8/10/09

The Multi-Monday where Dorothy and Kevin Hang Out With People Shorter Than Them

Heya folks, back from a long weekend of relaxing, cuddling with the wife, and watching a handful of little films, and I’m ready to rock. Friday night I got started by pulling out an old faithful classic, The Marx Brother’s Duck Soup, an assault on the small minded. Saturday found me up early and taking in the mediocre Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing film Nothing but the Night. It was only one of two films produced by Lee’s own company, contained shades of The Wicker Man, and starred the venerable duo, but still did not rise above the mire. However, it retained my small theme with some dangerous diminutive foes. Saturday night, the wife and I finally sat down to watch a more recent title that we both wanted to see, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Our expectations may have been too much for tiny CGI Brad Pitt to handle, and by the time three hours had passed we were less enthused and ready for bed.

Sunday started off strange when we got sucked into Teen Wolf, a film I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. It’s actually held up well over the years. It got me thinking about other films I loved as a kid that still warrant consistent re-watches. Perhaps it was my brain carrying out the “small” theme I had running through my viewings, or should I just blame it on Michael J. Fox’s stature? Either way, the films that came to mind are separated by forty two years, and at first glance, apart from the obvious, they seem like they should share very little. One presents a dark, treacherous, and wildly inaccurate view of history while the other fills the screen with the glow of a fantasy land barely tinged with danger. Yet both of them rely on the imagination of children, and when I saw these films, they instantly caught mine.

I suppose I had to have seen 1939’s Wizard of Oz first on television, but Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981) I saw in a theater. I would have been about five or six years old, and needless to say, the movie scared the bejesus out of me. It was one thing to be in my home watching flying monkeys, but entirely different for Evil to show up with a flip top head. Years later when videotape rolled out, I would rent Time Bandits from time to time, indulging my geeky young fascination in ancient cultures and slapstick comedy. Eventually, they got around to issuing a home version of The Wizard of Oz, and I bought it too, relishing the fact that I no longer had to wait for a holiday to see it.

Both films rely on protagonists with big imaginations. Unlike Baum’s book, Oz is not a real place, but instead the fantasy Dorothy filled with familiar faces from her life. Time Bandits explores the imagination of a young boy named Kevin, and it was one I could easily relate to as a kid. His room is crammed with pictures of Roman soldiers, castles, and heroes of yore. So it’s no wonder that his adventure with the diminutive thieves takes him through these times. While each of the films explores imagination, the perception of God, and the weaknesses of evil, the end result to each is very different.

Wizard of Oz is a film that culminates in understanding that home is the best place to be. It’s the place family is, and you want to be there. Time Bandits does not end on such a happy note. Evil is still very real, and not even done with little Kevin. The best he can hope for is a sequel (which sadly never materialized due to the untimely death of two of the main Bandits). Dorothy and Kevin share braveness, willingness to step into the unknown, and a longing for life outside of their little worlds, but the lesson they learn about what their lives mean to this is very different. Dorothy comes home to find out everything is alright, but Kevin’s life will never be the same again.

Time Bandits was Terry Gilliam’s fourth film while Victor Fleming helmed his 40th with Oz. Fleming was brought on to replace another director who wasn’t working out, just as he was on the other 1939 classic, Gone With the Wind. Fleming and cinematographer Harold Rosson used the most cutting edge Technicolor techniques to bring to life the Land of Oz, and it was such a stunning achievement many people think that it was the first color film. Forty years later Monty Python-er turned director Terry Gilliam and his director of photography Peter Bizou created something every bit as fantastic as Fleming’s Emerald city. They pulled from the fabric of history and breathed life into ancient Greece, the Napoleonic Wars, and Robin Hood. Gilliam doesn’t let the facts get in the way of history though, and the world is flawed and imperfect like the daydreams of a child.

I suppose I can’t get away from the fact that to compare the two films, you have to take a moment to talk about all the little people involved in these two flicks. In Time Bandits you get Kenny Baker (R2D2), David Rappaport (star of the short lived series, The Wizard), and a few more fellows you might have seen in Willow, Jedi, or Flash Gordon. The Wizard of Oz of course featured The Singer Midgets a.k.a The Munchkins. Outside of these two films, Terror of Tiny Town and Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarves Started Small, you’d be hard pressed to find films that featured as many diminutive actors as these two. In one they are the lead characters while in the other they are a major part of the flavor of the film.

In the end for as many differences and similarities that these two films have, the main thing that links them is how important they were to me in my childhood. These flicks were of the type that sparked my imagination to want to read, to write, and to see more films. They didn’t change my life. They enhanced it. These two flicks both deserve a watch if you somehow haven’t seen them, and for those of you with little ones, dispense with the drivel that they insist on heaping on the kids, and show them some films that they will remember forever.


Bugg Rating (Wizard of Oz)
Bugg Rating (Time Bandits)




2 comments:

  1. Oh, man--TIME BANDITS! I really need to see that again, it's been too long. I also saw it in the theaters and then countless times on cable in the 80's. I've been introducing films from my youth to my daughter--thanx for the reminder about this one.

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  2. great stuff! Time Bandits is one of my favorite movies from my childhood. it's a movie that shouldv'e been for kids but is really for adults who wish they could go back to being a kid. the Robin Hood scene is one of the funniest things ever.

    Teen Wolf was on HBO the other week and i could not turn it off. i was a 1/2 hour late to work because of it. it's such a silly but enjoyable movie. a bit dated but still great in a weird way. Boof was such a cutey too.

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