Time Bandits (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes a look at the Blu-ray release of the 1981 Terry Gilliam fantasy feature
Time Bandits tells the story of a group of little people who steal a map of all of the known holes in the fabric of the universe from their former employer, the Supreme Being. This allows them to travel to any point in time, an advantage they plan to use to get rich by stealing from some of history's wealthiest individuals. Along the way they accidentally wind up in the bedroom of eleven-year-old Kevin, an intelligent, thoughtful boy who is largely ignored by his materialistic game-show-loving parents. Kevin joins the gang on their adventures in time, during which they meet historical figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Robin Hood, and Agamemnon, and journey all the way to the 'Time of Legends' where they search for the mythical 'Most Fabulous Object in the World'. However, this turns out to be a trap set by Evil, who wishes to use the map to overthrow the Supreme Being.
I can vividly remember renting Time Bandits from the video store many, many times as a kid, but prior to receiving this Blu-ray I hadn't seen the film in years. It's every bit as strange as I remember, but still has a certain charm to it in spite of the incredibly out-there plot and cast of little people. The performances from David Rappaport, Kenny Baker and the rest of the gang are extremely endearing, and the central performance from young Craig Warnock is good. The mix of Python actors and big-name stars works well, and although Sean Connery is by far the most famous person in the film I enjoyed seeing people like Jim Broadbent and Ian Holm in earlier roles (I had no idea who they were as a kid). However, the performance I remember most fondly was that of David Warner, and he still pretty much steals the show. With that said, I didn't enjoy the film as much as I did when I was a child, but perhaps it's because I lack the imagination of youth (this is something Gilliam touches upon in the interview featured elsewhere on the disc).
Optimum provides a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC) that is a definite step up from the DVD release, but not the comprehensively remastered effort fans have no doubt been longing for. The first thing that struck me was the abundance of film artefacts, more than on any other Blu-ray in my collection (by quite some margin). I hesitate to use the word atrocious, but the print damage was so bad that it actually had a detrimental effect on my enjoyment. The image is surprisingly detailed, and the layer of heavy grain is actually quite refreshing considering the amount of catalogue titles that get filtered to within an inch of their lives. Colour rendition is perhaps the disc's strongest point, with some fairly vibrant hues on display, and skin tones are largely natural (although they do push towards the red on occasion). Unfortunately blacks are only really average, but this can most likely be attributed to the source. I don't like to be too critical when a distributor takes the time to release a fan-pleasing film on Blu-ray, but in this case the print used just wasn't up to the job. Even so, this is most likely the best looking version of Time Bandits you're likely to see for some time.
There are two audio tracks on the disc: Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo. I decided to opt for the uncompressed original stereo track for nostalgic reasons. Oddly enough the sound field is still quite expansive even with only two channels, and there were several moments where I was genuinely surprised (usually when the Supreme Being appeared). Even so, there's no mistaking this for anything other than a low budget eighties film. Dialogue is generally clear enough, but it can sound a little hollow at times. The same can be said for a lot of the effects and music and there were a few instances where everything went very tinny. To my surprise there was actually a fair amount of bass in certain scenes, but nothing that would challenge even the most pedestrian of contemporary tracks. Flipping briefly over to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track revealed few differences other than the use of the surround channels, but it sounded 'thinner' than the PCM track. As an experiment I also tried decoding the 2.0 track to Dolby Pro Logic II and the results were quite good.
Interview with Terry Gilliam (18:12 SD): The interview is more like a Q&A, but it does cram a lot of information into its short running time. Gilliam answers questions on the origins of the film, casting (with particular attention paid to Sean Connery), critical reception, influences, and more.
Scrapbook (02:55 SD: This is a short series of behind-the-scenes stills accompanied by continuously looping music from the feature.
Trailer (03:10 SD): The film's theatrical trailer is one of the strangest I've ever seen. In it, Michael Palin has an 'argument' with the eighties voice-over guy. It's all very 'Pythonesque'.
Well, what can I say? Almost thirty years after its original release Time Bandits is still entertaining, but it hasn't aged as well as some of my childhood favourites. As for the disc, well it's only really an average effort. This isn't even because of the video and audio shortcomings, which were to be expected, but because of the lack of bonus material. Where is the commentary? Or the archival featurettes? There's certainly enough space left on the BD to include them. As previously stated I appreciate it when distributors take the time to release catalogue titles, but when you're paying a premium for purchasing your films on a new format the content should at least equal that of the DVDs they are replacing. Even so, if you don't own a copy of the film and are looking for the best A/V experience this is the one to get, but those of you who own one of the DVDs will have to weigh the cost of the disc against the slight audio-visual enhancement.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 5th October 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Interview with Terry Gilliam, Scrapbook, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Kenny Baker, David Rappaport, David Warner, Peter Vaughan, Ralph Richardson, Michael Palin, Ian Holm, Katherine Helmond, Shelley Duvall, Sean Connery, John Cleese
Genre: Adventure and Comedy
Length: 116 minutes
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