×
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.

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

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

  • 'Chambre 212' Review: A Comedy More

    Cannes Film Review: 'Chambre 212'

    Most of us, in our romantic lives, meditate here and there on the other roads we might have traveled, and movies are uniquely equipped to channel those alternate-universe-of-love possibilities. That’s the idea at the (broken) heart of “Casablanca.” And the fantasy of getting to see the turns your life didn’t take play out right in [...]

  • Zach Galifianakis Jerry Seinfeld Netflix

    Film News Roundup: Zach Galifianakis' 'Between Two Ferns: The Movie' Coming to Netflix

    In today’s film news roundup, “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” is unveiled, “Friedkin Uncut” gets a fall release and Sony Classics buys “The Traitor” at Cannes. MOVIE RELEASES Netflix has set a Sept. 20 release date for Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns: The Movie,” based on his 11-year-old talk show. Galifianakis made the announcement during [...]

  • Romanian Crime-Thriller 'The Whistlers' Bought for

    Romanian Crime-Thriller 'The Whistlers' Bought for North America

    Magnolia Pictures has bought North American rights to the Romanian crime thriller “The Whistlers” following its premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, the film stars Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Antonio Buil, Agustí Villaronga, Sabin Tambrea, Julieta Szonyi and George Pisterneanu. Magnolia is eyeing a theatrical [...]

  • Naomi Scott Talks Rebooting Princess Jasmine

    'Aladdin': Naomi Scott on Why Her Princess Jasmine Needed Nasim Pedrad's New Character

    Call Naomi Scott the queen of the reboot – or at least, the princess. The 26-year-old actress is taking on the role of Princess Jasmine in Disney’s live-action remake of “Aladdin,” but it’s not her first time jumping into a role that’s already been well-established. Audiences may recognize Scott from 2017’s “Power Rangers” update, where [...]

  • Moby Natalie Portman

    Moby Accuses Natalie Portman of Lying as the Two Spar Over Dating Claims

    In what’s become a he said/she said spat in multiple mediums, Moby, the elder statesman of electronic music, is now accusing actress Natalie Portman of lying and pleading to those on social media for his safety as “physical threats from complete strangers” emerge. To recap: this month, Moby released a new book, “Then It All [...]

  • A QUIET PLACE Emily Blunt

    'A Quiet Place' Sequel Moves Ahead Two Months to March 2020

    Paramount Pictures has moved its sequel to “A Quiet Place” ahead by two months from May 15 to March 20, 2020. John Krasinski is returning to direct the still-untitled movie with Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe reprising their roles. Cillian Murphy is joining the cast. “A Quiet Place” grossed $340 million at the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content