In an effort to draw in the under-four -foot crowd during the past holiday season, Hollywood released a particularly unsavory piece of fluff disguised as a reimaginging of a literary classic: “Gulliver’s Travels.” The film, loosely associated with the Jonathan Swift novel of the same name, follows the fantastic comical tribulations and travails of Gulliver, played by Jack Black.
In this version, Gulliver is a mailroom flunky for the New York Tribune who cons his way into a travel writing job for the illustrious publication through some well-intended plagiarism. Gulliver tricks the travel editor, also the girl he has lusted after for a decade of mailroom drudgery, into sending him on assignment to the Bermuda Triangle.
Setting out to sea on a solo adventure to disprove the the existence of the Triangle, Gulliver soon finds himself caught in a catastrophic storm, one that hurls him through a waterspout that magically transports him to the land of the Lilliputians.
These Lilliputians are a race of minuscule people inhabiting the island of Lilliput and constantly at war with a neighboring island nation, Blefuscu. When Gulliver is marooned on their shores, the Lilliputians initially enslave the unfortunate Gulliver, believing him to be an atrocious beast that must be kept captive. It is only after Gulliver proves himself a useful asset in the struggle against Blefuscu that he earns his freedom and becomes the resident colossus of Lilliput.
Much of the film dwells on Gulliver’s time living a true high life in Lilliput, where the locals construct all manner of over-sized architecture for their venerated protector. Gulliver’s stay in Lilliput, however, only appears idyllic: behind his back the treacherous General Edward schemes to have him tossed out of the country. The story progresses through all the predictable twists and turns of a fantasy geared toward youngsters, eventually concluding with a neatly packaged moral—not telling the truth is bad—and very little in the way of memorable moments.
While the casting of “Gulliver’s Travels” is ostensibly strong — Black, along with Jason Segal, Billy Connolly, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet comprise the leads — the film does not make use of its talented personages. It is a shame that Black continues to accept Hollywood typecasting him into the role of the slovenly, indolent buffoon that viewers expect immediately upon seeing his rotund form loaf across the screen.
Segal, fresh off the heels of two excellent comedies for the grown-up crowd (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “I Love You, Man”), clearly signed on for his role as a clueless suitor of the Lilliputian princess only for the paycheck. In his role as the Lilliputian King, Scottish comedian Billy Connolly delivers the film’s only genuinely humorous performance, but even this is overshadowed by the heavy-handed Black.
The greater tragedy than this misuse of talent is the manner in which “Gulliver’s Travels” completely disrespects and denigrates Swift’s original text. The Hollywood machine, however, cannot be held completely accountable for violating the spirit of Swift’s work, which in its original form was vicious satire. Publishers have been bowdlerizing Swift’s text for centuries, cutting out the majority of the novel and leaving only the initial story of the Lilliputians. It is disheartening, but predictable that Hollywood missed the chance to introduce the novel to a generation of young people in the form Swift intended.
Though Jeju cinemas are not showing “Gulliver’s Travels” in 3-D, the movie was originally intended to be viewed with the groovy glasses that are Hollywood’s current fetish. It seems to be an increasingly common practice in the industry to use 3-D as a bandaid, a remedy applied to big budget productions that Hollywood realizes are more than a mite flawed. “Gulliver’s Travels” is an unremarkable children’s film that producers tried desperately to make marketable through the use of 3-D and the casting of Black, but it ultimately remains mired by a compromising approach to highly compromised source material.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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