The live-action directorial debut of Rob Letterman, previously having dabbled in directing the less than favored CG-animated “Shark Tale” and “Monsters vs. Aliens,” brings the cinematic audiences yet another rendition of the Jonathon Swift classic, Gulliver’s Travels. It’s a story, or rather the most common portion, that’s been manifested on the big and small screens over the last century. Of course, this time around it’s been adapted to present day, starring Jack Black and more or less Jason Segal. The movie is wrought with some of the most blatant drops of pop culture references that are only a mere iota of creativity above painfully awful creations such as those of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. However, if your life philosophy is that lazy plagiarism is the way to succeed in life, then you should appreciate this movie’s ultimate message.
Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda, School of Rock) brings his irreverent humor to this adventure-comedy based on the classic tale. To impress the pretty newspaper travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet, Something’s Gotta Give), an underachieving mailroom clerk named Gulliver (Black) takes a writing assignment traveling to Bermuda. When a shipwreck lands him on the fantastical island of Lilliput, he transforms into a giant — in size and ego! Gulliver’s tall tales and heroic deeds win the hearts of the tiny Lilliputians, but when he loses it all and puts his newfound friends in peril, Gulliver must find a way to undo the damage. Through it all, Gulliver may just learn that it’s how big you are on the inside that counts.
Jack Black has meandered through Hollywood for the past decade, apparently undecided as to where exactly his style of humor best applies – and it seems Hollywood execs haven’t quite figured it out, either. For the most part I’ve enjoyed a lot of his work, but in recent years he’s been taking roles that are best compared to the parody of his career as depicted in “Tropic Thunder.” This is certainly one of those unfortunate instances. Jack Black can be a decent comedian, as movies such as “School of Rock” have shown us, but you need some decent talent behind the camera to harness him into something worthwhile. Left unattended, and with a script that calls for him to be himself, you end up with the likes of this or the awful flop “Year One.” His disappointing performance is offset and nearly overshadowed by Horatio, the Liliputan played by Jason Segal. Oddly, Segal came off as the shining star throughout the movie as his character actually had a worthwhile plot and a decent resolution, as opposed to Gulliver who mostly just exists in the movie for a pop culture gag or crass childish humor.
The character of Gulliver is just obnoxious from start to finish even though we’re supposed to sympathize with him due to his lazy lifestyle that just leaves him without any ambition. It’s only by blatant plagiarism and fraud that he finds himself with the ability to come across Liliput, and yet this is apparently a minor issue given that this experience allows him to ultimately not only get the girl, but to even get a promotion at his job for which he has no experience. Meanwhile, there’s a minor supporting character, a new guy in the mailroom that immediately becomes his boss, that causes all of this to happen although we’re apparently supposed to feel that he has somehow been cruel to Gulliver. His involvement in the movie is concluded in the final minutes as he has supposedly become some slacker despite actually having a career plan and has ended up being exactly like Gulliver was… but why? It should be a minor thing in the movie, but the ludicrous turn of events makes no sense and simply gives you the message that instead of being professional and having an idea of how to start your career, you should just resort to cheap attempts at plagiarism.
Segal’s character, Horatio, however actually has development throughout the movie from feeling that he deserves to be a lowly prisoner for the law he broke, despite the law’s stupidity, and throughout the movie manages to grow and become the actual hero of the movie by showing actual bravery. There are two scenes that hurt his character slightly, but they were feel as though they must have been written to forcibly shove Gulliver into them considering they attempt to focus more on Gulliver’s moronic antics than anything else. Unfortunately, none of the supporting cast help make the movie any better either, aside from maybe Emily Blunt as the Lilputan Princess. Although her performance is very confusing, it seems as though she wants to be kidnapped in the very beginning but apparently nothing comes of this? It was a little like they were setting up a subplot but must have forgotten about it. Despite that, Blunt does decent work with what little she’s given to work with and even manages to have the only humorous scene in the movie near the end. Of course, the scene was ruined by the trailers. Amanda Peet plays Darcy Silverman, Gulliver’s love interest, and she is quite possibly one of the worst written characters. Peet’s acting abilities aren’t bad, but unfortunately her character is an easily impressed ditz and very easily swayed given that despite Gulliver committing plagiarism and fraud, she’s willing to forgive him for no real reason other than he got his ass kicked by a ludicrous robot built by a middle age society from plans of a toy model kit, only to have Horatio actually defeat the villain? Predictably by the end they hook up and live happily ever after working together, even though Gulliver should have been promptly fired by someone with actual authority over employment than apparently hired by a reporter.
The rest of the cast, including the bitter villain, are mostly forgettable. Chris O’Dowd plays General Edward who is the hero of Liliput’s military but is so forcibly the generic and jealous villain that he doesn’t get much to do other than to be a boring jerk or the punchline of a lame joke, and Billy Connolly plays King Theodore who is simply inserted into scenes because he’s King. Connolly actually has some great lines but delivers them poorly because he’s either uninterested, was a bit rusty, or he was saddened that he was finally in a movie in which his character doesn’t die.
The special effects throughout the movie are occasionally impressive but mostly you can tell they went on to something else after shrugging and saying “good enough.” The most impressive work comes from the attention to detail given to the Liliputan creations, which are mostly ridiculous given their medieval society but are mostly worth it given the minute details you can notice. Fortunately, they made sure to not include any scenes that are more interesting than the construction details so you have plenty of time to appreciate them, and most scenes give you plenty of time to gawk anyway given that they drag on for far too long. Pacing is a major problem throughout the movie as scenes that serve no real significance are stretched to attempt to convince you you’re watching a movie that is really trying to develop characters, such as Gulliver finding his iPhone (subtle product placement, people) which has miraculously survive an inverted whirlpool and being half-buried on a beach. I think people that lose their iPhones by just having a slight splash of water hit it would be calling shenanigans, not to mention the amazing battery life. It’s a scene we have to sit through to overhear Gulliver’s voicemail messages from Darcy, even though he made sure to point out there was no signal, so we know that she’s mad at him… which she ultimately forgets about. The rest of the movie is pretty much a montage of lame gags either involving immature antics of Jack Black or yet another Star Wars joke. Honestly, I don’t even think Spaceballs had as many Star Wars jokes as this movie.
Overall, this is just a terrible movie. Going into it I wasn’t attempting to expect much, but even then I wasn’t able to find any decent gags worth laughing at. I was too distracted by either the plague of pop culture jokes that lacked any actual cleverness, or the inconsistent and sometimes appalling humor such as the urination scene or the person that apparently was apparently killed inside of Gulliver’s butt-crack. Gulliver himself has no worthwhile plot or conclusion, and the rest of the cast is merely a waste aside from Segal and his subplot. The entire movie could be wittled down to just his scenes and it would be vastly superior to the final product which is just a mind numbing mess, only comparable to Jack Black’s recent flop “Year One.” In fact, the only reason why this movie likely did so well, unlike “Year One,” is simply because it dabbled in humor that was more child-friendly rather than adult. However, it’s sad to think that this earned so much by simply being deemed a children’s movie considering that it seems too insulting to even a child’s intelligence. Unless you’re a glutton for terrible movies or have the desire to become uncomfortably familiar with Jack Black’s body, just Skip It.
Gulliver’s Travels finds a home in a standard three disc Elite Blu-ray case—and that’s it, really. Just the two discs (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy) and insert for how to redeem the digital copy. There is, of course, a cardboard slipcover included as well but it’s the norm for Fox titles.
Moving onto the AVC encoded 1080p 2.35:1 transfer we get the usual flawless presentation out of the Blu-ray format you expect. The majority of the film oozes detail out of all of the frames, boasting plenty of detail in the myriad of sequences that really just look great because the majority of the film is all during the daytime. On top of that we have plenty of detail on character faces and the like. The audio matches the visual presentation with incredible dexterity. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix thuds and booms at every turn, spreading the love around to all of the surrounds and making full use of the LFE output. It’s a very loud film at times and the bombastic nature comes through with the engaging and entertaining surround mix. For some odd reason the film was put into theaters with a 7.1 mix, but we somehow didn’t get that out of Fox this time…kind of disappointing, but I guess it’s no big loss in the end considering how great this mix sounds.
• Gag Reel
• Deleted Scenes (Eight total)
• I Don’t Know (A Gulliver’s Tales) Exclusive Jack Black Piece
• Little and Large – Find out how film makers made Gulliver so BIG
• Jack Black Thinks Big – Creating foosball, basketball and Time Square in Lilliput
• Down Time – Fun Foosball Gulliver Style
• Gulliver’s Foosball Challenge
• War Song Dance
• Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character Jack Black and In Character Jason Segel
• Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character Jason Segel
• Life After Film School: Rob Letterman of Gulliver’s Travels
• BD Live Extras
o Exclusive: Jack & Jason’s Dance Class
o Blu-ray Highlight: Little and Large
o Theatrical Trailer
• Disc 2: DVD
• Disc 3: Digital Copy
The extras on this set really aren’t too bad, though the majority in the list are all under ten minutes (and quite a few under five). It’s a decent list of crap to sort through, though like the film they’re hardly worth watching. Take for instance the “Gag Reel”—it’s really just a minute and a half deleted scene, there’s nothing remotely similar to a blooper reel in that one. Plus the rest of the extras are just either forgettable or in standard definition for some reason.
Overall it looks like a packed disc with the three copies of the film and the laundry list of extras…but it really just ends up being complete filler in the end. Like the film you can leave this one to be a Rental or even skip over it entirely if you aren’t a Jack Black fan.
Gulliver’s Travels is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Film review by Andrew
Blu-ray review by Zach Demeter