The late Kenny Baker is best known for his role as R2D2 in the Star Wars films, but for a number of us, he’s always going to be Fidget from Terry Gilliam’s wonderful 1981 film Time Bandits.
Time Bandits is Gilliam’s second full credited film as director (he only co-directed Monty Python’s Life of Brian with Terry Jones) while working on minimal budgets to create work that looks as if it cost ten times more than it actually did. With Time Bandits he created a children’s fantasy film that can be enjoyed by adults, though what you take away from the film depends how near you are to puberty or death.
The film itself centres round Kevin (Craig Warnock), an 11 year old boy living a fairly mundane life enlightened only by his fantastic adventures of imagination to help escape his consumerist obsessed parents. One day a knight bursts into his bedroom, followed the next day by six dwarves led by Randall (David Rappaport) and including Fidget (Kenny Baker) who are on the run from the Supreme Being having stolen a map showing the locations showing tears in spacetime which the gang of dwarves are using to plunder what booty they can throughout space and time.
Kevin and the bandits jaunt across history evading not just the Supreme Being (a lovely performance by Ralph Richardson) but also Evil (David Warner in one of his best roles) who wants the map for himself. Flitting through time Kevin meets Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese) and Agamemnon(Sean Connery) as the gang try to stay one step ahead of everyone while stealing riches, not to mention having amazing adventures before it all comes to an end which is only a fairy tale ending from Kevin’s perspective.
Time Bandits is a joy. Every child at some point has wanted to go on an adventure, and here Gilliam gives Kevin that adventure. This was the first of what Gilliam latterly called his ‘’Trilogy of Imagination’’ (Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Münchhausen being the other two) and indeed, Time Bandits is all about imagination, specifically that of a child being restricted by parents who neither encourage or challenge his imagination, as they are so rooted in material things and the acquisition of objects that they ignore the richness of the mind. The wonderful thing about the film is as said, you can take different things from it depending upon your age; so it you’re young this is a fantasy, a dream of wonderful things. If you’re older it’s nostalgia for simpler times as well as dreams of wonderful things.
I maintain that Time Bandits is Gilliam’s second best film after the near perfect Brazil, which considering the sheer quality of Gilliam’s C.V. since 1981, is some praise indeed.