Let’s face it. Even if you have read Jonathan Swift’s rather nasty book of “Gulliver’s Travels”, all you really remember is Lilliput and Brobdingnab. Like “Alice”, you are hypnotised by the possibilities of being too big or too small.
If you are really very clever, you might also remember that Lemuel Gulliver is not a nice man. Horsies and funny-shaped creatures in lots of different places might well be part of his karmic come-uppance.
These two pieces of information inform why this 2010 version of “Gulliver” is so successful. Jack Black is both too big (fat, frankly) and too small (short and photographed to appear taller than his leading lady, when he isn’t) and boastful and lying and unpleasant. All this is exactly how Gulliver should be portrayed.
There are real Swiftian conceits shown brilliantly here. Bodily functions are as repellent as intended by the author. Plot? Well, Jack plays Lemuel, who lies and plagiarises his way to a travel writing assignment. He has worked for 10 years in the mail room and reckons he deserves it. Heck, this is Jack Black and I am adding depth to the back story, right?
Washed away by a great CGI and 3D Bermuda Triangle storm, Lemuel comes to shore in Billy Connolly’s kingdom. Everyone is tiny and Lemuel is a giant, who pretends he was “President the Awesome” in his Manhattan home. Emily Blunt is a sighing princess and Catherine Tate is queen. Amanda Peet is Lemuel’s fantasy girl and Chris O’Dowd plays the classic bad guy. Jason Segel is Horatio, Lemuel’s ally.
There’s grand homage to period costume drama, with Blenheim in Oxfordshire looking fabulous and a sly salute to Terminator/Robocop/Transformers. When you see Jack Black as a doll’s house figure in pink dress and hair in ribbons, I defy you not to laugh. This 88-minute movie may have a rating that allows eight-year-olds in, but I bet they don’t know enough Prince lyrics to savour the whole story.
Throw in some Kiss and some anti-war music and you have a glorious feast for the senses. I think this “Gulliver” adores the spirit of the original and – while not comprehensive – brings the highlights to new life and to a young audience splendidly.
The 3D is really very good. I spin the glasses on and off and was constantly amazed by the layers of the screen. The costumes and slightly period feel of the whole do not cloy. I am a big fan of Swift and have never much liked any of the previously-filmed “Gullivers”, because the hero is too cute and sympathetic and our Lemuel is not.
Rob Letterman’s direction reins in his big names. Writers Joe Stillman and Nicholas Stoller lift words from Swift, who is credited as a writer. I think the great success of this is that it annoys you in exactly the way the novel does. I stayed up late checking out the book which is a real mark of respect for the film, A great deal of the movie’s details matched those in the book.
Of course, purists will rant that much of the book does not exist here. Well, I come back to my first point. reall Don’t you remember the kingdoms of the big and of the small? And not much else? Come on, be honest.
There’s a killer soundtrack which will have you singing along as the Stratford Picturehouse audience did. I underestimated this movie, because friends in Canada are critical of it, but those friends are wrong. This is a delight for all ages of those who love rock and roll, imperfection and self-effacing comedy. No psychologists were consulted in makng this film – hurrah – and no animals were hurt. Phew. Swift can rest easy.