Remakes are among the hottest trends in Hollywood today. The latest to get the retread treatment is Gulliver's Travels, a classic tale from 1726, written by Jonathan Swift, about a man who is shipwrecked on an island of very tiny people. For creating a modern-day family retelling of the story (which has been adapted for the screen many times since the 1930's), comedian Jack Black (who has often been associated with low brow comedic films and raunchy ventures, like Tropic Thunder or Year One) is enlisted to star as the title character, Lemuel Gulliver. Instead of the story being true to its source material, there is an overwhelming amount of liberties taken to modernize the story and make it more relevant for today. For starters, Black's Gulliver is a mail room boy at a New York newspaper whose life is going absolutely nowhere... that is until a lie to impress the girl of his dreams lands him an assignment to travel to investigate the Bermuda Triangle. It's on this voyage that Gulliver is stranded on the island and meets the little inhabitants of Lilliput who don't take too kindly to the "giant" at first. The end result is a silly but entertaining movie mostly aimed at young audiences.
Gulliver's Travels not only does not do the literary work justice by any means, but it doesn't try to take itself seriously... at all. Director Rob Letterman, who makes his live action directorial debut here after having previously helmed the animated Shark's Tale and Monsters Vs. Aliens, basically creates a live action cartoon version of Gulliver's. Overacting is the norm and outrageousness is the goal; Jack Black sticks to the schtick he knows best, so only diehard fans of the actor may really love the movie, but those who have no tolerance for his humor probably won't be able to make it through the movie. To keep it more family friendly, the content is clearly subdued, but it doesn't get away without some really rude and off-color comedy. The humor gets to be painfully ridiculous at times, but it doesn't over step its boundaries too often. Still, you'll find that several moments in the movie will likely inspire a raised eyebrow and a head scratch as you wonder what in the world Letterman and Black were thinking.
Pop culture references and modern media flood this update of Gulliver's Travels. Because Letterman aims for utter silliness here, the viewer absolutely must accept the film as pure entertainment and nothing serious if they want to enjoy it even remotely. Black does his best to keep things light and fun, which young audiences are likely to embrace, while some of the crude jokes or pop culture references are likely included as self-entertainment on Black's part or to give the parents watching the movie with their kids something to grin about. So with such, frequent mentions of Star Wars and other popular franchises like Avatar and Titanic are made, as well as other recognizable brands like Guitar Hero, iPhone, and more. Ultimately, the tone of Gulliver's Travels is very tongue-in-cheek as its hour-and-a-half running time makes it seem like an overlong comedy sketch more than a feature film. What's most surprising, however, is the amount of talent that was roped in for such a silly vehicle. From comedic actors like Jason Segel (who is also usually in vulgar comedies as well) and British comedienne Catherine Tate, to more serious actors like Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet and Billy Connolly, the talent is here, but the script and direction aren't really. There is good "silly" and there is bad "silly," and unfortunately, Gulliver's Travels just falls somewhere in between.
Perhaps it's the star power or the evidence that Black is having fun in the role, it's tough to say, but this take on Gulliver's Travels is certainly still watchable. Through all the goofiness found herein, an attempt at helping the young audience learn a lesson is still made. Themes of being honest, loyal, heroic, selfless and ambitious are all present. Black's Gulliver lies a lot and uses the people of Lilliput to make himself feel better and more important, but he does learn a hard lesson about how wrong his actions were before the film's end. Blunt and Segel are cute in their romantic Lilliputian roles, while Connolly, and especially Tate, aren't given much to do during the movie. Lastly, Chris O'Dowd stars as General Edward, a Lilliputian who is jealous of the attention that Gulliver gets and becomes the film's villain. O'Dowd overacts up a storm and is only memorable at being more irritating than anything, serving as the film's garden variety bad guy. Otherwise, the visuals are pretty impressive for the most part in Gulliver's Travels. The storm that shipwrecks Gulliver and the effect used to mix Black as a giant with the little Lilliputians is impressive, while other times things are more than just a little too CG to look natural (like the Lilliput Times Square and General Edward's robot).
The content is definitely PG-grade, including several uses of the phrase "lame *ss," which is said repeatedly in one scene as a gag to make Edward look like a fool. It may seem minor to some, but with films like this one, young kids are likely to repeat what they hear and it's unlikely that a parent will want their child running around calling people a "lame *ss." Otherwise, there are just a couple minor cuss words and some crude humor like Gulliver's butt crack peeking over the top of his shorts when the Lilliputians try to pull the giant to the ground, and a scene where Gulliver drops his pants so he can put a fire out by peeing on it. In the latter, we don't see any nudity at all, but we do see his urine dousing the fire and some characters. It just seems a bit too juvenile and inappropriate.
Overall, Gulliver's Travels is actually adequately entertaining, but if you think about it too much, you'll realize just how mediocre it really is. It has its moderately amusing moments and its mildly endearing moments, but the fact still remains that films like this have been made before and done a lot better. If you're a fan of Jonathan Swift's classic, steer very, very clear of this modern retelling as it is only loosely based on its source material. It's certainly not a film for everyone, so really only huge Jack Black fans or fans of silly, cartoony live action movies should check in to 2010's big screen adaptation of Gulliver's Travels.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/9/11)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Seeing Gulliver's Travels on Blu-Ray was the first time I saw the film; I hadn't caught it before when it was on the big screen or in its 3D presentation. For its home entertainment release, Gulliver's is available in DVD separately or a 3D Blu-Ray combo pack, but regular Blu-Ray watchers can grab the quintessential combo pack that offers a Blu-Ray disc, DVD disc and digital copy disc. This is a review of that release...
I Don't Know... With Lemuel Gulliver (5:15) - "I Don't Know" is a mockumentary hosted by Jack Black as Gulliver about the Bermuda Triangle and its mystery. It's a bizarre mock show, but gets really goofy as Gulliver interviews himself (where it's deliberately not synched between the two Jack Blacks as Gulliver). It's a weird way to launch the special features.
Gag Reel (1:28) is just one scene (not exactly a "gag reel") where Gulliver is driven to where he'll take a boat out to the Bermuda Triangle. But in this take, the car won't start, so he keeps getting out and pushing it. Black's long shorts end up falling down and he lets them stay down even after he jumps back into the car to try to get the car moving again. I really would have liked to have seen more than just a single outtake.
Deleted Scenes (15:13) - There are eight deleted or extended scenes. The first one has Gulliver meeting "Old Hank" who he goes to see to get the coordinates to visit the Bermuda Triangle. Next is an extended version of the scene where Gulliver meets the royals of Lilliput. In this cut, it features more of Connolly and Tate (she says "Oh, God" in this version) as Connolly offers Gulliver as a gift to her. The third scene is a brief one that is largely unfinished (lots of green screen and even a boom mic visible in Black's shot) as Edward presents Gulliver as the king's defense system. Next is an extended scene from the royal banquet where the king shares some of the Lilliput war history with Gulliver and Edward and Horatio have a confrontation. The fifth scene shows Gulliver teaching basketball to the Lilliputians... complete with trash talking and "your momma" jokes? Then the next scene follows it with the king and queen practicing basketball, before an argument between the two has the Queen insisting that he make her breakfast in bed (with some awkward jokes about the king's assistant doing everything for them, to the point where he shares the same bedroom?). There's an amusing moment here where the king tries to find the castle's kitchen, but the scene just doesn't fit in the movie. Next is a bizarre sequence where we see Horatio and the princess go on a date while Gulliver wakes up, walks to his windows in just his underwear, and narrates what he sees into a voice memo on his phone. The scene ends with an outtake of Black as Gulliver saying the scene won't make it into the movie because his narration went on too long. The final scene was part of the duel between Gulliver and the robot inside Gulliver's place. It's also unfinished, showing a guy in a blue suit filling in for where the CGI robot would go, but features a pretty funny moment where Black mimics the "Star Wars Kid" viral video as he grabs a lamp stand and swings it around wildly like a light saber.
Little and Large (8:14) - This is a nice, short behind-the-scenes featurette on how they filmed the little people and Jack Black as larger-than-life and merged the two seamlessly. A lot of great on-set and special effects footage is shown here.
Jack Black Thinks Big (5:59) continues the behind-the-scenes look into making the film, but this time focuses on the story and the progression of the story through the duration of the film -- how Lilliput starts to modernize while Gulliver is staying there.
Down Time (4:24) is dedicated to the off-camera silliness and goofing off that the cast experienced while filming. From ukulele playing to singing together and trying to out-joke each other, it's obvious that the cast and crew had a blast making this movie. Billy Connolly even admitted that it was the most fun he'd ever had making a movie.
Gulliver's Foosball Challenge is a BD game that requires you to hit the directional arrows on your BD remote to play foosball on your TV.
War Song Dance (5:45) is dedicated to the filming and recording of the "War, What Is It Good For" song that is featured in the film's closing.
FOX Movie Channel Presents: In Character With Jack Black - This is a stretched, standard definition (SD) video that once appeared on FOX Movie Channel and is an interview with Jack Black about the character of Gulliver and how he came to work on the project. What's interesting to learn here is that he was pitched the idea for the movie before there was even a script so that he could spend a few years helping shape the film before it went into production.
FOX Movie Channel Presents: In Character With Jason Segel - Like the interview with Black, Jason talks about what it was like to work on the set with primarily green screens to interact with, riffing with Jack, and what kind of character Horatio is. Both interviews are excellent and nice additions to the BD release... I just wish the video quality was HD to match.
Life After Film School: Rob Letterman of Gulliver's Travels - This is actually another FOX Movie Channel show where three young film students interview Rob Letterman about filmmaking and what it took to make such a unique movie like Gulliver's Travels. Letterman goes into great detail on creating the film, working with green screen, working with Black, and much more.
World Premiere - Lastly is "World Premiere," another FOX Movie Channel short program that captures the actual world premiere of the film in Hollywood. The show's host interviews the cast and director briefly for a nice additional featurette for this release, but it doesn't add much that we didn't already learn from the other extras.
Overall, the bonus features on here do build some appreciation for the undertaking that this big film was, but it still wasn't enough to change my underwhelmed feeling about the feature movie. Still, if you enjoyed this Gulliver voyage, the Blu-Ray combo pack is the way to go.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/9/11)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: We see the top of Gulliver's butt crack as the Lilliputians throw grappling hooks at him, catching them on the top of his pants, and try to pull him back down to the ground; The Queen of Lilliput shows lots of cleavage during the movie; Horatio tells Gulliver that he wants to tell Princess Mary that she's sexy and has great child bearing hips; Mary asks Edward what he likes about her and he quietly points to her chest; Gulliver urinates on a fire and we see the stream spraying on several Lilliputians (they react in a disgusted manner to seeing his genitals). Afterwards, they honor him with a party and we see an ice sculpture of a man holding his crotch where water streams out of there
Vulgarity/Language: 6 "a" words, 1 "h*ll," 1 "Good L-rd," 7 derivatives of "G-d"
Alcohol/Drugs: Gulliver asks Dan if he wants to go out for beers; We see Edward drinking in a scene
Blood/Gore: Not gory or bloody, but crude: Gulliver urinates on a fire and we see the stream spraying on several Lilliputians; Gulliver finds the skeleton of a dead man in a flight suit. We see it again a little bit later; Gulliver has some slightly bloody scrapes/abrasions on his face.
Violence: A violent storm shipwrecks Gulliver on an island; The Lilliputians tie Gulliver down and he tries to get away, which tosses some of the little people around. They also try to hit him with spears and drag him back down to the ground; A huge wave of cannonballs hit Gulliver's bare chest and belly, but they bounce back and hit the ships that fired them; Gulliver is beaten by a large robot that picks him up by his underwear and gives him a big wedgie; Gulliver is beaten up again by a giant robot; There is a fire in the town that threatens the locals
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.