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Gulliver’s Travels (2010)
Movie Reviews

Gulliver’s Travels (2010)

Diehard fans of Jonathan Swift’s classic will probably want to avoid this modern remake, though it does have its moments.

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I could be a prude and talk about how modernizing Gulliver’s Travels is an affront to Jonathan Swift’s novel and to the imagination in general, or I could admit that I was genuinely amused by some of what I saw. To say that I liked this movie would be an overstatement, but it does have its redeeming qualities, and by the end, it was obvious it wasn’t the God awful experience I had had been expecting. It stars and was executive produced by Jack Black, who plays Lemuel Gulliver as a modern day mailroom clerk for a New York newspaper, a position he has held for ten years. For some time, he has had a crush on the travel editor, Darcy (Amanda Peet), although he has always lacked the nerve to ask her out; hoping to impress her, he plagiarizes sections of vacation guides and passes himself off as a travel writer.

She’s impressed by his work, and lo and behold, she gives him an assignment: Sail into the middle of the Bermuda Triangle and write a piece debunking the myth that ships disappear there due to extraterrestrial activity. It’s off the grid, she warns, and it will require him to be in a boat for three weeks. Gulliver assures her that it isn’t a problem at all, that he’s an avid boat-man. The next thing we know, he has fallen asleep at the helm, the GPS system has failed, and he’s engulfed in a raging storm, one that results in an unnatural waterspout stretching high into the clouds. After being sucked into the towering vortex, Gulliver comes to on a shoreline; his body is restrained by ropes staked to the ground, and tiny people – no bigger than four inches, I’d say – are crawling all over him, thinking he’s some kind of evil beast.

Gulliver is now in the Kingdom of Lilliput, and judging by the period costumes and the occasion use of Arthurian language, it’s a land that time forgot. Although Gulliver is initially treated as forced labor, he wins over the people by saving the life of King Theodore (Billy Connolly). How does he do this? I don’t think I should say. I run the risk of (a) ruining the moment for those who may actually find it funny, or (b) disgusting the readers and forever turning them away from ever seeing the film. I’ll say this much: Jonathan Swift had absolutely nothing to do with it.

At this point, Gulliver has become the savior of the Lilliputians, who, as it happens, are skilled builders. In record time, they construct a house big enough for him to live in. This is revealed in a clever shot; we see miniature construction workers toiling away on scaffolding, and as the camera pans upward, it’s revealed that they’re constructing a coffee maker. This home contains a theater, and it’s there that Gulliver has Lilliputians reenact scenes from movies (shades of Black’s Be Kind, Rewind). He, of course, passes them off as events in his own life – they are amazed to learn that he fought Darth Vader, learned that Vader was his father, and, after shouting, “I’m the king of the world!” actually died during the sinking of the “Titanic.” He also tells them that he’s the President of the United States, Yoda his Vice President, and that he misses the Millennium Falcon.

The emotional center of the story is Gulliver’s friendship with a Lilliputian named Horatio (Jason Siegel), and although he’s a lowly commoner, I was surprised at just how much I liked him. He has feelings for the lovely Princess Mary (Emily Blunt), but she can’t reciprocate, for she’s betrothed to General Edward (Chris O’Dowd), who, for the sake of the Kingdom, must maintain his reputation and his honor. Edward is an arrogant, jealous fool who wants to possess Mary and hates Gulliver for no reason other than the fact that he exists. Although he’s the primary antagonist, he’s also the film’s main source of comedy; we delight as we watch him fail miserably at courting Mary and protesting Gulliver’s influence on the people of Lilliput. The latter includes T-shirts, shorts, and a complete transformation of the town center into a Times Square recreation, the neon Broadway posters altered to prominently feature Gulliver’s face. Somehow, I just don’t see him as Elphaba or the Phantom of the Opera.

I neglected to mention that Gulliver’s Travels is in 3D, but considering how inundated we are with movies in that format, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. Although it’s being advertised as a family comedy, it was really made for younger audiences in the transition phase from mindlessly innocent to awkward and rebellious. It may not please fans of Jack Black’s raunchier comedies, although it does have a few well placed immature scenes. When the Lilliputians toss hooked ropes up to Gulliver’s pants and expose part of his crack, for example, he loses his balance and falls backwards; all of the soldiers retreat except for one, and he ends up being wedged in his own personal Heart of Darkness. Yeah, I laughed. Part of me wishes I hadn’t, though. There I go, being a prude.

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12/25/2010

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PG-13

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20th Century Fox

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About the Author: Chris Pandolfi