Directed by Robert Letterman
Starring Jack Black, Amanda Peet, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Billy Connolly, Catherine Tate, T.J. Miller, Chris O’Dowd
Written by Joe Stillman, Nicolas Stoller based on the book by Jonathan Swift
The first question one must ask when watching a movie such as Gulliver’s Travels, is who did they make this for? It certainly isn’t for adults. Perhaps they made it for kids. Jack Black fans? Could be. They exist in that land between childhood and adulthood. When the movie opens with Jack Black demonstrating a slackers sensibility and a heart of gold, one can only assume all mail room employees with small dreams and smaller ambitions are the target.
“I surrender. I surrender! It hurts my butt!” is a fine example of the quality of work here. It says so much, but then, nothing at all. The story is considered a “modern retelling,” which, in short, is another was of saying that the original story doesn’t sell to movie executives, so let’s make it modern and place it in New York to start with. That complaint, though, is a small one, because, really, I wouldn’t have cared so much for the original version of the story either.
So what we have is a skeleton of a story that essentially is an excuse to find some way, any way, to get Gulliver (Black) on the island with the Lilliputians. Once he gets there, we have a bunch of actors and actresses going through the motions, barely motivated to live judging by Emily Blunt’s dour demeanor. They act surprised to see a big person, but not too surprised, if you know what I mean. There is a bad guy (a smarmy, but charming O’Dowd) who at least puts a little effort into being snide. There is a betrothed princess (Blunt), her disaffected Royal parents (Connolly and Tate) and a guy who kind of likes the princess (Segel, wasting what talent he has). Throw them together with some other British speaking littles and there you have it.
All these little people need to learn a little something about life, that, strangely, can only be taught by the slacker. The slacker, of course, will learn some lessons too. The only thing that prevents the hugging is the size difference. There are plenty of verbal hugs and fist bumps, though.
This is not to say I did not enjoy the film in some small way. That small way; my kids. They watched most of it. That’s saying a lot for the 4-year-old. When I asked the 8-year-old if she liked it, she said:
Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
By the time Jack Black has vanquished his foe in a battle royal, the two little people armies decide to fight. The only reason for this I can estimate is because one side wears red and the other blue. One more thing to learn. Jack tears into a mighty small rendition of War. Small, that is, when you consider that backup vocals are provided by people who are the size of his fingers.
The special effects are lacking. Not lacking technology, just lacking thought process. While Jack jumps around, the
ground does not shake. When he shouts, windows and eardrums do not break. When the Lilliputians speak to him, he does not say “What?” There is some cool stuff. Gulliver feels the chill when heading into the ocean, and all of those cannon balls find their target, at least in an entertainment value.
Is this movie worth seeing? I am sure some kids might like it. For some reason, the film made a killing internationally. I cannot account for the tastes of the foreign market, but perhaps the story just has more pull abroad than it does here, where it performed about as well as expected (which is about half as much as it cost to make). The makers are not mean-spirited. That much I can say. There are some aspects, like a scene with a butt crack, that raise eyebrows, but nothing that parents would have to explain to their kids.
In all, the film is quite forgettable, but if you come across it with kids in the room, you might get suckered in. Then again, you might not.
(** out of *****)