By Charles McKeown
Second Draft September 4, 1996
In 1981 Monty Python member Terry Gilliam released Time Bandits, his first major step away from his work with the British comedy troupe and a film that distinguished himself as a fantasist whose work demanded attention. A dark comic fantasy, Time Bandits featured six dwarves who felt that their work for the Supreme Being in helping to shape Creation has gone unappreciated. Stealing a map that will allow them to travel through time, the group, along with 11-year old school boy Kevin, find themselves on the run through history, chased by the Supreme Being and manipulated by the machinations of Evil. The film was a surprise hit and left many wondering whether they would see further adventures of the Time Bandits. Well, over a decade and a half later, they almost did.
Time Bandits II has its origin in early 1996. Gilliam was between film projects and was looking for something to do. A phone discussion with his occasional writing collaborator Charles McKeown (Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)) sparked the idea, which the two expanded into a full screenplay. As Gilliam explained on August 12, 1996 on Monty Python’s PythOnline bulletin boards to a poster who asked if there would ever be a sequel to the original film-
Nicole, Funny you should have this odd craving for some sort of extension to Time Bandits, I had the same craving a couple of 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 knowing 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 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.
Between Gilliam’s posting and September, McKeown made another past through the script. This second draft, dated September 4, 1996, opens with two dwarves, Mox and her friend Tangle, working in the bureaucracy that runs all of Creation, shredding files on animals as they become extinct. They are extremely busy. The two overhear a conversation between the Supreme Being and his Supreme Opposite Number who are planning to turn off creation at the end of the millennium. (The Supreme Opposite Number is a hand puppet that the Supreme Being talks to. The puppet talks in its own voice, though. It’s a bit reminiscent of alternative cartoonist Evan Dorkin’s “Devil Puppet” strips.) Mox decides she and Tangle need to hunt out her father Strutter, one of the original Time Bandits, to see if he has any suggestions on how to stop this from happening. They find the remains of the Time Bandits out of work and scrounging for a living. Strutter (Malcolm Dixon) is joined by Fidgit (Kenny Baker) and Og (Mike Edmonds) and Og’s son Tubby. Another former time bandit, Wally (Jack Purvis) is despised by the group as he has moved into Creation’s Upper Management and is in charge of the Accounting Department.
(Note: The characters of Randall and Vermin from the first film are mentioned in passing, but no indication is given as to their fate. In reality, David Rappaport, who played Randall, committed suicide in 1990. Tiny Ross, who played Vermin, had also passed on. Jack Purvis’s part was written especially for him, knowing that he was paralyzed from a car accident and in a wheel chair.)
The group decides they need to see exactly how creation was saved from being shut off at the end of the first millennium in order to save it this time around. They go to the Supreme Being’s Treasury, steal a key from Wally and get the map that the Bandits used in the first film. Whilst rummaging about in the treasury, they accidentally knock over the Ark of the Covenant (Which McKeown notes should look like the one in Raiders Of The Lost Ark), summoning the guards. Finding some time portals (lying in a stack like panes of glass), the group make their escape into history.
The group’s first stop is the bedroom of Polly, an 11 year old American girl, who spends more time in Internet chat rooms than with her working mother or stay at home, laid off father. With the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse hot on their trail, the bandits and Polly set off through history on a trip similar to the first film. They encounter a cleanliness obsessed pirate captain, inadvertently participate in Joan of Arc’s capture and discover that Julius Caesar’s assassination was faked so he could get away from his shrewish wife Calpurnia.
The script is fun and might have made an enjoyable movie except for the fact that it echoes the first film too closely. The bandits’ first stop after stealing the map is again a child’s bedroom. The Pirate Captain and the Joan of Arc bit both feel similar to the Robin Hood and Napoleon segments of the original, not to mention that Joan of Arc had already appeared in another time travel comedy, Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1988). Polly’s interaction with Calpurnia echoes the relationship Kevin and Agamemnon shared in the first film. The script does introduce a neat idea where the Bandits travel back in time for just a day and encounter their earlier selves. However, when the two groups get separated, one expects to see the second group again, but they never reappear.
Finally the Bandits discover that they are the ones who saved Creation at the end of the first millennium and so they have to try again. Just before the switch to turn off Creation is thrown, the real Supreme Being returns, having been delayed while measuring infinity. The other Supreme Being (the one with the hand puppet) was just his servant who had gone crazy trying to keep things going for his boss. Polly is returned to her bedroom, where her parents wake her just in time for the millennium New Year’s Eve countdown. Downstairs, she meets her mother’s new boss, a man who looks suspiciously like the real Supreme Being. . .
One theme McKeown seems to explore in the script is the parent-child relationship. Mox seems to be embarrassed by her father, but over the course of their adventures they come to understand each other better. Polly seems to have the same problem with her parents and comes to a similar happy ending with them as well. (No exploding parental units this time!) Unfortunately, this is still a weak element in this draft and hopefully would have been strengthened had the project continued forward.
While the first half of the script sets the story solidly in motion, the second half contains a few logic problems, specifically when the time bandits run into themselves one day in the past. The first group successfully stops their past selves from making a mistake before the two groups interact for a few scenes. Don’t even think about cause and effect in this sequence as it’s thrown out the window. Also, the script implies that the Supreme Being has been away for more than a millennium, leaving his assistant in charge. Are we to assume, then, that the Supreme Being who appears at the end of the first film is actually the crazed assistant as he is revealed in this script? If so, why does he appear to be sane at that end of the first film when we are shown he was insane back at the turn of the first millennium?
But Time Bandits II‘s biggest failing is that it doesn’t feel like it fits in with the first film at some level. Gilliam has stated that Time Bandits is part of a thematic trilogy about Dreamers, specifically the Dreamer as a youth. (Brazil is about the Dreamer at the middle of life and Baron Munchausen is the Dreamer at old age.) But beyond the parent-child conflict subtext of the script, there’s no deeper theme to the sequel and perhaps it’s for that reason that it just doesn’t seem like a worthy successor to the first film.
For a while there looked to be some interest in the script, though no definite word was forthcoming. Rumors circulated that Kenny Baker’s son and Jack Purvis’ daughter were both in consideration for roles (Tubby and Mox?), an extension of the script’s theme of parent/child relations perhaps. Dreams: The Terry Gilliam Fanzine website quotes the director in July 1997 as having discussed the project with Canada’s Paragon Entertainment. “A company that bought out Handmade Films (The producers of the original Time Bandits) were talking to us about doing this,” the site quoted Gilliam. “Charles McKeown and I have an idea of what to do, but we haven’t heard anything for months. It’s one I wouldn’t direct. I’d work with Charles on the script and godfather it basically.”
One stumbling block with dealing with Paragon may have been that the Pythons as a group were struggling to get back the rights to their film Life Of Brian. (They eventually succeed in 1998.) However, with Purvis’ passing in November of 1997, the project seemed to have quietly faded as well. By the time Bob McCabe’s 1999 book Dark Knights and Holy Fools: The Art and Films of Terry Gilliam (Universe Publishing) hit stands, Gilliam seemed reluctant about reviving the project. “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.” (pg 185)
A February 2001 article at Ain’t It Cool News.com speculated that Time Bandits II was perhaps back in development. In an August 16th article on the sudden proliferation of time travel movies being produced in the wake of the just released remake of Planet Of The Apes, USA Today confirmed that the project was being developed by Universal Studios. While no word was given on what the plot may be, it’s safe to assume that if anything from the original script remained, at least the millennial angle had been dropped by this point.
On November 5, 2001, Gadfly Online published an interview with Gilliam where he revealed that a deal had been struck with Hallmark Entertainment. “So we [Gilliam and McKeown] wrote Time Bandits, these two, two-hour specials,” he stated. He then dropped a hint about the new project’s direction, which seemingly has abandoned the original sequel’s storyline. “Kevin is now in his middle-thirties and he’s got a couple kids. And life has never been as exciting as it was then. And that’s where it starts.”
The project was confirmed in the British genre magazine SFX’s April 2002. Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd re-confirmed the story on April 9, however describing the project as a four-hour miniseries for the ABC network with preproduction scheduled to begin in early July and cameras rolling in August, 2002. Hallmark and its chairman Robert Halmi, Sr. were no strangers to bringing fantasy epics for television, having produced miniseries as Jason and the Argonauts, Merlin and Dinotopia for television. (With its $80 million dollar budget, Dinotopia was the biggest production from Hallmark to date. While the initial miniseries did well, the subsequent Dinotopia regular series that was set to premier in the fall of 2002 was beset with low ratings and was soon cancelled after only six of the 13 produced episodes aired.)
Unfortunately, as nothing more has been heard on the project, it appears to be dead once again. (Calls to Hallmark Entertainment to confirm the project’s status have not been returned.) For now, ironically, only time will tell when we will get to return to Gilliam’s delightfully skewed version of history with its diminutive tour guides.