“Gulliver’s Travels” is a novel written by Jonathan Swift in 1726 and has been adapted and showcased in many different mediums over the past two decades. The latest reincarnation of the story was brought to life by 20th Century Fox and director Rob Letterman. This is Letterman’s first time directing a live-action movie after success on two animated films: “Shark Tale” and “Monsters vs Aliens.” Can this classic tale be revived for a new generation, or will another piece of classic literature be ravaged all for a laugh on the big-screen?
Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black) is a fun-loving, middle-aged guy who works in the mail room of a local newspaper and seems fine with the way his life has been going … until a new employee gets promoted to become his boss after working there only one day. Distressed and depressed, Gulliver finally works up the courage to ask out his long-time crush, Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet), a travel editor. But something goes wrong and he ends up telling her he is a world traveler and a writer. After plagiarizing a few stories, he gets an assignment traveling to the Bermuda Triangle. Totally out of his element and ill-equipped, he gets pulled into a storm and sucked up into a water funnel. When Gulliver awakens, he is in the land of Lilliput surrounded by an army of 6-inch tall army men and he is informed that he has been captured by General Edward (Chris O’Dowd). Being labeled a “beast,” he is locked up in a prison where he meets Horatio (Jason Segel), a peasant who has been imprisoned because he made advances on Princess Mary (Emily Blunt), General Edward’s betrothed.
When Lilliput is attacked by its enemies, the Blefuscians, Gulliver escapes his shackles, saves the Princess from being kidnapped and puts out a fire at the royal estate in which he saves the king and queen. Now hailed as a hero and protector of Lilliput, Gulliver makes up some tall tales in which he mixes his life with many popular movies and passes himself off as the King of Manhattan. He is waited on hand and foot and has world-class accommodations made for him. Using his knowledge, Gulliver helps Horatio woo the princess and he is living a dream, until General Edward, furious about the way Gulliver is being idolized for one brave act, decides that the only way to win the heart of the people is by taking over and ruling the land, aligning himself with the Blefluscians. Can Gulliver find his true courage and overcome his fears and help save Lilliput or will his secret of being a lowly nobody destroy the bond he has made with his new friends, the Lilliputians?
Fans of Jack Black have come to know and loved the crazy antics, facial expressions and his love to sing rock songs on screen. Now that he is older and has a family, he seems to be a bit more restrained and domicile. This is a good thing for people with kids, but not for adults who enjoy his abrasive humor. Knowing fully what target audience this movie was shooting for, I went in with an open mind just to enjoy it. There was some good and also some bad in this film, but it was overall just OK. I chose not to see it in 3D because although I am a huge proponent of seeing a film in all three dimensions, I usually reserve paying the extra fee for movies that were shot in 3D and not converted afterward. Since “Gulliver’s Travels” was not shot in 3D and I didn’t feel the need to see it in 3D.
Bringing the story into modern times helps make it accessible to a new and younger generation, but at the same time diminishes the impact of the craziness of Gulliver’s predicament of being stuck in an alternate world. I was perplexed a bit when Gulliver arrives in Lilliput and is put into a dungeon where torches are the main source of light. However, throughout the film we see billboards with twinkling light bulbs, ceiling fans, robots and many other types of devices that have modern usage of electricity. Putting all of those questions aside, the fact that Gulliver has a GPS and cell phone take away from the dreariness of him being stranded in an unknown land because he has all of the comforts of the modern era.
Casting on this movie was great — even if not all of the actors were used to their fullest potential. I wish that there was more interaction between Black and Peet, seeing as they are the two romantic leads in the film; they barely had any interaction on screen. Segel and Blunt are the two other leads and I thought that they had a bit more chemistry. Sticking to a very satirical portrayal of a princess, Blunt has some pretty funny lines and you really see her evolve from a comical cut-out of a real person to someone who generally feels real at the end. Segel is brilliant as lowly peasant Horatio; his subdued performance and true heart in the role work beautifully and I really liked him in this part. Chris O’Dowd, although playing an annoying and smug character, imbues the part of the villain with all of the expected attributes you see in most comical villains — not very fear-inducing, just potentially dangerous and hot tempered. The supporting characters in this film seemed to be more filler between scenes of the main characters and I would have liked some more development in the parts of the king and the queen.
Effects are another major part of the draw to this movie and this is one area I really liked. Some of the battles and such weren’t the best, but one area with which I was really impressed was the seamless integration of Gulliver into the infinitesimal world of Lilliput and all of its citizens. In other movies where there are characters of largely different stature, it sometimes feels as if the larger people were just green-screened in or the smaller people were put into small scale models and I didn’t feel that way with this movie. The way Black was just part of the world seemed effortless and fluid. I really think that the special effects department did a great job mixing all of it together. The attention to detail was also great, too.
Regarding the humor, this is probably one of the biggest draws of the movie and it hits the mark for its target audience, but any mature minded person will find it far less attractive. “Gulliver’s Travels” seems to use potty humor (literally) as a crutch to amuse the infantile, while being far less original and witty. There were too many butt crack and bodily function jokes to keep me amused beyond a mild chuckle. The children in the theater were rolling in the aisles, but the adults … not so much. Jack Black has his own type of humor, which he does very well, but in movie after movie, I keep hoping for him to break out of the mold and surprise me, but sadly this is not that role. There are also some musical numbers in this film that, while entertaining, are a bit too over the top. A very fun, but cheesy dance number to end the film seemed out of place and forced.
Overall, this movie is fun for kids, but not challenging or engaging enough for adults. The writing appears to have been rushed through so it could be filmed and finished in time to draw the holiday family crowds to the theaters. So my suggestion is that unless you are a parent with small children begging you to take them to see this movie, skip it and wait for a cheaper DVD viewing at home.
“Gulliver’s Travels” is rated PG for brief rude humor, mild language and action and is in theaters now available to watch in 2D and 3D.
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