Nobody Other Than George Harrison Wanted to Make the Original ‘Time Bandits’

He may have regretted that decision
Nobody Other Than George Harrison Wanted to Make the Original ‘Time Bandits’

Because Hollywood won’t rest until it’s turned every Terry Gilliam movie into a TV show, Apple TV+ will soon be releasing a Time Bandits series, starring Lisa Kudrow as a temporal plunderer. 

While recycling ‘80s films for modern audiences doesn’t always work (I’m looking at you 2014’s RoboCop), this show is produced by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, and judging from the recently-released trailer, it looks like a lot of fun.

Gilliam’s original 1981 Time Bandits was a box-office success when it first came out, and it’s generally regarded to be one of the best children’s fantasy films of its era. But, like much of Gilliam’s work, it was a huge pain in the ass to get made. 

As Monty Python fans are well aware, George Harrison put up his own money to fund Life of Brianmortgaging his home and office when the Python’s backers pulled out at the eleventh hour. As a result, Harrison and his business partner Denis O’Brien stumbled into the film industry, creating the production company HandMade Films.

Following the success of Brian, HandMade Films made two more movies (including the British gangster classic The Long Good Friday) before producing Time Bandits. Gilliam approached O’Brien with his idea for the kid-friendly fantasy, after failing to interest him in Brazil. According to Gilliam, O’Brien “loved” the pitch, and even suggested enlisting Harrison to write some original music.

But after Gilliam completed the screenplay with fellow Python Michael Palin, O’Brien was unable to obtain financing. “Everybody turned us down,” Gilliam explained. “This was before E.T., and family entertainment was not what any studio did then. Only Disney did that kind of movie, and they were going through the Herbie Goes Bananas phase.”

Rather than re-write Time Bandits to feature more sentient, occasionally horny Volkswagens, O’Brien decided that they should just make it themselves. So, once again, he and Harrison remortgaged their office to raise the $5 million budget.

Palin later claimed that the financing difficulties had less to do with the state of family entertainment, and more to do with the fact that Gilliam was by no means a bankable director. “At the time, very few people were falling over themselves to do Terry Gilliam films,” Palin confessed. “Terry had made Jabberwocky, which was a marvelous film, but a dark and unusual film. So Time Bandits was quite a risk.”

The cast included John Cleese as Robin Hood, and Sean Connery as Ancient Greek King Agamemnon, a role described in the script as “none other than Sean Connery, or an actor of equal but cheaper stature.” Bolstered by its stars, the movie was a hit, even winning over noted curmudgeon David Letterman.

So was Harrison happy that he stuck his neck out to get the movie made? Well, not exactly.

Harrison contributed just one song to the Time Bandits soundtrack, “Dream Away,” which was seemingly about how much he hated working with Gilliam, who at one point threatened to destroy the negative to his own film with a nail. The song contains lyrics like, “Greedy feeling, wheeling, dealing” and “All you owe is apologies.”

“I enjoyed listening to the song, but at the time, I had no idea it was George writing his notes to me,” Gilliam said of the tune. 

So if the 2024 version of Time Bandits really wants to remain true to the original, it should try and include a musical track full of stealth behind-the-scenes shit-talking.

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