Time Bandits

14 05 2010

Terry Gilliam’s career has come a long way since he animated the foot of Bronzino’s Cupid in Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-74). After the frustrations involved in bringing Brazil (1985) and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) to the screen, he found larger success in the ’90s with The Fisher King (1991) and 12 Monkeys (1995). And now, despite another troubled production, we have a return to classic Gilliam with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009).

But in terms of being a pure crowd-pleaser, Gilliam’s biggest triumph is undoubtedly Time Bandits (1981). While not as visually dense or bizarre as Brazil, nor as (relatively) sober as 12 Monkeys, Time Bandits possesses an innocent charm that his more cynical works lack. If nothing else, it was the first film to help establish Gilliam as a true auteur and cinematic visionary.

All of the director’s trademarks are here, such aa the use of giants and dwarves (allowing for many low-angle shots), the recurring motif of placing characters in cages (inspired by Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (1940)) and the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality. The production design veers between the stark and the lavish (this dichotomy being another trademark of Gilliam’s) and the humour is, as usual, dark-edged but playful.
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Raiders of the Lost Ark

17 01 2008

Raiders of the Lost ArkIn 1981, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were two of the hottest names in town: Lucas had made American Graffiti, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back; Spielberg, meanwhile, had directed the blockbusters Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A film produced by Lucas and directed by Spielberg would almost certainly be money in the bank.

Enter Harrison Ford as the globetrotting archaeologist Indiana Jones in the Lucas/Spielberg collaboration Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Set in 1936, Raiders follows Jones as he attempts to retrieve the lost Ark of the Covenant (on behalf of the U.S. government) before the Nazis get a hold of it — it seems the Ark may contain the power to make any army who possesses it invincible. Along the way, he teams up with former love interest Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), who owns a medallion which could uncover the location of the Ark, and Egyptian digger and friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies).

The plot, however, serves more as a framework for a series of cliffhangers in the style of Saturday matinee adventure serials, and in that sense it’s cut from the same cloth as Lucas’ own Star Wars. For example, the film opens in the jungles of South America, and by the end of the sequence, Jones has faced tarantulas, snakes, dart-blowing natives, rivals, traitors and cunningly constructed booby traps (including the famous rolling boulder — an iconic image that encapsulates the film in only a handful of shots). As he continues to face increasing dangers in Nepal and later Cairo, each sequence seems deliberately designed to end with the audience wondering, “How will he get out of this one?!”
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