Published on January 3rd, 2011 | by Alicia0
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 here, here, 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.