Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels

Director: Rob Letterman.
Starring: Voices of Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel and Amanda Peet.
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Runtime: 85 mins. Reviewed in Dec 2010
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Rating notes: Mild violence, coarse language and some crude humour

This “modern” version of Jonathan Swift’s 18th-century literary classic takes Swift’s broad outline and applies it to the adventures of a mail-room worker at a New York newspaper. Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black) has a crush on the paper’s pretty travel editor (Amanda Peet) and to win her favour pretends to be a travel writer. She gives him an assignment to check out the Bermuda Triangle, where a fierce storm wrecks his boat and he is washed up on the shores of the kingdom of Lilliput.

The Lilliputians, about the size of his thumb, are unable to kill or imprison this giant “beast” who threatens them, but when he repels an attack by their bellicose neighbours, the Blefuscudians, he is hailed as a hero. That is the essential plot, but the screenplay (by Joe Stillman and Nicholas Stoller) is feebly bland and generates little excitement. The sub-plot is puerile in the extreme: a romantic tug-of-war between the Lilliput princess (Emily Blunt), the nasty general (Chris O’Dowd) who claims her hand in marriage and the shy commoner (Jason Segel) she really loves.

The special effects (in 3D) are done well enough, with stately homes such as Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire used to advantage to create a Lilliputian society resembling, for some strange reason, Edwardian England. The visual impact of Jack Black towering over tiny people and miniature buildings is impressive. So, too, is the reverse idea in a brief sequence when Gulliver escapes to what the Lilliputians call “the island where we dare not go” and finds it inhabited by giants. He is captured and given to a child who puts him in a dress and keeps him in her doll’s house (the most imaginative part of the movie in some ways).

Overall, though, Rob Letterman’s film is disappointingly banal. Jack Black does his shtick and is affable enough, but the rest of the cast flounder, as if they are not sure whether they are making a kids’ comedy or an adult adventure epic. And were ever two talents so flagrantly wasted as Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate (the Lilliput King and Queen).

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