by Hans ten Cate
Thursday, 9 May 2002

Great news for fans of Terry Gilliam's 1981 cult-classic fantasy film Time Bandits... a sequel appears to be well on its way!

British film magazine SFX reports in its April 2002 issue that Hallmark Entertainment has bought the rights to produce two 2-hour television sequels to Time Bandits and will begin filming in August. [1]

Also in April, Variety reported that Hungarian-born film producer Robert Halmi Sr. (and Chairman of Hallmark Entertainment) had undergone surgery for partial kidney removal but that it wasn't stopping him from producing a number of television epic mini-series this year, including Time Bandits for Terry Gilliam. Variety said the new Time Bandits film will be a four-hour mini series for ABC television. [2]

Dinotopia (begins 12 May 2002 on ABC) Executive Producer Robert Halmi Sr. (here with Dinotopia character "26") will produce the Time Bandits sequel

No stranger to television epics, Halmi Sr. and Hallmark recently produced the lavish fantasy mini-series Dinotopia which airs this month on ABC. With a budget in excess of $80 million, Dinotopia (based on the acclaimed books by author and artist James Gurney) is the most expensive film ever produced for television.

After attending the Monte Carlo Television Festival (July 1 - 6), Halmi is scheduled to fly to Morocco and London to work on the new Time Bandits film. [2]

Terry Gilliam's role in the new Time Bandits is largely creative - Gilliam never intended to direct Time Bandits 2 and wanted only to write and produce, handing over the directorial reigns to David Garfath, who was the camera operator on the original Time Bandits. [3] In a March 27 interview with French newspaper Libération, Terry Gilliam confirmed that he had written Time Bandits 2 for television, with David Garfath directing. [4]

"I'm a Godfather," Gilliam told SFX, "sort of sitting on top of it, trying to make it the way I would if I were directing it without having the burden of having to direct it."

Gilliam also had a hand in writing the script with friend and collaborator Charles McKeown. "We've done the script. We're now working on trying to fix the script. So we're doing time travel. Cheap ramblings through time and space. It's a strange one. But it was kind of fun going back to it, because I was just freed from all the heavy meaningful, portentous work that I've been doing of late." [1]

A 'Brief' History of Time Bandits 2

The Original Time Bandits BACK: Strutter (Malcolm Dixon) and Vermin (Tiny Ross); FRONT: Og (Mike Edmonds), Fidgit (Kenny Baker), Randall (David Rappaport), and Wally (Jack Purvis)

It is early 1996 and Terry Gilliam has an itch. An itch so low only the Time Bandits could scratch it. Gilliam phones his friend Charles McKeown, a frequent collaborator with Gilliam, to see what can be done. And so a sequel is born. Almost...

First there is the simple matter of a story. "We've got an idea," Gilliam told David Morgan in an interview in mid-March 1996. [7]

"Charles McKeown and I have been working on it, and again it's taking full advantage of the millenium, Armaggedon, and the idea of God wiping out the planet this time, like he didn't do the first millenium – talks big but didn't pull it off. And this time He's serious! And so there's an element of not so much trying to save the world but to save their jobs. Selfish to the core, always, the Time Bandits."

A screenplay by Charles McKeown
2nd Draft
4 September 1996

Here is a brief summary of a Time Bandits 2 script we obtained. We won't spoil it by divulging all of the details.

It is the end of the second millennium and the Supreme Being is thinking about calling it a wrap. Time for a clean slate… and what better way to ring out the millennium than with the ultimate fireworks? Predictably, hope exists in the most unexpected of places... this time, in an American girl named Polly. Polly is a bright ten-year-old with a penchant for computers and a strong suspicion that the world is coming to an end soon.

Meanwhile, somewhere near the Hub of Creation, the former Time Bandits are out of work and drunk, no longer needed to make plants and animals ever since the Supreme Being decided to "downsize" creation. All, that is, except Wally, who is God's Chief Accountant.

Strutter's daughter, Mox, and her friend Tangle work in the executive branch, in charge of shredding files. The two dwarves overhear the Supreme Being and the Supreme Opposite Number (a hand puppet) plotting to destroy the world. Mox and Tangle resolve to prevent universal death and destruction and save the world... as well as their jobs. They enlist the help of some of the former Bandits (mainly Strutter, Fidgit, and Og) and Og's son Tubby. Their only hope is to find the map of time holes.

Together they break into God's treasury (using a key they've knicked from Wally). Tempted by the many cool treasures (the Lost Ark, Holy Grail, etc.) they set off the alarm. They find the map of time holes and escape to points and times unknown.

During their quest to prevent the apocalypse, the Bandits join up with Polly, encounter 18th-century pirates with a fetish for cleanliness, meet Joan of Arc on her way to Rouen, muck with Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, and observe monks freaking out during the first millennium.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Being has sent his Four Horseman after Polly and the infamous map. It is a race to the end of time to see if the Earth is Y2K compatible.

For a more complete review of the McKeown script (plus additional spoilers) read the Ain't it Cool News review (January 2001).

Gilliam and McKeown busily worked on the story, mapping out the lives of the remaining Time Bandits. "We're gonna have girl time bandits this time," Gilliam said. "The old ones are a bunch of alkies sitting on the edge of heaven, drinking meths and talking about the good old days. The child is a girl this time, a girl who's into computers and the web." [3]

Way back in August 1996 when the Pythons still used to chat with fans on the PythOnline bulletin boards, Gilliam shared the status of the Time Bandits 2 project:

"Nicole, Funny you should have this odd craving for some sort of extension to Time Bandits, I had the same craving a couple months ago and immediately called my old buddy, Charles McKeown, to see if he too was feeling this, clearly universal, craving. Not at all surprisingly, he was suffering the same gnawing at his guts. So we had a little natter and came up with a thought or two that might help put the world at ease again. The outcome of all of this is that we have been busily scribbling a Time Bandits II script. The strain has been such that Charles has taken off to Italy for a holiday. But there is now a script and all we need is for someone to cough up a few million. You don't happen to have a few to spare, do you? As it is now in the hands of the fine people that run Hollywood studios I have no idea when your craving will be assuaged. But hope and crosby spring eternal. Yours in limbo, Terry G." [PythOnline, August 12, 1996]

Contracts were being drawn and things were looking good, despite the unfortunate deaths of some of the original cast members. "The cast members that are alive are back," said Gilliam. "Dave [Rappaport] 's gone, Jack [Purvis] 's gone and Tiny [Ross] 's Gone. But we do have Jack's daughter." [3] Even Kenny Baker's son had reportedly been approached by Gilliam about the project. [7]

Jack Purvis, who played Wally, was paralyzed after a car accident and later died in 1997. "We had been working on a Time Bandits 2 and had written a part for him," Gilliam was quoted as saying in Star Wars Insider in 1998, "even though he was paralyzed and in a wheelchair. We were going to include him somehow but it was too essential not to. But we won't be getting to do that now." [7]

In July 1997, it was reported that Gilliam had discussed a Time Bandits sequel with Canada's Paragon Entertainment, which owned the rights to the original film. "But we haven't heard anything for months," Gilliam said. [8] There were rumors about difficulties securing the rights to the original film (the Pythons had already been struggling with Paragon about their rights to Monty Python's Life of Brian, which they won back in 1998).

Things quieted down for some time. Time Bandits 2 showed up in a few Gilliam biographies under the heading "what might have been." Even Gilliam was unsure about picking up the project again: "It's an odd one to go back to. I think we've got enough funny stuff in there, but there's this slight feeling of repetition in how you deal with time. I know that we made a really, really good film and any follow up is never as good. They never are." [3]

Then in early 2001 Harry Knowles' Ain't it Cool News reported Time Bandits 2 was still alive. [9] The story was done and Terry Gilliam was "babysitting" as Executive Producer. Universal Studios was allegedly helming the project. [10] Then... very little else.

Cut to a year later and suddenly Hallmark Entertainment is in charge and the project is gaining steam. The story is Gilliam's but he still declines to step into the director's chair. He wouldn't disclose the name of the director to SFX for contractual reasons, although Libération says it's David Garfath.

When David Morgan asked Terry Gilliam in 1996 if he would be ok not directing, Gilliam said "I think fine, because I mean if I can get the right guy to direct it then I can be there to nudge it occasionally, I mean there's one side of me that's trying to ... I mean the first one was mine, we did it, and there it is. And the second one, we'll see what it is." [6]

Films of Epic Proportion

What is exciting about the new Time Bandits films is that power-hitter Hallmark Entertainment is now in charge.

Hallmark Entertainment is the premiere producer of ambitious sci-fi & fantasy television epics. Hallmark's list of film credits is long and some of their fantasy films would make even the likes of Terry Gilliam drool. Hallmark produces about 30 films a year and has aired some stunning films such as Merlin, the 10th Kingdom, Arabian Nights, as well as the upcoming Dinotopia. Halmi even produced the television film Don Quixote while Terry Gilliam was trying to lense his own version. If Time Bandits 2 was ever meant for television, there is no finer place than amongst these visually rich films.

Granted, Hallmark's budgets are not in the league of today's summer blockbusters, but even the original Time Bandits was made for a mere $5 million, which was small even in 1981. Robert Halmi Sr. has a knack for stretching Hallmark's FX budgets to soothe even the most discerning palates.

Robert Halmi Sr. Produced Fantasy Epics Gulliver's Travels (1996), The Odyssey (1997), Merlin (1998), Alice in Wonderland (1999), The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns (1999)

Halmi has become one of the most fertile producers in television history, with a film library of more than 300 hours - and growing. A multiple Emmy Award winner and 1999 Peabody Award winner, Halmi's TV movies, miniseries and films include Gypsy, The Odyssey, Moby Dick, Jason and the Argonauts, Gulliver's Travels and Lonesome Dove, the latter two having won 12 Emmys between them.

Further Robert Halmi Credits The 10th Kingdom (2000), Don Quixote (2000), Arabian Nights (2000), Jason and the Argonauts (2000), Voyage of the Unicorn (2001)

From the six-degrees of separation file: Robert Halmi Sr. was Executive Producer of the film Nairobi Affair (1984) starring Charlton Heston and Connie Booth. Booth was John Cleese's first wife and co-starred with Cleese in Fawlty Towers.

Final Thoughts

Good films tend to spawn sequels faster than you can say "box office." Lately this is gotten so out of hand that some studios film their sequels jointly with the original (e.g., The Matrix 2 & 3, The Lord of the Rings trilogy). The real concern is that sometimes truly brilliant films are tainted when their stories are somehow trivialized in a sequel that does not live up to the original. I pray that this won't happen to Time Bandits. It is a precious film and holds a special place in the hearts of many - it is, after all, a cult classic.

The September 1996 script (see inset) suffers a bit from "déjà vu all over again." It borrows liberally from the original film, complete with a wardrobe-come-time-hole in the bedroom where the time travelers meet up with the child/heroine. Polly befriends Caesar's wife Calpernia, which is reminiscent of Kevin's bond with King Agamemnon and obvious nods are made to the Robin Hood and Napoleon scenes from the original film (here substituted by a pirate king and Joan of Arc). Even the film's final moments are concluded in much the same way as the original, including the tongue-in-cheek final few seconds.

What Time Bandits 2 doesn't borrow from the original, it mimics from other films. There is a bit of time travel madness (ala Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Back to the Future II). The whole thing about Good and Evil deciding about the fate of the universe and the four horsemen running around is suspiciously similar to the very excellent and very funny novel Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. [Not?] coincidentally, the book was set to be filmed by Terry Gilliam (although financial commitments had yet to bring the film past the planning stage).

But there is promise in the very excellent writing by Charles McKeown and in Terry Gilliam's desire for quality storytelling. Some of the moments in the 1996 script are comic gems, even should they not make it into the final film. For example, at the point in the story where all seems lost and our heroes are tied to a stake about to be burned, the dwarves burst into a chorus of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!