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Published on January 3rd, 2011 | by Alicia

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Gulliver’s Travels: Don’t Go Along for the Ride

Gul­liv­er’s Trav­els, star­ring fun­ny­man Jack Black (“The School of Rock,” “Kung Fu Pan­da”) and di­rect­ed by Rob Let­ter­man (“Shark Tale,” “Mon­sters Vs. Aliens”), is a mod­ern adap­ta­tion of Jonathon Swift’s clas­sic nov­el that of­fers some cheap laughs and an un­am­bi­tious screen­play. “Adap­ta­tion” is mis­lead­ing, as the movie strays far from Swift’s satir­i­cal nov­el. Re­al­ly, the on­ly things the movie and book share are the name of the pro­tag­o­nist, the land of the Lil­liputians, and gi­ant ver­sus tiny peo­ple. Oth­er re­views can be found herehere, and here.

View­ers old enough to buy al­co­hol may get a few chuck­les in here and there, per­haps with some sym­pa­thy laughs good-na­tured­ly thrown in, but this movie is a gener­ic and fam­i­ly-friend­ly film tar­get­ed for a young au­di­ence. While chil­dren’s movies such as Pixar films in­clude clever jokes to al­low par­ents to en­joy the ride, this movie of­fers no such re­lief.

In the film, Gul­liv­er works in the mail­room of a New York news­pa­per and, in typ­i­cal Jack Black fash­ion, is a lov­able los­er who doesn’t re­al­ize just how much he has to of­fer. In an at­tempt to im­press the girl he’s been crush­ing on for five years, Dar­cy Sil­ver­man (played by Aman­da Peet), Gul­liv­er takes a trav­el as­sign­ment to the Bermu­da Tri­an­gle. Along the way, his ship is wrecked at sea and he finds him­self on the is­land of Lil­liput. Cu­ri­ous­ly, the Lil­liputians seem to be liv­ing life in 18th cen­tu­ry Eu­rope. Per­haps Gul­liv­er went through a time warp at some point on his jour­ney. Oh, wait. That’s an­oth­er sim­i­lar­i­ty be­tween the movie and the nov­el.

Gul­liv­er is im­me­di­ate­ly de­clared a “beast” by the Roy­al fam­i­ly and its tiny cit­i­zens and is held pris­on­er by some con­ve­nient­ly su­per­sized prison shack­les. It is here that he meets his fu­ture best friend Ho­r­a­tio (played by the al­ways adorable Ja­son Segel), who was im­pris­oned for be­ing slight­ly taller than the rest of the Lil­liputians (that prob­lem of course has been solved), and for court­ing Princess Mary (Emi­ly Blunt), who is en­gaged to the pompous and in­cred­i­bly an­noy­ing Gen­er­al Ed­ward (Chris O’Dowd). Con­vinc­ing Gen­er­al Ed­ward to re­lease him from the shack­les, Gul­liv­er wins the heart of King Theodore (Bil­ly Con­nol­ly, who tried his best to have fun with a wood­en script) and the rest of the land when he res­cues the king from a house fire by ex­tin­guish­ing the fire by re­liev­ing him­self. Yes, folks, this is the hu­mor you have signed up to en­joy for 85 min­utes.

The Lil­liputians be­lieve Gul­liv­er to be the king of his is­land of Man­hat­tan, and Gul­liv­er, who’s used to be­ing a no­body, goes along for the ride. Some clever scenes take place as Gul­liv­er shares some of pop cul­ture’s biggest movies and prod­ucts, telling the Lil­liputians they’ve been his own life ex­pe­ri­ences and hav­ing Lil­liputians act out the movies on the stage. The movie vague­ly hints at com­men­tary on our con­sumer cul­ture as Gul­liv­er in­fus­es Times Square in­to the king­dom, ap­pear­ing in fa­mous bill­board ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns. How­ev­er, the com­men­tary nev­er goes be­yond this point, mak­ing for a frus­trat­ing­ly lim­it­ed movie. The movie toyed with an odd sense of hu­mor here and there when char­ac­ters de­liv­ered lines in such a way as to al­most par­o­dy them­selves (and the movie?), but this too was nev­er ex­pand­ed up­on, re­sult­ing in puz­zling and un­even mo­ments of quirky hu­mor. Along these lines, the ac­tors at times wore odd and un­be­com­ing hair­dos, cos­tumes, and make­up (es­pe­cial­ly Princess Mary). In the end, the script seemed to have too many com­pet­ing voic­es that made for a mud­dled mes­sage.

As the de­bate of the fu­ture of 3D rages on (“Will 3D be the biggest thing since col­or?” Isn’t it ex­pen­sive and over­rat­ed?” “Am I the on­ly one who gets a headache from these ef­fects?”), the 3D ef­fects of “Gul­liv­er” were av­er­age at best and unim­pres­sive at worst. It seemed that the movie pro­duc­ers felt that it was obli­ga­to­ry to go the 3D route to at­tract a large au­di­ence, rather than the 3D ef­fects lend­ing any pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions to the film.

There are many things about this movie that make no sense (Gen­er­al Ed­ward sud­den­ly has the tech­no­log­i­cal abil­i­ty to build him­self a trans­former to bat­tle his neme­sis Gul­liv­er, Gul­liv­er is not on­ly 20 times the size of the Lil­liputians but al­so 20 times the size of the ocean), but with such a half-heart­ed ef­fort made by the cre­ative forces be­hind this film, it’s hard to muster the ef­fort to dis­cuss them here. Swift’s nov­el of­fers many op­por­tu­ni­ties to make for an in­cred­i­bly imag­i­na­tive film. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, this movie is re­duced to crude hu­mor and a plot that’s so for­mu­la­ic, it’s al­most mock­ing it­self.


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