists set-up something out of "Poltergeist" to commune with the spirits in the house. "El Orfanato" is a heartbreaking testament to what can sometimes deter us from the many gifts that life has to offer. The film of course has echoes of classics such as "The Innocents" and "The Haunting", fused with the very real horror of the psychological ramifications of a missing child. This bittersweet ghost story of love, loss, and circumstance is a welcome addition to the pantheons of the genre and will hold up as a classic of its own.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Excalibur (1981)
UK --- fantasy

Dir: John Boorman

This is, for me, the absolute quintessential film of any film dealing with Arthurian legend. Besides the fact it is almost strictly and painstakingly accurate to the source material of Sir Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur", the very combination of Boorman's keen atmospheric attention to detail, sprint-paced editing, simplistic special effects, and the dedicated performances of Shakespearean trained thespians makes for an entertaining epic fantasy film. Coming on the heels of Hollywood's "Star Wars" mania, which sent producers in search of any and all science fiction and fantasy property they could get their hands on, the legend of King Arthur was bound for a serious special effects-laden film adaptation. In decades before, we had stuff like "Camelot", "Lancelot and Guinevere", and Disney's animated "The Sword in the Stone" (actually based on a book by T.H. White), but never an adaptation capable of effectively capturing the mysticism, beauty, and magic of the legend. Director John Boorman (Deliverance, Zardoz), set out to do just that.

Owing some inspiration to Roger Christian's now lost short film "Black Angel", Boorman set out to create an updated true-to-form Arthurian film directly based on Malory's epic tale. Shot entirely on location in Boorman's home of Ireland and utilizing the pick of the litter of both English and Irish film communities, "Excalibur" weaves the mythologic tale of Arthur Pendragon. In true fantasy tradition, it opens on the violence of his own father Uther (debut film role for Gabriel Byrne) in battle with a warring faction. In his possession is the legendary sword, Excalibur, but his use of it displeases the wizard Merlin (played by Nicol Williamson), whom it was gifted from. Uther was given the sword to form an alliance with Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. However, Uther soon has designs on Gorlois' wife Ingrayne. He beseeches Merlin to have Ingrayne for his wife, using the Charm of Making spell, which would disguise Uther for a time as Gorlois in appearance. Merlin begrudgingly agrees under the condition that whatever becomes of his lustful affair would belong to him. What becomes of the affair is the boy child Arthur, in which Merlin soon after the birth comes to collect. Uther is angered and follows Merlin into the woods, but is ambushed and stabs the mystical sword of Excalibur into a rock. Merlin then proclaims the only one would will be able to release it will be the one to be king - it is only meant for Arthur.

Years later, when Arthur is but a squire, he comes across the sword himself. This after a tourney between several knights vying to pull the sword from it's enchanted locked state. When his knights sword comes up missing, the boy Arthur easily pulls the sword out to replace his knights. Merlin, then appears to them to tell all who witnessed that the boy is to be the king as he promised. Arthur's first action as leader is to rescue Leondegrance's (Guenevere's father) castle from an invading seige. After leading a successful attack against the invaders, they too join the boy king as he sets the stage for his knights of the round. Arthur takes Guenevere as a wife and celebrates with his knights. First, however, he must get one more respectable gifted knight on his side, Lancelot, who has beaten most all of the knights in his army. In fact, in a one-on-one battle, he is only able to defeat Lancelot with the power of Excalibur, and even going so far as to misuse the weapon causing it to break in two. The lady of the lake restores Arthur the enchanted sword and Lancelot gladly joins his army as Arthur's trusted second in command.

All is well, in the newly founded Camelot, so Merlin sees his fate to step into the shadows and allow the lot of man to fall where it may. However, he espies deception and ruin on the horizon as Morganna Le Fay (played by Helen Mirren), Arthur's half-sister, begins to have designs on Merlin's power with her own selfish ambitions. She soon enacts her own plot to uncover the affair between Lancelot and Guenevere, trap Merlin, and seduce Arthur to give birth to her own child for the throne. Before long, Arthur realizes the only way to restore life to himself and the kingdom is to find the Holy Grail. He sends his knights out in search of the Grail, and some of the knights fall victim to the son of enchantress Morganna, Modred (wearing a "Zardoz" mask?). Perceval too succumbs to the wiles of Morganna's trap, but is the one knight to escape and finally reach the Holy Grail, realizing that Arthur and the land are one. He returns to Arthur with the Grail and life is restored to the land, as Arthur prepares one final battle with his own "sinful" illegitimate son, Modred.

King Arthur has always been an allegory of both King David and of course Jesus Christ and his disciples. Having been written in the time of the Crusades, it very easy to see the influence and of course the very fact that the characters too search for the Holy Grail. Even though this is a mythic Dark Ages, the film's setting comes off the heels of the Crusades and the hope of a future in the Lord. The Christian symbolism is everywhere from the idea that the "king" is the land and the land is the "king", representing spiritual Jerusalem, to the visual cues of Perceval submerged/ baptised in water to find the Grail.

Can you imagine a "Lord of the Rings" film like this? Well, this film had it's origin somewhat in that when the studio at the time (United Artists) wanted Boorman to helm an adaptation of that. Luckily, Boorman stuck to his guns for a 3 hour epic film in the script stages, chronicling Merlin, King Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table. Though the only versions out there are a 140 minute R-rated cut and a 119 minute PG-rated cut, apparently Boorman did shoot 3 hours of footage but the rest are deleted scenes properly awaiting arrival of a possible Blu-ray director's cut or something. The sets, however, were designed to with "Lord of the Rings" as inspiration.

Though I feel Boorman should have consulted the guys at ILM or other special effects wizards at the time to accentuate the mysticism in the film, he did a good credible job. He took certain liberties that the passerby Arthurian fan would not notice anyway, yet for the world of the film they are accepted only in the fact that the story is told so concisely well. Nigel Terry should be commended for playing both the adolescent and adult Arthur with success and believability in both stages. A rare feat that I have ever seen in cinema. Nicol Williamson's Merlin is interesting to watch as he goes a little too schizo in scenes. I'm sure he was trying to stay away from being too "Obi-Wan Kenobi", but his character could have used more grounding. The costuming is perfect, and the production design is excellent throughout. "Excalibur" also features the epic sweeping score of composer Trevor Jones and spotlight's Wagner's original classical pieces as well. If you have to see one Arthurian film, start here as anything else is pretty much bland compared to this one.

Friday, December 9, 2011

La Planète Sauvage (Fantastic Planet) (1973)
FRANCE --- science fiction

Dir: René Laloux

Many films have juxtaposed a subjugated human race under the heels of some alien (or other creatures) rule to stress some social commentary about slavery, religion, or just simply social class systems in general. We've seen this conceit in a myriad of forms such as Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels", Edgar Rice Burrough's "John Carter of Mars" series of books, L. Ron Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth", or "Planet of the Apes". In the film "La Planète Sauvage" (Fantastic Planet) we are shown a similar visionary nightmare in the package of a science fiction tale on these dark aspects of humanity's greatest failings.

Based on the 1957 book "Oms en série" by French science fiction novelist Stefan Wul, the film follows a young human boy called an "Om" (french word "Hommes" that means "man") who is left orphaned after alien children accidentally kill his mother while playing with her. The aliens are called Draags, who are giant red-eyed blue-skinned beings with webbed ears, yet are highly civilized. Immediately after the boy is left alone crying, a Draag dignitary's young daughter, Tiva, finds him and adopts him as her personal pet. She eventually names him Terr. He observes the strange alien landscape, as he grows up confined to a specially created collar complete with a wristband controller belonging to Tiva. Tiva truly treats Terr as a favored pet, and even has him with her during her learning sessions through the use of an encyclopedic computerized headband which trains her by feeding information directly into her mind. When her parents begin to notice that Terr has been using the headband with and without Tiva, they ban her allowing him to be present while she is learning with it. However, as she begins to grow out of adolescence, Terr becomes more dependent on educating himself from the computer headband and ultimately escapes out on his own.

Terr drags the headband with him as he is out in the alien wilderness. He eventually meets up with an Om woman of the "savage" Oms. When Tiva tries to recall Terr through the collar, the woman help him get set free from it. She takes Terr to her tribe located in a tree and they instantly label him as a domesticated Om. When he observes that they too could use the information from the learning headband, some of the tribe of course outright disdain Terr's gift of Draag knowledge. Eventually learning of a "fantastic planet". They force him into a combat ritual, in which he prevails as the victor. The tribal elders allow Terr to join their tribe. Terr observes the Oms living condition and how they have adapted to life in Draag world. He even is introduced to a band of evil Om bandits who live in their own tree and steal of the Om tribe he has befriended.

Later some of the educated Oms uncovers the Draag plan to "de-Omised" their local village based on seeing some graffiti they were able to interpret. Terr takes it upon himself to warn the tribe of Om bandits, but they do not heed his warning, and their leader, an old woman, has him locked away. Soon after, the Draags do strike using gas pellets, killing a high majority of Oms. The old woman frees Terr, as they all narrowly escape with a remnant of the people. One of the Draags witness them escaping and goes after them crushing them like insects. The Oms fight back as they actually take down and kill the Draag. The old woman leads the remnant group out to a safe haven, namely an old rocket depot, and eventually Terr leads the very large tribe on a mission to the fantastic planet. After the death of one of their own, the Draags have another council meeting, and they are not far behind the Oms, as they discover the secret behind just what the fantastic planet is.

Although I certainly wouldn't recommend "Fantastic Planet" to just anyone, it is something interesting to watch. The film is animated in a slightly strange cutout animation style reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's interstitials in "Monty Python". There is also the unavoidable phallic and organic imagery throughout the film of the alien landscape, successfully creating an uneasy surreal atmosphere. Laloux collaborated with famed French artist/ writer Roland Topor for this feature length film. Personally, this film is far overdue for a live-action adaptation with the right director.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Kaidan (2007)
JAPAN --- horror

Dir: Hideo Nakata

Well, I had reached the penultimate entry of the J-Horror series with the film "Kaidan" and I will safely say it is one of the best of the series, but THE best still belongs to Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Sakebi/ Retribution". As of this writing I have not seen "Kyōfu", but from some reviews I read online, I hear it doesn't get better. With this film, "Ringu", and "Dark Water" director Hideo Nakata takes us back in time with a period piece to weave a Kaidan tale. Just what is a Kaidan? Kaidan or Kwaidan is a term that translates as "supernatural tale" that takes place in ancient Edo era of Japan (1603-1868) and has it's origins in party-goers sitting around telling these spooky tales. There have been many films made of this kind since the silent era, most famous the 1964 portmanteau film "Kwaidan" which was honored with a Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language film.

Vengeance from beyond the grave is the bread and butter of most classic ghost stories, even quite possibly enough to garner being in it's own little sub-genre. Being a progenitor to the typical J-Horror tale, "Kaidan" is based on a very old Japanese ghost story called "Kaida-Banashi, Shinkei Kasane-Ga-Fuchi" by author San'yūtei Enchō from the 19th Century.

"Kaidan" begins on a black-and-white tinged opening with a narrator telling the audience a tale of an acupuncturist/ moneylender named Soetsu Minagawa, who was a widower raising two daughters and has lent a fair amount of money to a unscrupulous samurai named Shinzaemon Fukai. When Soetsu demands the Fukai pay him his due, because the amount has gotten too large, the samurai murders him in cold blood. First slashing him over his left eye, and then outright finishing the job. Soetsu's daughters are left fatherless, as Fukai has the body thrown in a deep pool nearby called Kasanega-Fuchi, which is named after a woman named Kasane who was killed there by her husband. They believe their spirits still dwell there and swallows anyone who steps in the pool. Soon, the Fukai family met a series of strange misfortunes, beginning with Fukai himself losing his mind and subsequently murdering his wife and ultimately himself. He left behind, however, a baby son named Shinkichi. Bringing us into the film proper.

25 years later, Shinkichi is now living with his uncle as a seller of tobacco. The daughters of Soetsu Minagawa are still around as well, as the eldest, Oshiga (Hitomi Kuroki of "Dark Water"), is a shamisen teacher (bringing that j-horror trope full circle) for young girls and lives with her sister Osono. One fortuitous day, Shinkichi comes through town selling his tobacco while coming upon Oshiga in the street. They have no idea of their connection, and yet fall in love with each other, going so far as to carry on a relationship. Soon, however, one of Oshiga's students, Ohisa, begins to fall for Shinkichi. Oshiga's jealousy drives a wedge between her and her young students. Shinkichi confronts her on it and suggests that he leave. During the conversation they get in a lover's quarrel which eerily ends with Oshiga accidentally wounding herself with her own bachi (or plectrum) above her left eye, just like her father. Shinkichi feels obligated to stay. However, while the injury of Oshiga grows malignant and has her bedridden, a much deeper relationship between Shinkichi and her former student Ohisa grows. Ohisa confides in Shinkichi that she wishes to leave their village for Hanyu (coincidentally Shinkichi's birth home), because her family is very harsh towards her.

Shinkichi and Ohisa bond while Oshiga is in utter pain from her wound, which ultimately taking her life. The way Shinkichi finds out about her death however, is the beginning of his nightmare spiral into a series of her supernatural hauntings. Just as he looks over her death ceremony, she leaves him a note promising him that if he marries another woman, he'll kill her. When Shinkichi finally does leave town with Ohisa, the run into a torrential storm, and even Ohisa feels threatened by the ghost of Oshiga while the lovers are in the woods. She too sees the ghost of Oshiga and runs from it, causing her to accidentally scrape her leg on a short farmer's scythe; the very weapon Soetsu used to defend himself against Fukai, which places them at the Kasane-Fuchi. When in a burst of hallucinatory conniption, Shinkichi no longer sees Ohisa, but Oshiga and when she begins to strangle him, he grabs the scythe and strikes her. Only realizing too late he has killed Ohisa. Local villagers find him and nurse him back to health, and ironically it's assumed that Ohisa's uncle's family are the ones who find him, as they say they are missing a family member on the way into town.

There, Shinkichi is nursed back to health by the uncle's daughter Orui (in some translations of this very story, this is the name of the character for Oshiga), who has fallen in love with him. Shinkichi decides to leave town, even turning down the family's wish for him to marry Orui, that is until he runs into Osono, Oshiga's sister. Osono finds Shinkichi work on the docks and he eventually agrees to marry Orui, which will ultimately lead to a child and eventually his own destruction, just as Oshiga had promised.

Besides the fact that Nakata continues his theme of death by water in this film (see "Ringu" and "Dark Water") Nakata seems to fill the film with homages to classic Japanese storytelling traditions. The very opening with a lone storyteller weaving this tale, is based on Rakugo, which is a Japanese form of play that is similar to stand up comedy or a one-man play. It doesn't end there, because the very style of the film (at least in the opening) is a tribute to the films of horror director Nakagawa Nobuo and the aforementioned film "Kwaidan" with its stage play-esque set pieces. Interestingly, some of the characters names in the story have significant meaning, such as Soetsu meaning "Restless" and Fukai meaning "Discomfort". Hmmmm. A play on names on behalf of San'yūtei Enchō. "Kaidan" is a slow burner for sure, as the first half of the film is mostly melodramatic at best, and to be honest with you even when the horror does kick in throughout the film, it isn't up to par on what the contemporary-set J-horror pieces have to offer.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Time Bandits (1980)
UK --- fantasy

Dir: Terry Gilliam

This is one of my top 5 all-time favorite films. I have fond memories of watching this in the theaters, the holiday season of 1981. I was the perfect age to watch a movie like this, a children's film that didn't quite speak down to its intended audience, yet could totally entertain the adult. I'm amazed at how it stands up, and how much more I see in it as an adult, something only the Looney Tunes cartoons did for me. The film that probably gave Terry Gilliam more leeway into Hollywood, with cementing his rather odd cartoonish style of film making, "Time Bandits", was a welcome addition in a time replete of science fiction and fantasy movies. Hollywood was surfing on "Star Wars" mania, and churning out any and every kind of potential film of the ilk, including "Conan the Barbarian", "Blade Runner", "Tron", "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial", "The Road Warrior", "Escape From New York", et cetera. Yeah, "Time Bandits" could have easily gotten lost in that shuffle, had it not been so unique and came as the first in a string of Gilliam favorites.

For me "Time Bandits" is simply about the unlimited imagination of a child's mind. It is a snapshot taken from a child's perspective, from beginning to end. Though Gilliam very clearly paints his films with precision, this one is DaVinci using crayons. As Gilliam is stated to having based it on an idea about thieves who rob stuff from the past and take it to the future. The very fact it's a time travel film loosened from the confines of strict scientific rules is just refreshing as all get out. It shares in part of the films appeal, I believe. Python alum Michael Palin returns to acting duty and also helped sculpt the script. Essentially, the film is about a young boy named Kevin, who is neglected by couch potato parents who seem to barely acknowledge his existence. Kevin however, is a very imaginative kid, based simply on what's in his room.

At first, he imagines a shining knight on horse back galloping out of his closet and straight through his bedroom, or what becomes a forest and his bed in it. The very next night, Kevin awaits whatever else could possibly emerge from the wardrobe, and he is barraged by a group of midgets who appear right out of his own closet. They at first mistake him, and his glaring flashlight, for someone else, someone important. That is until they realize, he's not who they thought. They go after him and quickly realize he's just a boy, and in the scuffle happen to push one of the walls of his bedroom out. Just in time too, as the one they mistake him for, the Supreme Being, comes looking for them demanding the return of his time map. Kevin runs along with them in his bathrobe (a homage to "Hitch hiker's Guide to the Galaxy"?), and they fall into the time hole taking them to the time of the French revolution. They quickly happen upon Napoleon (played by great genre actor Ian Holm) himself, and mistaken for a troupe of performers. Napoleon is enamored with people shorter than himself, and befriends them, while the gang steal him blind. While the gang make off with the loot, they find the time portal to medieval times, and run into none-other-than some of Robin Hood's Merry Men. Meanwhile, Kevin begins to become none-too impressed with the gang of incredulous little people and their self-proposed leader Randall. Hood (played excellently by John Cleese) of course, secures their stolen goods for himself to distribute to the poor.

At this point, their arch-nemesis, Evil Genius (Utilizing Sam Peckinpah alum David Warner at his high-browed Brit-accented evil best), is seen watching the diminutive gang quarrel among themselves over the map, an item he covets for himself. Confined to the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, Evil Genius seizes an opportunity to get them to his own location, so he can obtain the map for himself. He hypnotizes one of the gang, namely Og, to convince the gang that within the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness lies "The most fabulous object in the world". However, the Supreme Being makes another appearance beseeching them for the return of the map. They find not one, but two time portals open up at the same time, and Kevin goes in the wrong one, sending him to back to ancient Greece. Now separated from the time bandits, he comes across the mythological King Agamemnon (played by Sean Connery), whom he quickly befriends as a father figure. Before long, though, the time bandits do catch up with him determined to spirit him away on their next journey, much to the reluctantance of Kevin. They end up on the SS Titanic (of course THAT Titanic),where Randall explains to Kevin his desire to seek out the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness for the aforementioned object. The problem lies in the fact the Fortress is not located on the map. When the Titanic sinks and the gang is out on the ocean, Randall surmises the only way to reach it is to simply believe, and sure enough a whirlpool opens (caused by Evil Genius) sending them into the time of legends where they come upon giants, trolls, and eventually the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness. The confrontation between Kevin and the time bandits ends up with them losing the map to Evil Genius, and needing to relie on their wits to escape the clutches of Evil.

"Time Bandits", in my opinion, is the film that probably put Terry Gilliam (pardon the pun) on the map. He cemented his visual style of low camera angles, shot in wide screen, multiple celebrity appearances, and a protagonist that the viewer may not feel all that comfortable in trusting by the time the credits roll. Though Gilliam would return to the sub genre of time travel with 1995's "Twelve Monkey's" starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, this film didn't quite take the scientific aspect so serious. It even features ex-Beatle, George Harrison's theme song on the end credits, which has his usual catchy guitar riffs and some interesting lyrics if you pay attention.

Gilliam has since claimed "Time Bandits" as the first in his trilogy of ages as "Time Bandits" is about childhood, "Brazil" is about middle-aged, and "The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen" is about old age. For me, one of the little enjoyable little tidbits I noticed about the film is David Warner. An actor who, back then was taking many villainous roles just because. I had first seen him in this film. Later on, I had seen him in "Time After Time" when it aired on television, and then of course "Tron". What's significant about these roles is he went from playing Jack the Ripper in "Time After Time" which resulted in him being stuck in "infinity", then going to play Evil Genius in "Time Bandits", in which his character states at one point the need to master computers, in which he will in "Tron" as Dillinger/ Master Controller. Hmmmm. Yeah, I leave it up to interpretation. Taking cues from legends, myths, fairy tales, and children's literature, Terry Gilliam evokes everything from "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe", "The Wizard of Oz", and "Alice in Wonderland". With all that added there are full touches of humor that can be enjoyed by the child and the adult, and a non-scientific, care-free journey throughout time, "Time Bandits" is an enjoyable family film.