Gulliver's Travels

With film budgets, bigger isn't always better...

Continuing the predictably turgid glut of holiday fare is the Jack Black-starring Gulliver’s Travels, a reimagining of Jonathan Swift’s famed novel that frankly, nobody asked for nor particularly seemed to want, but hey, they made it anyway. Even with the luxury of a solid cast of comics running the transatlantic gamut, this glorified star vehicle is a garish, desperate film that fails to justify its own existence in any convincing way beyond lowly money-spinning.

Lemuel Gulliver (Black) is a buffoonish slacker (surprise!) working as the mail boy at a snazzy newspaper. However, after blagging a travel assignment from senior journalist Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet), who just happens to also be the object of his affection, he ventures out into the Bermuda Triangle, where he is pulled into the miniature world of Lilliput. A giant amongst the town’s tiny denizens, he is revered by most – King Benjamin (Billy Connolly), Queen Isabelle (Catherine Tate) and their daughter, Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) – as a God-like entity, while one dissenter in particular, Edward (Chris O’Dowd), dismisses him as an abberation to be done away with.

Though more technically sophisticated than previous stabs at Swift’s work, this one lacks the crucial charm inherent to making the size gimmick work. The script has been well-tailored to suit Black’s schtick to the point that it seems distractingly self-conscious (particularly when he holds a gaming magazine close to the camera, complete with a Guitar Hero advertisement on the back), but his mugging provides only sporadic laughter and temporary relief from the script’s painful reliance on both irascibly repetitive toilet humour and dreadful pop-culture references, supplanting any attempt at a rivetting story as it does so. Seeing Gulliver have his subjects dress up as members of the band Kiss and perform for his amusement is a little cute, but most other strains for cultural topicality – such as poorly (perhaps intentionally?) photoshopping Black into posters for films such as Avatar to X-Men Origins: Wolverine – come across as incongruent and most definitely overused.

The bland script, written by the usually reliable Joe Stillman and Nicholas Stoller, betrays the talents not only of Black – who admittedly goes for broke in a few embarassing scenes, such as when Gulliver is captured and forced to dress up as a doll – but also a ripe cast of comics, including James Corden (well, he’s more popular than great), Jason Segel (clearly trying to have fun as Mary’s English would-be suitor), and the aforementioned Connolly, Tate and Blunt, the latter of whom is particularly noteworthy; her wry wit as a damsel only fainly resisting capture in the hope it might enliven things a little is the film’s highlight, and sad proof that when a script has only a vague notion of soulfulness, a $110m budget in fact means diddly squat.

The overarching message about the incommensurate relation between courage and size has been overdone to the point that modern audiences are liable to find it pat and bland, the effects, while solid, clamber to driftwood, looking for fun set-pieces on which to display themselves, and most embarassingly of all, the funniest thing about it is the 3-minute, Scrat-centric Ice Age short beforehand. If you’re planning on waiting to rent it, don’t bother; it probably won’t even have the Ice Age short attached. I’ll stick with the superior Ted Danson version of this tale instead, and so should you.


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