Fox // 2010 // 85 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // May 3rd, 2011
There are no small jobs, just small people.
Irish satirist Jonathan Swift originally published his four-part genre-bending novel Gulliver's Travels in 1726 to rave reviews and enormous popularity. The book, which follows the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver as he travels to four bizarre lands, is an aggressively intelligent mix of comedy, science fiction, fairy tale fantasy, and 18th century British political satire. Over the last century, Swift's book has been adapted for the big and small screens at least 10 times -- especially the first part of the book, which deals with Gulliver's voyage to the warring island nations of Lilliput and Blefuscu, and Gulliver's interactions with the tiny people who live there. Given the specificity with which Swift satirically attacked the political landscape of his own time (particularly the often violent conflicts between Catholics and Anglicans), complaining that a film adaptation of Gulliver's Travels isn't entirely faithful to the book is sort of pointless. But that didn't give director Rob Letterman (Monsters Vs. Aliens) and star Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda) license to make a movie as stubbornly ignorant as this latest adaptation.
This CGI-heavy 2010 version of Gulliver's Travels opens in New York City where Lemuel Gulliver is a lovable loser working in a newspaper mailroom. Gulliver dreams of being a writer and of dating journalist Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet, 2012), but is paralyzed by an aversion to risk until a new mailroom employee (T.J. Miller, Yogi Bear) is made his boss after only one day on the job. Using plagiarized writing samples, Gulliver lands the opportunity to write a fluff piece on the Bermuda Triangle. But when his boat is caught in a violent storm, he is shipwrecked on the island of Lilliput, whose inhabitants are 1/27th Gulliver's size. Gulliver eventually becomes a hero to the Lilliputians when he easily defeats the armada of their mortal enemies, the Blefescudians. A small man in New York, Gulliver convinces the Lilliputians that he is President of the United States, and that his exciting life consists of scenes lifted from Star Wars and Titanic. He also introduces them to the music of Guns 'n' Roses and Edwin Starr. While on the island, Gulliver befriends the lowly Horatio (Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), who is in love with Princess Mary (Emily Blunt, The Wolfman), who is in turn engaged to the dastardly General Edward (Chris O'Dowd, Pirate Radio), who suspects that Gulliver is a fraud. But Gulliver's greatest challenge is playing matchmaker to Horatio and Mary, through which he finally learns that he must come clean and stop acting like a man-child if he's ever to win Darcy's hand (who, in the real world, would never in a million date a moneyless dude with Jack Black's physique).
Once upon a time, I was a huge Jack Black fan. I first encountered Black in the brilliant "Jeepers Creepers" sketch on Mr. Show, and shortly thereafter nearly ruptured something vital guffawing at his performance in High Fidelity. The early days of Tenacious D were also comedy gold. Then, at some point, Black began indiscriminately accepting any movie role that allowed for zany improvisation in lieu of memorizing dialogue, ample use of the arched eyebrow as a punch line, and which was accompanied by a check containing many zeroes. The sorry likes of Shallow Hal, Orange County, School of Rock, Year One, and, yes, Gulliver's Travels ensued. Rob Letterman's adaptation of Swift's book is an awful, awful mix of a lazy performance by Black, middling CG effects, and deep confusion about who its target audience is (the flick is occasionally too rude and crude for small children, but consistently too lame-brained for anyone else). Gulliver's Travels' most notable achievement is unseating all previous Black films as the low-point in the actor's career thus far. Because Black plays a modern-day slacker, while the support cast of Lilliputians play stodgy 18th-century caricatures, the comic talents of Jason Segel, Chris O'Dowd, and Billy Connolly (who plays the king of Lilliput and father of Princess Mary) are largely wasted, rendering the flick a weak Jack Black vanity project. The movie limps along on middle-of-the-road improve until a disastrous third act featuring O'Dowd in a steampunk Voltron-style combat suit, and a cringe-inducing song-and-dance number featuring Black covering "War." The movie is cataclysmically bad in nearly every way.
Gulliver's Travels played in theaters in both the traditional and 3D formats. This Blu-ray contains only the 2D version, of course. The 1080p/AVC transfer is crisp, bright, and essentially flawless. The DTS-HD Master Audio track is also state-of-the-art.
The disc sports a long list of supplements, but they're mostly thin and shallow.
I Don't Know With Lemuel Gulliver (5:15) -- This incomprehensible faux documentary features Lemuel Gulliver interviewing Lemuel Gulliver about the Bermuda Triangle. On the plus side, it's considerably funnier than the feature because it allows Black to send up smarmy television hosts and, at five minutes, doesn't stretch its premise beyond the breaking point.
A "Gag Reel" ends up being a single outtake. There's also a collection of eight deleted scenes.
Little and Large (8:14) -- This featurette begins as a light examination of the special effects technology used to create a giant Gulliver, and swiftly turns into the cast and crew fawning over Black and Letterman.
Jack Black Thinks Big (5:59) -- A discussion of the Lilliputian production design as Gulliver's influence causes it to evolve into a miniature, stylized New York.
Down Time (4:24) -- This piece is a behind-the-scenes look at the relaxed atmosphere of the set, which led to a freewheeling approach to comedy. Given the results, maybe the cast and crew should have taken the jokes more seriously.
War Song Dance (5:45) -- This featurette shows the production of the movie's big musical number, a Lilliputian cover of Edwin Starr's "War." It includes behind-the-scenes footage of Black recording his vocals, as well as a breakdown of the actual shoot.
There are also four Fox Movie Channel electronic press kit featurettes: "In Character with Jack Black" (6:30), "In Character with Jason Segel" (4:52), "Life After Film School: Rob Letterman of Gulliver's Travels" (21:52), and "World Premier" (6:02).
"Gulliver's Foosball Challenge" is a slow-loading remote control game based on a scene from the movie in which Gulliver plays foosball against a Lilliputian soccer team.
The disc houses a theatrical trailer for the film. It's also BD-Live enabled, giving you access to trailers to other films as well as an additional featurette with Black and Segel.
Disc Two of the set is a DVD copy of the movie, while Disc Three contains a downloadable digital copy.
Oh, so guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Interactive Game
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy