Time Bandits (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes a look at the new Blu-ray release of the Terry Gilliam fantasy film
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 reviewing Optimum's Blu-ray back in 2009 I hadn't seen the film in years. The last time I watched the film was for said review, so I came into this new Arrow Blu-ray presentation fairly fresh. The movie is 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 eccentric 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 very solid. 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 has touched upon in interviews). Even so, I think I actually enjoyed it more on this viewing than I did the last time out and it's still a great family feature.
Arrow provides a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC) derived from a new 2K master approved by Terry Gilliam himself. As much as the previous Blu-ray release was a step up from the various DVDs, this disc offers another leap in the quality stakes. The biggest problem I had with the older Blu-ray was the presence of film artefacts, but they have been all-but eliminated for this release. While the image isn't really any more detailed than the previous BD the new scan offers other benefits, such as a more natural grain structure for a more filmic look. Colour is also better than the previous effort, with more balanced, natural tones and a brighter overall appearance. Gone is the brownish-yellow cast that afflicted the Optimum BD, which proves to be especially beneficial for flesh tones. Contrast is also improved, as is brightness, which makes for a more vibrant image. Blacks are still more brown than true black, but they are improved over the Optimum disc. The framing is also slightly different, presenting a little more picture information to the sides of the frame without really losing anything at the top and bottom (which suggests that the Optimum Blu-ray was perhaps zoomed a little). Four years ago I said that Optimum's Blu-ray release was likely to be the best looking version of Time Bandits we'd see for some time. Well, that time is now, as this new release is a visual improvement over the older disc in every respect and another solid effort from Arrow.
There are two audio tracks on the disc: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 Stereo. This is a another improvement over Optimum's Blu-ray, which only offered a a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 option to support its LPCM track. I decided to check out the the remix for the purposes of this review, and for the most part it's actually not too bad. The quality of the original elements is the limiting factor here, with a slight lack of fidelity readily apparent for the entirety of the running time. This is most noticeable with the dialogue, which sounds quite hollow at times, but thankfully it never strays into unintelligible territory. Some of the effects are also a little on the tinny side and suffer from the occasional bit of reverb, but that's almost to be expected given the age of the source. The front of the soundstage isn't particularly wide, nor is the mix terribly dynamic, but the rears are employed to good effect for atmospherics and distribution of the score. Of course surround utilisation is nothing like as finessed as a modern sound mix, with localisation hard to pin down, but applause, screams, howling wind, growls and the like all serve to open things up some (and the last ten minutes or so are a flurry of activity). There isn't a lot of low end, but the sub does briefly spring to life whenever the Supreme Being appears and again when the gang enters the Time of Legends. All things considered this is a respectable remix given what they had to work with.
The LPCM track is surprisingly wide for a 2.0 Stereo effort, but it obviously has all of the limitations of the surround track. Still, it's great that Arrow has included the original mix for the audio purists, as this is something that's often overlooked.
Arow has put together an interesting collection of bonus material for this release, the vast majority of which is new. Unfortunately the commentary track from the DVD is nowhere to be found, but I understand this is because of rights issues.
- Chasing Time Bandits: This new twenty minute interview with director Terry Gilliam touches on all aspects of the filmmaking process, including the original story idea, scriptwriting, casting, production, screenings, marketing, critical reception, and legacy.
- Writing the Film That Dares Not Speak Its Name: In this sixteen minute featurette Michael Palin discusses the film's origins, working with Terry Gilliam, the writing process, the production, George Harrison's involvement, the film's unique perspective, and the controversial ending.
- The Effects of Time Bandits: This fifteen minute interview with Kent Houston covers the early days of the Peerless Camera Company (which Gilliam started for the work on this film), the emergence of motion control systems for animation, the optical effects process, matte paintings, forced perspective and many of the other tricks used to achieve the required effects.
- Playing Evil: The fabulous David Warner speaks about his involvement in the production for a little over eight minutes. He discusses his fondness for Gilliam and the Pythons, how he got the role, his costume, working with Terry Gilliam and Ralph Richardson, on-set atmosphere and more.
- The Costumes of Time Bandits: James Acheson discusses the film's costume design, showing some of his original concept drawing for the various characters. He shares his remembrances of working on the film
- The Look of Time Bandits: Milly Burns spends around ten minutes talking about her involvement with the film, touching on how she originally became attached to the production, working with Terry Gilliam, set-building, location shooting,
- From Script to Screen: This short featurette focusses on the way in which a film develops from the original shooting script through to the completed work. It touches on things like the script breakdown and reference material, before going on to discuss specific elements of the shoot as related to the script.
- Trailer: 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'.
- Restoration Demonstration: This short little featurette provides a comparison between the untouched elements and the restored footage. The original materials as scanned were in a pretty bad way, which makes the condition of the final product all the more interesting. Part of me wonders if this featurette came about as a response to some of Arrow's detractors, but whatever the reasons behind it I welcome its inclusion and would like to see similar features on all of their discs (or at the very least complete disclosure of the source of the materials they use, even when provided by a third party).
Time Bandits is a perfect example of a film that has gone up and down in my estimation at different points in my life. I loved the film as a child, but when I reviewed the last Blu-ray release I wasn't quite as keen. Watching it again for this new release in the company of my ten-year-old niece brought back memories of what it was like to view through more innocent eyes, which in turn had a positive effect on my enjoyment. Technically the disc is a definite improvement over the old Optimum effort, particularly in the video department where the new 2K restoration really pays dividends. I also appreciated the new extras, as they proved to be both entertaining and informative (and it's always nice when a company takes the time to produce new content). Of course the big question is whether or not it's worth the upgrade if you own the old disc. For the casual viewer I'm not so sure, but it's a very worthy purchase for fans and those who demand the very best audio-visual quality from their films. One thing's for sure though: the respect that Arrow pays to its catalogue releases puts most major film studios to shame. Long may it continue.
* Note: The images below 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: 26th August 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, LPCM 2.0 English
Extras: Featurettes, Trailer, Restoration Demonstration
Easter Egg: No
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Craig Warnock, David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, David Warner, Peter Vaughan, Ralph Richardson, Michael Palin, Ian Holm, Katherine Helmond, Shelley Duvall, Sean Connery, John Cleese, Jim Broadbent
Length: 116 minutes
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