Having reacquired the rights to a number of titles from Handmade Films, Criterion upgrades their early DVD edition of Terry Gilliamís Time Bandits to Blu-ray, presenting the film with a 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer in the aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc.
The notes specify that they are using the restoration done by UKís Arrow Films, which was made for their own UK Blu-ray release and comes from the filmís original negative. I never picked up the Arrow Blu-ray so I cannot make a direct comparison, but what we get here is incredible and is undoubtedly a substantial improvement over Image Entertainmentís interlaced transfer on their Blu-ray, and a gigantic leap from Criterionís dated and artifact laden non-anamorphic DVD (which used the same restoration that was found on their LaserDisc edition). I was stunned at how good this looks. Gilliamís films always have an immense amount of detail and every single little one pops out here, from the various gear worn by the Time Bandits to the intricate details on the map that they carry around, which always lacked definition in previous home video incarnations. The textures on costumes and the various set pieces come through far clearer and depth is fantastic. Film grain is present though rarely noticeable, yet itís rendered nicely and looks natural.
What may be even more surprising to me are the colours. Iíve always seen this as a dirty looking film, somewhat dreary and unpleasant (which I always took as intentional) but the colours are far more vibrant here. Browns are still the filmís colour of choice but theyíre beautifully saturated and the scenes in ancient Greece (which Morocco stands in for) deliver some rich hints of red in the landscapes. Greens in the vegetation are especially pleasing and rendered without issue, while flesh tones look spot on and natural. Black levels are even rendered well and I didnít find crushing to be an issue so some of the scenes during the last act come through much better. All of these upgrades in presentation made the film a whole different experience for me.
The restoration work is also impressive. A few minor imperfections remain, like a spec here and there, along with a couple of minor fluctuations in the print and some noticeable ďseamsĒ in the optical effects, but on the whole this is a clean and stable looking presentation. Though Iím not sure what Criterion has done to this since getting it from Arrow, or how their encodes compare, but I certainly have to commend Arrow on the work they did: this is easily the best I have ever seen the. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion more or less ports most everything over from their DVD edition, though nicely improves over it. Still making an appearance is the same audio commentary created for their LaserDisc edition and carried over to their DVD. It features Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Craig Warnock, and David Warner. Like most Criterion commentaries from the LaserDisc era all of the participants were recorded separately. I was admittedly letdown a little by the track when I first listened to it on the DVD, finding it dreadfully serious for the film, with Gilliam even more toned down than usual. Yet revisiting it I found myself enjoying it quite a bit more. Gilliam and Palin, to an extent, talk a lot about the development and the script, while Gilliam talks about his design and his goals with the film. Despite having distaste for kidís films Gilliam liked that he didnít have to hold back and he could really let his imagination fly, and listening to him talk about how he developed all of the ideas that would make their way into the film proves fascinating. Warnock talks a lot about the experience of working on his first film (his brother is actually the one that went to the audition but Gilliam ended up liking how Craig, who was hanging around, seemed far more natural) and shares a number of anecdotes, while Warner chimes in once in a while after his character, the Evil Genius, makes his first appearance. Cleese disappointingly only shows up during his short Robin Hood sequence but talks about how he wanted to play the character, which was more as a Duke.
I still find the track a little too serious maybe, but itís certainly informative with a few surprises, from casting choices (Gilliam actually wanted Jonathan Pryce to play the Evil Genius, and Ruth Gordon originally had the Katherine Helmond role, Helmond being the one Gilliam wanted anyways) to design, with Alien being a surprising influence on the filmís look.
Creating the Worlds of Time Bandits is a new 23-minute visual essay narrated by David Morgan featuring interviews with Production Designer Milly Burns and Costume Designer James Acheson. Both state that the film is a designerís dream, mixing both fantasy and historical elements seamlessly. The feature goes through a number of the sequences and through the interviews, sketches, photos, designs, and clips, it covers the various influences for the look and also how they were able to accomplish them with the limited budget. Nicely put together it offers a strong overview of the filmís design.
Criterion, again digging into footage shot at the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Finland, deliver an 80-minute discussion between Terry Gilliam and Peter von Bagh, recorded in 1998. Though obviously edited down a bit leaving behind obvious cuts, the piece offers a rather impressive overview of Gilliamís career. He talks about his life as a child in Minnesota, growing up there, his school life, and then his move to L.A. He covers how he eventually became a member of Monty Python, even talking about their development process in creating each episode of Flying Circus, which I found particularly great, and then his move to film. He goes over each of his films (though skims over Jabberwocky), discussing some of the difficulties he faced, particularly on The Adventures of the Baron Munchausen, which drained him and made him question film directing. Iím actually surprised Criterion didnít save this one for their eventual Fisher King release since there is actually a lot about that particular film, with Gilliam recalling fondly working with Robin Williams, and thereís actually not a lot about Time Bandits. Still, a great addition and well worth viewing for fans of the director.
Also from the archives is an interview with Shelley Duvall from 1981, done on an episode of NBCís Tomorrow. Duvall talks a little about the film, even recalling a moment where Gilliam fell on her (this is also covered by Gilliam and Palin in the commentary) and then talks a little about how she got into acting after Robert Altman discovered her. Duvall seems a touch nervous but it proves to be a particularly charming interview, even more so when she recalls the first time she was recognized out in public shortly after the release of The Shining. Though it actually has very little about Time Bandits (despite her presence to promote it) I love that Criterion still includes it here. It runs just shy of 9-minutes.
Criterion somewhat ports over their still gallery from the DVD, which was more of an elaborate slide show that was initially made for the LaserDisc edition. This gallery differs in that it allows you to navigate through yourself, and the photos are in high-definition. It only contains about 24 of the photos but some of the other material found in the DVDís gallery, like storyboards and designs appear in the other features on the disc.
The filmís rather odd trailer, more Monty Python in spirit, then closes off the disc. Criterion then includes another of their now somewhat infamous foldout inserts, but this one makes more sense aesthetically since one side actually reproduces the filmís time map. The other side presents an essay by David Sterritt, going over the satirical elements of the film and its overall appeal. Bruce Ederís essay from the original DVD is nowhere to be found.
In all we get a far more appealing selection of supplements for this edition of the film, digging deeper into the filmís style and Gilliamís career. 9/10