You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Gulliver’s Travels

A classic ready-made for the era of big-budget 3D pics gets the least classy treatment imaginable.

Lemuel Gulliver - Jack Black Horatio - Jason Segel Princess Mary - Emily Blunt Darcy Silverman - Amanda Peet King Theodore - Billy Connolly General Edward - Chris O'Dowd Dan - T.J. Miller

A classic ready-made for the era of big-budget 3D spectacle gets the least classy treatment imaginable in “Gulliver’s Travels,” a loose, lowest-common-denominator retelling of Jonathan Swift’s mock travelogue that drops a giant loser in the land of the little people. Rather than exploiting the scenario’s obvious cinematic possibilities, director Rob Letterman permits Jack Black’s already larger-than-life persona to dwarf everything else in sight, letting this sad-sack Gulliver fulfill whatever fantasies he was denied in the real world — an angle more appealing to disenfranchised 7-year-olds than for those buying the tickets. Fox has big hopes, but should expect only medium-sized returns.

Where the source novel used wit — and a fair amount of off-color humor — to comment on the attitudes and behaviors of its time, this offputting update offers no such insights. Instead, it lifts a few choice details from the first book of Swift’s four-part satire (including an incident in which Gulliver extinguishes a fire by emptying his bladder on the blaze) and rounding out the rest with sheer silliness.

Black’s lovable-slob shtick carried “School of Rock” and subsequent kiddie fare, but his Gulliver comes across as considerably less appealing. A self-absorbed manchild whose lack of hygiene is matched only by his lack of ambition, Gulliver toils in the mailroom of a Gotham newspaper, where he harbors a not-so-secret crush on travel editor Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet). Too nervous to ask her out, he instead accepts an assignment traveling to the Bermuda Triangle, where strange weather conditions (a vortex that reps the first of the film’s mediocre visual effects) transport him to the land of Lilliput.

Gulliver awakens tied to the ground by men no taller than toy soldiers in a grotesque parody of the book’s most iconic scene, one that presents the pot-bellied Black looking like a beached whale amid the tiny Lilliputians. Rather than modernizing the race of mini-men to poke fun at our own small-mindedness, screenwriters Joe Stillman and Nicholas Stoller present them as broad parodies of the 18th-century court, with the country’s hapless King Theodore (Billy Connolly) and sniveling Gen. Edward (Chris O’Dowd) engaged in ongoing war with their equally ridiculous rivals, the Blefuscians.

Though distrusted at first, Gulliver proves invaluable in defending the kingdom, putting that blubber to good use deflecting microscopic cannonballs. As a reward, Gulliver is granted full use of the Lilliputian workforce, which he employs in the most self-serving manner possible within the bounds of a PG rating: re-creating the glories of his Gotham lifestyle to suit his newly inflated ego, which involves the little folks constructing everything from a Sphinx-scale La-Z-Boy chair to a miniature version of Times Square featuring Gulliver-themed billboards.

If this spin on Swift’s tale sounds disappointingly cartoonish, that conceivably owes to the combined sensibilities of Black and director Letterman, a veteran of such DreamWorks Animation pics as “Shark Tale” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” (the latter involving a similar challenge juggling characters of wildly different scales). Like a number of animation helmers before him, Letterman struggles in the live-action medium. He seems overwhelmed by the visual effects challenges, clumsily moving from scene to scene and unable to marshal unity among the performances. Black runs wild opposite O’Dowd’s more mannered comic turn, while co-stars Emily Blunt and Jason Segel grapple awkwardly with a distracting romantic subplot.

The story grows more desperate as it goes on, squeezing in a visit to the super-sized land of Brobdingnag and an inexplicable robot battle en route to a goofy cover of Edwin Starr’s anti-Vietnam anthem “War.” With its wacky accents and silly shenanigans, “Gulliver’s Travels” could have been “Time Bandits” for a new generation, but instead feels like “Attack of the 50-Foot Couch Potato.”

Although a tilt-shift opening credits sequence cleverly makes Manhattan look like a scale model, the rest of David Tattersall’s lensing is bland, relying heavily on a “DualMoCo” camera system, which enabled such innovations as the sight of a three-inch man disappearing inside Black’s butt crack. Rather than enhancing the dramatic size differences, the addition of 3D merely draws attention to pic’s heavy use of greenscreen.

Fox bolsters the feature’s anemic running time with a three-minute short, “Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up,” which amusingly reveals how the “Ice Age” squirrel’s insatiable acorn lust split apart Pangaea.

Gulliver's Travels

Production: A 20th Century Fox release of a Davis Entertainment Co. production in association with Dune Entertainment, Ingenious Media, Big Screen Prods., Ingenious Film Partners, Phoenix Film Partners. Produced by John Davis, Gregory Goodman. Executive producers, Jack Black, Benjamin Cooley. Co-producer, Brian Manis. Directed by Rob Letterman. Screenplay, Joe Stillman, Nicholas Stoller.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color prints, widescreen, 3D), David Tattersall; editors, Dean Zimmerman, Alan Edward Bell; music, Henry Jackman; music supervisor, Dave Jordan; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; art directors, Rob Cowper, Rod McLean, Philip Harvey; set decorator, Richard Roberts; costume designer, Sammy Sheldon; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), John Midgley; sound designer, Warren Hendriks; supervising sound editors, Derek Vanderhorst, John A. Larsen; re-recording mixers, Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer; visual effects supervisor, Ellen M. Somers; visual effects, Weta Digital, Hydraulx, Scanline, Pixel Playground, Geon Studios, Tata Elsxi/Visual Computing Labs, Digiscope, Method, Sandbox; stunt coordinator, Franklin Henson; associate producer, Cliff Lanning; assistant director, Lanning; second unit directors, Shaun O'Dell, Jim Rygiel; second unit camera, O'Dell; casting, Priscilla John, Jeanne McCarthy. Reviewed at Fox Studios, Los Angeles, Dec. 20, 2010. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: Lemuel Gulliver - Jack Black Horatio - Jason Segel Princess Mary - Emily Blunt Darcy Silverman - Amanda Peet King Theodore - Billy Connolly General Edward - Chris O'Dowd Dan - T.J. Miller

More Film

  • Bob Bakish Variety Cover Story

    Inside Bob Bakish's Aggressive Turnaround Plan for Viacom

    Bob Bakish was days into his job as CEO of Viacom in late 2016 when he began convening meetings with senior executives to execute a triage effort to save the once-mighty media giant. Paramount Pictures had just posted a $445 million annual loss. Viacom’s cable networks were in danger of being dropped by major distributors [...]

  • Assassin's Creed

    'Duke Nukem' Movie Draws 'Assassin's Creed' Producer

    A “Duke Nukem” movie is in the works with Gearbox Software teaming with “Assassin’s Creed” producer Jean-Julien Baronnet to adapt the video game into a feature film, Variety has learned exclusively. Gearbox had been working on “Duke Nukem” with Paramount Studios and Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, with John Cena rumored as a possible star earlier [...]

  • Juliette Binoche Slack Bay

    Juliette Binoche Named Jury President of 2019 Berlin Film Festival

    Oscar-winning French actress Juliette Binoche will preside over the main jury at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival. Binoche is known worldwide for her work in such films as “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “Chocolat.” She won an Academy Award and a Silver Bear in Berlin for her role in Anthony Minghella’s “The English Patient,” [...]

  • Eklektik, Alba, Aramos Set Ventana Sur

    Ventana Sur: Belgium's Eklektik, Italy's Alba, Argentina's Aramos Co-Produce 'The Veil' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Belgian film house Eklektik Productions is teaming with Italy’s Alba Produzioni and Argentina’s Aramos Cine to co-produce Stefano Pasetto’s feature drama project “El velo” (The Veil). “The Veil” was presented at September’s San Sebastian Co-Production Forum and then chosen for pitching at the upcoming Proyecta showcase, a new joint initiative launched by Argentine film-TV market [...]

  • Ventana Sur: Latido Films Acquires Hari

    Ventana Sur: Latido Swoops on ‘This Is Not Berlin’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — In the first deal to be announced on a title in Ventana Sur’s three live-action feature competitions, Madrid-based Latido Films, headed by Antonio Saura, has acquired world rights outside Mexico on Hari Sama’s Copia Final contender “This Is Not Berlin.” Latido’s buy, celebrated with a handshake at Ventana Sur, effectively re-calibrates the [...]

  • Storyboard Media Announce David Albala’s ‘Viento

    Storyboard Media Announce David Albala’s ‘Viento Blanco’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Chile’s Storyboard Media has announced an agreement to co-produce, along with Calibre71, Javier Valdés and Benjamin Vicuña, director David Albala’s second feature, “Viento Blanco.” (“White Wind”) Albala’s debut, “Jailbreak Pact,” turned on a dramatic real-life prison-break which took place in Santiago, Chile in 1990. That film was also produced by Calibre 71, and featured Chilean [...]

  • C International Sales, Pablo Solarz Ink

    C International Sales Inks Sales Representation Deal with Argentina’s Pablo Solarz (EXCLUSIVE)

    Argentina’s Pablo Salarz, one of Latin America’s best-known film and TV writer-directors, has entered a non-exclusive financing relationship with C International Sales, the international arm of Cinestaan Film Company. Although non-exclusive, the deal is an early example of international companies moving to court or tie-down key talent in Latin America. The deal was negotiated by C International [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content